Deep in the Colombian jungle lies an ancient city, older, more isolated and more difficult to reach than Machu Picchu.
Ciudad Perdida (‘Lost City’) was built by the Tayrona people over 1,000 years ago (a whole 650 years before Machu Picchu) to be used as a ceremonial centre and residence for somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000 people. It was abandoned during the Spanish conquest and lost for centuries, left to be overtaken and reclaimed by the jungle, until it was rediscovered by treasure looters in the 1970’s.
The journey to get there is not easy. It involves four to six days of trekking through 46 km of winding jungle paths, over precarious rickety bridges, through running streams, up ancient, seemingly endless stairways that lead ever deeper into the heart of the jungle (the final ascent consists of some 1,400 steps) and sleeping in hammocks under impromptu shelters, all at altitudes of 900-1,300 metres above sea level. It requires a good level of fitness, and understandably, it is only possible to visit with a guide (several companies offer tours, all costing about 300 USD).
It may sound scary, but the journey is half the fun. Along the way, travelers encounter several indigenous villages, where Kogi people still live in their straw huts. Their extreme isolation has largely allowed them to preserve their traditional way of life as the descendants of the ancient Tayrona people who built the lost city.
After the arduous trek, the city emerges from the surrounding wilderness and speaks of an ancient civilization, forgotten for centuries and overrun by vegetation, reclaimed by the jungle and the passage of time, the reward for braving your way through the rain forest. It lies on a series of hills, with 169 terraces, several central circular plazas and a network of stone roads, all of which can be explored at your own pace in almost complete solitude.
Machu Picchu is deservedly recognized as a wonder, one of the world’s most fascinating and magical places, but with its direct trains, luxury hotels, modern amenities and throngs of eager tourists, it feels more like a tour than an adventure (there are even buses that take you right to the very top of the mountain). On the other hand, while it is true that the city itself may not be as impressive as Machu Picchu, going to Ciudad Perdida is a true venture into the wilderness: the trek is a challenge; its successful completion, an accomplishment. It is a trip more about the journey than the destination, and an experience that is sure to stay with you for the rest of your life.
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