Top 10 Tips for the Lost City Trek – Ciudad Perdida in Colombia

The trek to the Lost City may include river crossings

The trek to the lost city in Colombia is amazing but still a challenging jungle expedition. You will encounter a variety of conditions and terrain. I’ve compiled my list of top ten tips for packing and preparation. Bring the essentials and avoid needless extras. Remember, you have to carry it all on your back.

  1. Footwear – The trail is steep, rocky, uneven, muddy and slippery. Bring sturdy hiking shoes (waterproof even better) and even more important, at least one dry pair of socks for each day of walking. Wet feet = blisters. My Keen®waterproof hikers and Merino wool socks kept my feet dry and blister free. Suprisingly, I did see a few trekkers hiking barefoot, and running shoes were not uncommon. During the rainy or shoulder seasons, bring a pair of water shoes (my Teva®sandals worked brilliantly) for the river crossings. Have a pair of light slip-on shoes or sandals for evenings in camp.
  2. Clothing – The trail is always hot and humid. Nothing dries out. After the first 10 minutes of walking, even my sweat was sweating. Light, synthetic moisture wicking clothing stays much drier than cotton. 2 sets of shirts and shorts (or pants) are all you need. Keep one set dry to wear at night in camp and you’ll get used to putting your dirty wet hiking clothes back on every morning. Bring plenty of Ziploc or trash bags for your wet clothes and valuables. Dry thigh-length wicking underwear for each day will prevent chaffing. Bring a light hat for sun protection and swimwear for the swimming holes. I was glad I brought a sweatband to keep the sweat out of my eyes and pretty much had to sacrifice it by the end of the hike.
    Facilities – are adequate but primitive. Cold showers and real toilets are available in each sleeping camp, but don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper. If Mother Nature calls on the trail, the entrepreneurial villagers have toilets available but the privilege will cost you $2,000 COP (about 0.62 USD). A hotel-sized bottle of shampoo and liquid soap is adequate. Bring a medium sized microfiber towel. Consider an inflatable pillow and compact sleeping bag liner.
  3. Water – The hike is strenuous, you will sweat a lot and staying hydrated is essential. A refillable Camelback®type hydration bladder for your pack is the most convenient and saves having to carry water bottles. I tried to drink 3 liters of water each day on the trail and it still wasn’t enough. Monitor the color of your urine. If it is yellow or dark, drink more. If it’s mostly clear, you are adequately hydrated. Each sleeping camp has potable (safe to drink) water available.
  4. Insects – Insect bite precautions are recommended to protect against Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, both transmitted by mosquitoes and endemic in the area. Don’t forget to get a yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days prior to arriving in Colombia. No malaria prevention medication is necessary for the trek. Stay covered with light colored clothes (tan or khaki are best; navy and black actually attract mosquitoes). We pre-soaked our clothes with permethrin and used Ultrathon®(by 3M) lotion with DEET. I didn’t get a single bite during our entire 15 day stay in Colombia. I did see many European hikers frequently re-applying some kind of repellent that smelled like citronella. They were covered with bites by the end of the first day. All of the beds in camp have mosquito netting.
  5. Money – All the necessities (food, water and lodging) are included in the cost of the trip, but bring some spending money in small denominations if you want to buy a cold beverage or treats from locals along the trail. The Cantina in each camp sells everything from Coca-Cola to beer and ice cream bars. If your guides worked as hard as ours did, you’ll want to give them a generous tip at the end.
  6. First Aid – The guides carry a limited first-aid kit but I would bring: loperamide (called Imodium®in the US) pills in case you get diarrhea, blister care (such as moleskin), Afterbite®anti-itch treatment, antibiotic ointment, a small tube of zinc oxide cream, and pain relievers such as Tylenol®/acetaminophen and/or anti-inflammatories (like naproxen or ibuprofen). I slipped and fell on the steps coming down from the Lost City and badly injured some ribs. I don’t think I could have finished the trek without some naproxen from my guide. And don’t forget your sunscreen.
  7. Technology – You are in the middle of nowhere. There is no wifi or cell signal on the trek. If you absolutely need it, limited satellite wifi can be purchased in camp. Limited electrical outlets may be available in camp to recharge your device. Plug-in configuration is the same as in the US. It’s best to leave your technology at home. Use the downtime to enjoy every bit of the experience and get to know your fellow hikers.
  8. Season – Plan your trip during the dry season, which is December to March, when it is also a little cooler. We went in December when the trail was less busy and we had no rain during the day (which is unusual). The trail gets much more crowded towards the Spring and you may have to sleep in a hammock instead of a bed.
  9. Leave the rest at home – After 46+ km and over 11,000 feet of climbing, every ounce in your pack counts. Extra wet clothes that you have to carry might as well be rocks. If you’re not sure if you’ll need something, better to leave it behind. I can tell you from our experience that binoculars, cosmetics and extra clothing are needless luxuries.