Colombia

 

 

"I wonder why the city was abandoned?" I mused as we reached the top of the 1263 stairs that led to Ciudad Perdida, the fabled 'Lost City' of Columbia. "Was it war? Disease? Superstition?" "Exhaustion" my friend puffed sarcastically, hands on his sides, bent over double. "They were sick of climbing the bloody stairs."

 

 

After embarking on a hike that involved crossing a rapid river twenty times, skirting cocaine factories and camping with the Columbian Military; enduring jungle conditions that fluctuated from scorching hot to pouring rain in minutes and slapping away mosquitoes the size of rabbits, his indifference was understandable.

 

For those in need of an experience off the beaten track, Columbia's Ciudad Perdida trek through the Tayrona National Park is becoming an increasingly popular option over Peru's crowded Inca Trail. While the ancient city was thought to be built around 800 AD, it was re-discovered by treasure hunters in 1975.

 

Accessible only by foot after an hour long pick up truck ride into the Sierra Nevada mountains, the six-day return hike involves vertical climbs, rock scrambles and knee-deep mud. During the day, you'll pass through a number of indigenous villages where life remains little changed for centuries, and at night, don't be surprised to find yourself sharing a camp fire with the military.

 

They're there for your protection. Up until a few years ago there were paramilitary operations in the area, and in 2004, a group of backpackers doing the hike were kidnapped. While they were eventually released, it's important to remember this country is still battling with its very visible demons- some of which you're most likely encounter on your trek.

 

Farms near the ruins grow coca, plant that is refined into cocaine. Colombia is responsible for about 80 per cent of the world's trade in cocaine and the illegal drug has played a massive role in the devastating internal conflict that has crippled the country for years. But it's not all bad. The scenery is distractingly beautiful, and it is a rare treat to bathe under a different waterfall each day. The food is satisfying, the guides are champions, and a hammock offers a fairly decent nights sleep- so long as you’ve covered every square inch of your body to protect against the mosquitoes.

 

The Lost City trek in Colombia is increasingly being seen as an alternative to doing the Inca Trail in Peru. For one thing, you don't have to worry about altitude sickness, as the Lost City is only just above sea level. It’s also significantly cheaper by a few hundred US dollars than the Inca Trail. More appealing is that roughly only 500 people conquer the Lost City trek each year, compared to the 500 hundred punters (and their porters) set out on the Inca Trail each day- meaning you’ll pass one other group of hikers every second day on their way back from the site.

 

And once you reach the Lost City, this sense of solitude makes it a fairly magical place. Only 10% of the ruins at the Lost City have been excavated by archaeologists, and most of the city is still wrapped in thick jungle, waiting for its secrets to be revealed.

 

The main section is a series of terraces an platforms, almost like stone rice paddies carved into the hillsides and valleys. I will concede the site isn't as spectacular as Machu Picchu. But sitting alone in a city so few have seen, as the clouds spill down the terraces around you, is a bone-tingling experience- and one you’ll search hard to find anywhere else in the world.

 

 

By Shaney Hudson