Teyuna, Colombia’s “Lost City”
It isn’t an easy hike, but few journeys offer insight into indigenous life in Colombia like a trek to the ancient city of Teyuna.
Biblical downpours. Inescapable heat. Insects that penetrate the skin and require several forceful tugs to release. These might sound like scenes from an apocalyptic adventure movie, but on the trail to Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida, they’re all in a day’s trek. The land at the end of the trail is enchanting, cloaked in spellbinding history and ancient traditions—but it takes plenty of fortitude to get there.
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For centuries, Ciudad Perdida—which lurks high in the mountainous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta reserve on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast—was hidden from the world. In 800 C.E., the Tairona people built the city, which they called Teyuna, and lived there until the 16th-century Spanish invasion forced them to abandon their homes. Gnarled roots and creeping foliage slowly enveloped the land; it was almost completely overgrown when treasure hunters rediscovered the area in 1972. They dubbed it the “Lost City.”
Today, the ruins are still buried under thick vegetation; however, swells of visitors are bulldozing a path for intrepid travelers.
You cannot visit the Lost City without a tour group, and local communities only allow select companies to make the trip. The 32-mile trek lasts from three to six days and, unlike Peru’s most famous ancient archaeological site, Machu Picchu, luxury doesn’t pave the way. There are no shiny trains full of well-to-do tourists chugging through the mountains. And swanky lodges? Forget it. Everyone journeys on foot and sleeps in sheltered camps; bunk or hammock, you decide.G Adventures in November, it was just before the dry season, which is December through March—but still, it was hot. To avoid the intense heat, we began each day’s trek at 6 a.m., mornings humming with the sound of cicadas. During our seven-hour days, we followed rivers that run alongside the trail and reflect the overhanging jungle, but the path in front of us was parched.
For centuries, Ciudad Perdida—which lurks high in the mountainous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta reserve on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast—was hidden from the world.
During our last overnight before entering la Ciudad Perdida, after we staggered into our low-roofed camp, called Paraíso (Paradise), I discovered my first garrapata. While some trekkers collapsed to the earth in a kind of delirium, and others squirted water on their blotchy, reddened faces, I worked to dislodge the determined bug that had lodged its head so firmly inside me.
That night, like all the other nights, we feasted on plates of beans, fluffy rice, chicken, and passion fruit. After dinner, visitors played cards and drank beer. Wiwa guides sat around a campfire, silently chewing the coca mixture and scrubbing their poporos.
“Tomorrow,” Gabo told me before bed, “we will visit our sacred land.” After days of trekking together, swinging next to each other in hammocks, interacting in Spanish (even when a hammock and a siesta seemed preferable), and seeing who could spit watermelon seeds the farthest, Gabo was finally starting to open up.
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