Hike The Lost City Trek in Colombia: The Ultimate Guide

Are you thinking about doing the Lost City trek in Colombia? We loved this trek, and it is still one of our favorites. We think it’s definitely worth it for those who have the time and physical stamina to take it on.

Kendall and I did the four-day trek with Wiwa Tours and had a great experience. Our guides were amazing, and the food was awesome. Trekking through the Colombian jungle was definitely a thrill.

This article is all about helping you plan your Lost City trek effectively. Regardless of which tour company you choose there are details you should know before finalizing your plans. We’re here to provide guidance on that so let’s dive in!

What is The Lost City in Colombia?

The Lost City or “La Ciudad Perdida ” is an ancient city that is older than Machu Picchu by about 650 years.

Unlike Machu Picchu, the only parts left of this city are the terraces and stone pathways.

Today the Lost City holds value for indigenous communities and serves as a site for sacred ceremonies.

overview of the terraces during our lost city trek in colombia
Our overview of the Lost City terraces

How Do You Get to The Lost City?

This ancient city is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about two hours away from Santa Marta in northern Colombia. In order to get to the site you have to be part of a guided group expedition that usually lasts four days.

The trailhead begins at El Mamey, about a 2-hour drive from downtown Santa Marta.  The entire out-and-back trail is around 28 miles, with the Lost City located at mile 14 (the final turn-around point).   

Lost City Trek in Colombia Map

Here’s a quick trail map that breaks down the trail distances for each day.

trail map of the Lost City trek with trail distances

How Much Does the Lost City Trek Cost?

The lost city trek costs around $560 with a local company, like Wiwa or Magic Tour Colombia.  With an international company like G Adventures or Intrepid, you’ll pay more, around $800.

We highly suggest going with a local company (details on this later). The international companies offer the same service but take a larger share of the profits.

When you book your tour you’ll make a payment online to secure your spot. With Wiwa this was 10% of the trip cost. The remaining balance is paid when you check in either the night before or on the morning of your trek.

You’ll also want to bring enough cash for tipping your guides, drivers, and chefs, as well as for buying water and snacks along the trail.

While free clean water is available at each campsite we found ourselves needing water during afternoons. Were grateful to have cash for purchasing more bottles from small shops along the route.

sideview of a small store along the lost city trail
There are small stores such as this one along the Lost City trail where you can buy snacks and water

How Hard is The Lost City Trek?

The Lost City trek is known for being challenging due to steep climbs, high temperatures, and humid weather conditions. This trek is recommended for hikers who have experience with long and demanding hikes in various climates. Wiwa Tours rates their 4-day trek as an 8 out of 10 in difficulty.

The hike to the city is 28 miles or 44 kilometers. Depending on the tour package you opt for, this distance can be covered over three, four, five, or six days.  

While 28 miles in 4 days may not seem like a lot, the steep inclines really affect how many miles you can hike in a day.  We usually spent around 6 hours trekking each day.

On the final ascent to the Lost City be prepared to conquer over 1200 steps – a workout for your calf muscles!

wooden steps to the Lost City with handrails
This is the beginning of the 1200 steps leading up to the Lost City

Comparing our experience on the 4-day trek to the Lost City with our hike to Machu Picchu we found it more challenging due to slopes and higher temperatures. Nevertheless the trail’s maximum altitude at 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) means altitude sickness is less of a worry.

Another thing to remember with this trek is that you have to carry your equipment, unlike treks with hired porters. Most tour operators recommend bringing a daypack and keeping your packing lightweight.

How Long is the Lost City Trek?

So, how long is the Lost City Trek? It’s usually four days and three nights. However, depending on your tour operator there are also trek options lasting three days, five days, or six days.

It’s a good idea to arrive in Santa Marta at least a day before your trek so you can check in with your tour company and get any last-minute questions answered. And, we think you should also set aside a day in Santa Marta after the trek to relax and explore the town. 

Colombia is such an incredible country, and there are so many cities to visit. You’ll need to decide if a 4 or 5-day trek fits into your travel plans. We think that the trek is definitely worth it if you have around ten days in Colombia in total.

With a 10-day Colombia itinerary, you’ll have time for the trek, exploring Santa Marta, and still be able to visit two cities like Bogotá, Medellín, or Cartagena.

tourist standing in front of a sign that says 'Santa Marta'
We had plenty of time to hang out at the Santa Marta beach on the day after our trek

What’s Included in the Lost City Trek?

Most tour companies for the Lost City include transportation to and from the trailhead, a knowledgeable guide, meals, hiking snacks, and filtered water at the campsites.

Transportation 

All major tour companies offer transportation to the Lost City trailhead via a 4×4 vehicle. The specific type of vehicle used may vary based on the tour group.  

While many other tour groups had jeep-like rides, we were transported with Wiwa in a large 4×4 van.  Our van had air conditioning, and besides the bumpy ride (we recommend bringing Dramamine), we were fairly comfortable. 

a 4x4 van
Our group’s van; many of the other tour groups used a Jeep

The drive to the trailhead is a long one.  We drove about one hour to a small town, where we took a brief stop and were able to purchase snacks and water.  After that, it was another hour along a winding, very bumpy dirt road to El Mamey, where our trek began.    

Some companies also offer hotel pickup (you’ll need to check with your tour company).  We stayed at Casa Carolina, just a five-minute walk from the Wiwa office. 

Luggage Storage

Wiwa allowed us to store our luggage in their office during our trek at no extra cost.  Many other tour companies offer the same service.

One thing to note: Wiwa’s back office is not air-conditioned, and Santa Marta gets hot.  So make sure you don’t leave any chocolate or expensive electronics in your bag. 

Meals and Snacks

Except for breakfast on day 1 and dinner on day 4, all meals will be provided by your tour company.  Meals are prepared by cooks at each campsite along the trail, and they were more than willing to cater to special dietary requests.

Each meal more or less consisted of the following: 

  • Breakfast: eggs, juice, fruit, sometimes an arepa, and coffee or hot chocolate
  • Lunch: A protein (chicken or fish), soup or rice, and juice
  • Dinner: A protein (chicken or fish), rice or vegetables, juice, and a chocolate bar

The portion sizes were large, and we thought the food was incredible.  We especially loved the whole fried fish.

a plate with a whole fried fish, a scoop of yellow rice, and a fried plantain
We loved the fried fish, plantains, and rice

In addition to the campsite meals, your tour group will provide a few snacks each day.  Most of these were fresh fruit stops at designated points along the trail.  We loved these, as the fresh pineapple and watermelons they served were incredible.

Water 

Clean water is available at each campsite.  However, we noticed very quickly on our first day of hiking in the afternoon heat that we would have to replenish our water multiple times before arriving at our first camp.  

There are plenty of small shops along the trail where you can purchase bottled water and snacks, and we were glad to have brought plenty of cash. 

The campsite water comes from the rivers and is filtered and treated.  We had heard mention that occasionally, the water can still have some silt in it, especially after a heavy rainstorm.  

Even though the microorganisms have been filtered out, this small amount of silt might bother you if you have a weak stomach. 

If you’re worried about it, we recommend bringing a small water filter or extra cash to purchase bottled water. 

My Sawyer squeeze pouch water filter is one of my favorite hiking gadgets and something I frequently bring with me. 

a blue water jug for filtered water
The water filtration system at each campsite

Campsites and Sleeping Arrangements

You will sleep in bunk beds with mosquito nets or hammocks. Wiwa’s website states that the sleeping arrangements are 70% hammocks and 30% bunk beds, so we were fully expecting to rough it in a hammock.  

However, when we did this hike in late February, there were plenty of bunks for every tour group. Our tour guide explained that the hammocks are only used as overflow sleeping during the busiest times of the year. 

a row of bunk beds with mosquito nets
Our bunk beds with mosquito nets at Adan Camp

The campsites also have cold showers and flushing toilets, although there was often no toilet paper in the stalls.  We recommend carrying toilet paper with you in your day pack. 

Electricity, Wifi, and Cell Reception

We had zero cell reception at any point along our Lost City trek.  A few of the campsites had Wifi available for purchase.  Our tour guide was able to connect and send messages at our first campsite.

Some of the campsites have a few power outlets, but these were almost always being used.  We recommend bringing a portable power bank to charge your phone. 

Guides

Unguided groups are not allowed on the Lost City trek, and having a professional guide is the best part of the experience.

Our indigenous guide, Pedro, did a fantastic job of explaining the history of the Lost City and telling us about the traditions and customs of the local communities we passed through.

Pedro is actually a member of the Kogui tribe and had some really unique insights.  Since he didn’t speak much English, we also had an interpreter with us.

Lost City Entrance Ticket

Your tour group will coordinate all needed entrance tickets. We were told to bring a copy of our passport, although we were only asked to show it when paying our final balance at the Wiwa office before heading out. 

Best Lost City Trek Companies 

We did a lot of research before booking our Lost City trek and finally decided on Wiwa tours.  Wiwa is the only tour company that uses guides from the indigenous tribes of Wiwa or Kogui.  

Our guide was from the Kogui tribe, and it was amazing to get a more in-depth understanding of Kogui culture.  We got to learn about the Kogui belief system and their coming-of-age traditions, and we even got to meet the Mamu, their spiritual leader.  

Expotur was our runner-up choice.  Most of their guides are from Santa Marta or nearby, and they provide a fantastic, organized service.  

Here’s a table summary of all the local tour groups we looked at: 

Tour CompanyTour Duration OptionsProsCons
Wiwa Tours3 days: includes a one-hour motorcycle ride for the first portion of the trail
4 days: most popular option
5 days
6 days: includes one night with the indigenous community
Indigenous guides, learn about culture
They offer a 3-day option
They will travel with groups of 2 and up
Emphasis on Ecotourism
They offer a 3-day option with a motorcycle ride (this can be a pro or a con, depending on your preferences)
Expotur4 days
5 days
6 days
Well-established company with great reviews
Comprehensive education on the history of the area
Larger group sizes
Slightly more expensive than Wiwa
Magic Tour Colombia3 days: no motorcycle

4 days

5 days
Employ local, english-speaking guidesThey offer a 3-day option with no motorcycle ride (this can be a pro or a con, depending on your preferences)

Best Time of Year to Do the Lost City Trek

The best time to do the Lost City trek is during the dry season, from December to March.  The end of January through early March is a perfect time for enjoying the dry weather and avoiding the holiday crowds. 

The lost city trek is closed each September.  The local indigenous communities use this month to participate in annual rituals at the site.

Besides September, the trek is open year-round.  However, hiking during the rainy season (April-November) comes with a whole set of challenges.  The trails (which are often very steep) can become wet and very muddy, and river crossings can be much more difficult.

We went in late February and thought that this was a fantastic time.  The trail wasn’t overly crowded and the river crossings were easy (we were able to avoid getting our feet wet).  The afternoons were hot, but we were well prepared with water and sun protection. 

sunny weather over the Colombian jungle
We had sunny (often hot) weather during our trek in late February

Lost City Trek Colombia Itinerary: Day By Day

Day 1: Santa Marta to El Mamey to Adán Camp

On your first day, you’ll meet with your tour group in the morning (we met at Wiwa’s office at 7:30) to pay your remaining balance and meet your tour guides and group members.  It’s at this point that you’ll be able to leave your luggage with the office staff.  

You’ll then climb into a 4×4 vehicle to make the 2-hour drive to El Mamey.  Our vehicle was a large van, but many of the other groups were in a jeep. 

After the first hour of driving, you’ll take a quick snack stop at a small store in a local village.  From there, you’ll begin the final hour drive along the unpaved, winding road to El Mamey, where your trek will begin.

This last portion of the drive was pretty nausea-inducing for me, and I was glad to have brought some Dramamine

Once at El Mamey, you’ll be served a big lunch and be given a bit of time to rest before starting the 8km (5-mile) afternoon hike to the first campsite. 

This first afternoon was hot, and we were glad to have brought plenty of cash to purchase extra water bottles along the trail.

hiker sitting on a bench with sunglasses
Our first afternoon was sunny and very hot

For the first portion, you’ll be hiking uphill along a wider dirt road with plenty of motorcyclists and donkey trains.  Our guide recommended not using headphones in order to hear the motorcycles and donkeys as they approached.  

We had one fruit stop along the trail, then arrived at Camp Vista Hermosa late afternoon. 

This first campsite is next to a fun swimming hole, and since we were the first group to arrive, we had the place all to ourselves.

overview of a river swimming hole
This swimming hole was super fun; there’s a cliff-jumping spot and a small waterfall

Depending on your group’s pace and how long it takes to hike to the campsite, you’ll have anywhere from one to four hours before dinner is served.  This waiting time can get long, and we recommend having a downloaded ebook or a few podcasts to pass the time. 

Day 2: Adán Camp to Paraiso Teyuna Camp

On the second day of hiking, you’ll be woken up fairly early (we were woken up around 5:30 am on most mornings).  This second day of hiking is longer (around 14 km or 8.5 miles), and there are a few steep uphill sections. 

It was on this second day that we passed alongside the first indigenous village.  This village was made of a series of thatched huts, and our guide explained that this area was more used for rituals and that the Kogui didn’t live here all the time.

overview of thatched huts
The first indigenous village we walked past; this one is mostly used for ceremonies

NOTE: your guides will most likely remind you to please not take photos of the indigenous people without asking your guide’s permission first. 

You’ll stop for lunch at a campsite right next to the shallow river Buritaca, where you can swim or hang out after eating.

You’ll then continue to camp #2, Paraíso Camp, which is located very near the Lost City. After dinner on this second night, your guide will explain more about the local customs of the four main indigenous groups in the area.

Day 3: Paraiso Camp to The Lost City, back to Mumake Camp

You’ll wake up early again on the third day and start making your way to the Lost City. It’s only a few kilometers, but you’ll be climbing over 1200 steps, so be prepared!

Once at the Lost City terraces, your guide will take a few minutes to explain the significance of the site.  You’ll then have about an hour to explore on your own and take pictures.  You’ll also be offered a snack platter with crackers, jellied candies, and cheese.

overview of the Lost City terraces from the top terrace
Our view of the Lost City terraces from the top terrace

You’ll then head back to Paraiso camp for lunch before starting the 9.6km (almost 6 miles) hike back down to camp #3, Mumake camp. 

Day 4: Mumake Camp back to El Mamey

Your final day will be another long day of hiking (12.7 km or 7.9 miles) back to El Mumake.

You’ll have a big lunch at El Mumake before getting back into the 4×4 for the 2-hour drive back to Santa Marta. 

Tips To Have a Great Experience on the Lost City Trek

Our top tips for having a great experience on the Lost City Trek are to pack light, bring ziplock bags to separate your wet clothes from the dry, and bring enough cash.  

Bring a Power Bank and Don’t Plan on Cell Reception

We had no data reception at any point along our 4-day trek, so we recommend letting your family and friends know beforehand that you’ll be off the grid for a few days.

Also, while there are power outlets at a few of the campsites, these are often being used by other tourists or guides.  We recommend bringing a small power bank to charge your phone.

Anker power bank
This is my favorite power bank by Anker and I always have it with me

Bring Enough Cash

We underestimated how much water we would drink, especially on our first hot afternoon.  While there is plenty of clean water at each campsite, you’ll need to have cash on hand to buy extra water bottles at the small shops along the trail. 

You’ll also need enough cash to tip your guides and chefs and for any souvenirs or snacks.  

Bring Zippered Plastic Bags

You will sweat a lot on this trek, regardless of what time of year you complete it, and your clothes will get drenched.

Our tour guide gave us a large black trash bag to keep our wet clothes and our dry clothes separate in our backpacks, but we were glad to have a few additional zipper gallon bags.

One important note: because of the humidity, your wet clothes will NOT dry out overnight.  We opted to reuse our same wet clothes for multiple days instead of packing a fresh set for each day, just to save on pack weight.

shirts and a towel hanging on a clothesline
Your clothes will only dry in direct sunlight, so don’t plan on drying them overnight

But if you can’t stand the thought of putting on wet clothes in the morning, you will need a new set of pants and a shirt for each day. 

Pack Light

Unlike other treks we’ve done in South America, like our 4-day trip on the Inca Trail, the Lost City trek does not use porters.

The trek uses fixed campsites, so you won’t need to carry sleeping gear, but you’ll need to carry all your clothes, shoes, and other things in a day pack.

We recommend bringing a small backpack.  We saw some other group members with larger frame packs, but we think this is unnecessary and just adds extra weight.  If you’re smart with your packing, you’ll be able to fit everything you need in a regular backpack. 

Bring Close-Toed Water Shoes 

One of our favorite things about this trek is that there are multiple opportunities to swim in the river.  I had taken a pair of cheap flip flops and wished I had packed a better pair of closed-toed water shoes to protect my feet from the rocks in the river.

Bring Earplugs

You’ll be sleeping with rows of other trekkers; we recommend bringing earplugs

You will most likely be sleeping in dorm-style bunk beds with mosquito nets, and it can get noisy at night. 

There was a loud bird that squawked all night at our first campsite, and I had a loudly-snoring neighbor at our last camp.  You’ll definitely want earplugs to block out the noise. 

Toilet Paper is Not Always Available

We suggest carrying a small baggie of toilet paper because the campsites don’t always have it in the bathroom stalls.  

Most of the time we were able to find a community roll of paper hanging up outside of the bathroom area, but with the number of campers using the toilets, this often gets depleted pretty quickly. 

Bring Long Sleeves

There are quite a few mosquitos on this trek, especially at the Lost City itself. To protect your skin on the trail, you’ll want at least one pair of long pants and one good hot-weather hiking shirt

DEET Treat Your Clothes

This just adds another layer of protection against mosquitos. We DEET-treated our main set of hiking clothes, and I only ended up with one mosquito bite (Kendall didn’t get any!). 

Use Trekking Poles or a Knee Brace

Especially if you’ve got knee problems, trekking poles or a hiking knee brace can help take a lot of the pressure off of your lower body, especially on the steep descents. 

Tipping Guidelines on the Lost City Trek

While tipping is not required, we always think it’s a good idea to show appreciation for your guides–they work hard!  We read that 10% of your trip cost for each guide is a good amount.  For Wiwa, just remember that you’ll want to tip both your guide and your interpreter.

Where to Stay in Santa Marta Before the Lost City Trek

We stayed at Casa Carolina, a boutique hotel just a five-minute walk from the Wiwa Tours office.  We loved our stay there and would highly recommend this hotel to anyone.

The hotel coordinated our transport to and from the airport, and the staff was very friendly.  And, the hotel has multiple swimming pools and decks to lounge around. 

overview of one of the pools at the Casa Carolina hotel
This hotel was awesome and is only a five-minute walk from the Wiwa Tour office in Santa Marta

Lost City Trekking FAQ

Is the Lost City Trek Worth It?

Yes, we think that the lost city trek is worth it, especially if you will be in Colombia for at least ten days.  The trek gives you some of the best views in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is a great way to learn about local culture.  The trek takes between 3 and 5 days, depending on the tour company.

How Long is the Hike to the Lost City?

The hike to the Lost City in Colombia is approximately 28 miles or 44 kilometers. It is most commonly completed in four days, although some tour companies offer three-day, five-day, and six-day options. 

Can You Hire a Mule for the Lost City Trek?

Yes, you can hire a mule to carry your gear along the lost city trek.  The cost is around 40-50 USD per day.  However, most hikers choose to pack light in a small daypack and carry their own gear. 

Can You Do the Lost City Trek Alone?

No, it is not permitted to hike to the Lost City in Colombia without a tour guide.  Except for the month of September, local tour companies offer guided excursions year-round.  The most popular tour companies are Wiwa Tours, Expotur, and Magic Tour Colombia. 

How Do I Get to the Lost City in Colombia?

The lost city is reached via a 3-5 day trek through the Sierra Nevada mountains near Santa Marta, Colombia.  It is mandatory to complete the trek with a tour guide, no solo hiking is allowed. 

Most hikers arrive at the city of Santa Marta at least a day prior to their hike departure time to pay their remaining balance and check in with their tour company. 

Is The Lost City Trek Harder Than Machu Picchu?

Both treks are difficult and require that hikers are in good physical condition.  The Lost City trail is slightly longer (28 miles compared to 26 miles) and is much more hot and humid.  The Inca trail has more stone steps and reaches a much higher altitude.  This is also true for the popular Inca Trail Alternatives, such as Salkantay.