Ciudad Perdida | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Ciudad Perdida

Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020

About Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida, which literally translate as “lost city”, is a remote and spectacular ancient city in Colombia which now operates as archaeological park.

History of Ciudad Perdida

Thought to date to at least the 8th century AD, Ciudad Perdida was one of a number of settlements built by the Tayrona Indians, who inhabited the area now known as Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Located high in the mountains, it is unclear exactly how long the site was inhabited for, though it’s believed Ciudad Perdida was abandoned to the jungle around the time of the Spanish conquest.

Local tribes knew of the city’s existence and visited regularly, following the city’s abandonment. Reportedly they gave the Spanish gifts of gold in order to appease them, although this didn’t work: several items made from this gold can be seen in museums across Colombia today.

In 1972 the site was discovered by looters who began collecting artefacts from the area and selling them on the black market. This in turn led to archaeologists exploring the region and Ciudad Perdida was uncovered officially in 1976. Major excavation works took place for the following 6 years in order to uncover more of the site. .

Ciudad Perdida today

Remote yet spectacular, Ciudad Perdida is high on many travellers’ lists of things to see in Colombia. The mystery, atmosphere and views from the site are all spectacular, and well worth the effort it takes to get here. You’ll want to be one of the first groups here in the day to really get a feel for it (and to take the best photos). Guides and translators do a good job at bringing the site’s history to life: although it’s been excavated and cleared to reveal a number of raised stone and earth platforms built atop high mountain peaks, it can be hard to picture what life here must have been like.

The remaining structures include the ruins of houses, paths, staircases, storehouses, canals and communal areas as well as remains thought to have a ceremonial purpose.

Native peoples still live in this area, and after kidnappings in the early 2000s the site has military posts – don’t be surprised if you spot men in uniform and holding guns who look somewhat out of place when you get there.

It’s worth also remembering the site is under threat from over-tourism. Whilst it’s a major draw for the area, and a means of livelihood for local communities, the dramatic increase in the number of visitors puts the site’s long term future at risk.

Getting to Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida is not for the faint hearted: you can only access the site via a guided four day trek (or longer if you want to go at a slower pace) through the jungle. It’s an experience in itself, but it’s steep terrain and hot: ask to start as soon as it gets light to avoid hiking in the worst of the jungle heat, pack lightly, and honestly assess your fitness before starting. It’s not glamorous, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.

Most treks depart from the nearby town of Santa Marta – several tour operators will offer their services and its worth doing some research about the quality of their guides and what they offer.