Walking The Trail

Day 1:

A Guias y Baquinos Landcruiser picks us up from La Brisa Loca hostel in central Santa Marta at around 8:30AM. We throw our bags in and sit down on the bench seats for the 10 minute drive to Taganga and the Expotur office.

We pay for the tour and wait for some late arrivals. Six of us are going on the La Ciudad Perdida adventure. By 10AM we’re on our way to the village of Mamey. After driving along bitumen roads for around two hours, we turn off into the jungle. We’re packed in tight but still comfortable.

We stop so the guides can sign the trip into the national park registry. The snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta appear for a brief moment. The road is like a carved riverbed that sends oranges rolling and the vehicle lurching.

1PM. A small cloud of dust lifts off the vehicle as we arrive in Mamey, a concrete strip of a town lined with colourful houses. Lunch is Coke and salad sandwiches. A Magic Tours guide introduces himself and his wife, who will be making the meals on the trek.

Around 20 guides work in rotation over a 30 day period. Some companies share guides and equipment. All the campsites are shared by the various companies.

By around 2PM a dog escort leads us into the lower flanks of the Sierra. Some hills are stripped of vegetation to grow avocados.

 A soldier watches over the entrance of the trail. Our guide describes the walk via a map. We pass an old Kogi man and continue along the quiet river.

The wet season brings a different experience. The track is slippery and muddy and the river high. (Dry season- generally December until the beginning of March) At the moment it’s easy to hop across the rocks and to the other side. In some places planks link the protuding islands over the translucent water.

We cross the river three times and swim in a deeper section of the river. Next, it’s a sweaty, hour long walk zig-zagging up a hill. Fresh oranges at a house surrounded by flowers provide some refreshment. Higher up we sit with locals and eat watermelon while looking out over the mountains.

 Huts sell food, drinks and chocolate at regular intervals along the trail.

The Buritaca twists through the valley floor far below. You could walk straight up the river and at some point you might discover the steps leading to the Lost City.

Kogi men march in single file down the track. A little black dog follows us for the whole day.

We pass a sheltered campsite full of empty hammocks. There’s a shop close by. We descend into lush jungle and past a one building school. The high-walled dirt tunnel of a track leads to a small village by the river.

 A flickering cathode tube pumps out high treble cumbria.

We traverse the valley and walk around cows and through a gate just as night falls. It’s the home of one of our guides. Fifty hammocks with blankets and mosquito nets waver in the warm breeze. Power stays on until 10PM, so you can charge your equipment if there aren’t too many people at the campsite. You can also buy soft drinks and beer.

Dinner is fresh chicken, rice, salad and potatoes plus a chocolate bar for dessert and some juice. We talk until sleep takes over. Snoring humans and growling dogs break the silence of the night.

Day 2:

Sunlight burns through the clouds. Breakfast is toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and a big bowl of fruit with yoghurt. Hot chocolate and juice or water is also available.

We’re on our way again by 8:30AM. We walk along a ridge line through the jungle and look out over the valleys below. Another three small river crossings. Waterfalls break through the wet jungle. We meet people riding mules on their return journey.

A pineapple break. Our guide explains that the cocaine tours no longer run. We descend until reaching a clear grassy area leading to a Kogi village. Children materialize, searching for sugar. Many children wait for candy, pencils and paper. The guide’s brother appears on the track on his way back from tending crops. Coca plants grow near the village. A path leads down to the river where you can jump off a cliff and swim in the cool water. We relax for a while and eat some slices of pineapple. The track leads rises and falls until we reach our campsite at 2PM on the banks of a river.

Lunch is a filling soup with crackers and juice. There’s no power at this camp. There are beds instead of hammocks.  You can have a swim in the river and do laundry if you’re able to dry your clothes.

Day 3:

We’re off at 7AM. Breakfast is fruit salad with yoghurt  and hot chocolate, coffee or juice.

We walk along the high side of the river. In some places the track is narrow but it’s built up with concrete. A new bridge is in place before you climb a big hill.

The Kogi have a special place where they pray for the balance of nature. They make offerings on a rock when they pass the area. You can buy some Kogi bags or some snacks if you need some. We continue further down into the jungle and see a cocoa plant and evidence of Tayrona construction, a crumbling wall. We enter the heart of a tree.

Then in an open area we see where La Ciudad Perdida lies. Other ruins lie on a hill in the other direction.

Now we follow the banks of the Buritaca. The massive variety of Colombia’s plant life is on full display in this section of the jungle. We cross the Buritaca twice before camp.

We pass some Kogi children, then a snake appears on the path. Continuing along the steep banks of the Buritaca, we reach the final camp by 12PM. There’s no power here. There’s snacks available and mattresses or hammocks.

Ascent to the Lost City

We walk along a cliff face. There’s real potential to slip down a cliff in this section of the track. It’s safe if you walk slowly. We ford the river one more time and after our 30 minute walk, we stand at the base of the stairs leading up into the Lost City.

We climb the twisting, mossy steps for around another 30 minutes before reaching the lower part of the ruins.

The site is divided into four parts with plenty of time to see everything if you’re in a small group. There are more uncovered ruins in the site but the Kogi won’t allow any more excavations.

Army soldiers live at the site. They used to sell their gear as souvenirs but things are stricter now. We eat a pasta and cheese lunch at Ciudad Perdida, but normally groups have to eat outside the site. When tours first came through here people used to sleep under the stars at the site itself. The soldiers sell drinks as well. We wander around the site with more than enough time to see everything we want to see. We traverse through different areas of the ancient city and pop out from a side track half way down the stairs.

It’s getting dark now and time to get back to camp. Dinner is beef, rice, salad, beans, potatoes and juice.

Day 4:

The day begins with an arepa and cheese plus a coffee, hot chocolate or juice.

We leave camp at 8:30AM. We’re heading for camp one today. We arrive at camp two for lunch at 12:30PM and eat sausages with rice, salad and potatoes. We’re off again at 2:15PM and arrive at the first campsite at 5:15PM

It’s about 40 minutes of flat walking, plus an hour of straight uphill and two hours of ascending and descending.

Day 5:

Before breakfast we climb down a waterfall near the campsite.

It’s 45 minutes of uphill with the rest flat walking or downhill and back to Mamey for a lunch of chicken fish or beef. We arrive in Santa Marta at 5pm to continue our Colombian adventures…

Notes: (2012 prices)

All camps have mosquito nets, flushing toilets (no toilet paper) and cold showers.

Mule around 30,000 COP/ day.

Mule on return = 40,000 COP from first camp to end / 80,000 COP from second camp to end.

Chocolate bars – 2,000 COP / Beer, Gatorade and Coke – 4,000 COP (5,000 COP on later days).

Drinks available in Mamey – 4,000 COP.

Cold drinks at ruins available for sale from army – 5,000 COP.