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Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona and the Ciudad Perdida trek

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 28 August 2012 | Views [3379]

Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida

After slightly painful (Colombian roads are proving to be a bit challenging) overnight bus journey I arrived to Santa Marta. I was really lucky to be staying with a family of a friend there and in truly Colombian fashion they took care of all of my needs immediately. Jose took me out to see the city, his sister insisted on cooking every meal for me and his mum was just an unbelievably sweet.

It’s always much better to get to know the city through the locals so it was a great pleasure to stay with his family. They also arranged the Ciudad Perdida trek for me.

Santa Marta may not be as pretty as Cartagena but has its charming colonial centre and a beautiful setting. It is not entirely safe however. As soon as I arrived I was warned never to walk alone at night and got some confirmation of the rumours that paramilitaries are still very active around the area. They apparently swapped kidnapping for acting as a local mafia, extorting money for protection from local bars and shopkeepers.

It is no surprise then that the police presence is very welcomed. Colombia has so far been the only country I have ever been to in which people actively thank police officers for patrolling their street. It is also very common to greet the police on the roads as a sign of appreciation of them keeping everyone safe.

Apart from stocking up on essentials before the trek or visit to the Parque Tayrona there isn’t really much to do in Santa Marta. I took a day trip to the nearby Taganga, a small fishing village where basically all of the foreigners stay. I heard mix reviews about it but I have to say that personally I found it pretty horrible. It’s very dirty; the main beach - Playa Grande, is fine but again covered in rubbish and actually not that big. The town itself is full of backpacker amenities, bars and restaurants so if you just go there to get drunk for few days it’s a pretty good spot. For me one afternoon was enough and so I was happy to be staying in Santa Marta itself.

And so the next day it was time to head out for the 5 day trek to Ciudad Perdida. The trek is normally 5 days but Michel and I ended up doing 6 days as we were slightly cheated on the price. Because Jose’s family did the booking through intermediary and not agency itself we had to pay COP50000 more so we insisted that we will stay on the trek for 6 days therefore reducing the cost per night. The normal price is COP600000 and the trek is 5 days. You walk 3 days up and 2 days down.

The one thing I would say is that it is absolutely true that you stay wet throughout. Be it sweat, rain, waterfall – you have no chance of drying your clothes in those 5/6 days.

I was really surprised to see how well equipped the whole thing was considering that only 7000 people a year make it there. For starters you don’t carry your own food and hammock which is a massive relief. The only thing you need to carry is your own stuff. Which brings me to the most important tip for the trek – REMEMBER TO TAKE PLAYING CARDS WITH YOU – this cannot be stressed enough!

The places you stay in are also very comfortable. Only the first night is spent in hammock, the other two you sleep in dorm beds.

After the Amazon I was expecting way more mosquitos and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there really weren’t that many. Normal repellent was also sufficient to deter them.

Each day you walk for about 4 hours (of course depending on your speed and speed of the group – I would say that we were average but we did manage do get to Ciudad Perdida by day 3 which meant that we could have completed the trek in 4 days), there is only one day with 7 hour trek but it’s mostly downhill. All in all, even though it’s challenging at times, mostly due to the heat, I think pretty much everyone is able to do it. For me the greatest challenge was the fact that my knee was still injured and so even 4 hour trekking each day was proving pretty painful. I also managed to fall 5 meters down a waterfall but apart from a sore bum I was totally fine. Most people make it without any accidents…

Each day walking finished pretty much after lunch and so you have all of the afternoon to rest, recover and pick up energy for the next day. There is, however, nothing to do apart from chatting to your trek friends or playing cards…and it is a great mistake if your group did not take a deck with them… Luckily we all got along really well. I can’t even imagine what it could be like being stuck in a jungle for 6 days with people you don’t like…

All in all I would say it is totally worth doing this trek, the journey is beautiful, some of the sights are truly amazing and you get to visit some indigenous Cogi villages (villagers themselves are not the friendliest but they do allow us to walk through their sacred ground so I guess we should be grateful). You do need to like nature to enjoy this hike - it is not the spectacular views from top of the mountain kind of thing. But you get to swim in crystal clear waterfalls, sweat a lot, listen to birds, learn about medicinal plants and camp in the jungle. And at the end of it you get to climb 2000 final steps to the city. For me, there was something truly enchanting to wander through the terraces of this forgotten civilisation (Tayrona) and reward myself with a victory beer at the top… Also after 6 days of being stuck together I have cemented my travelling friendship with Michel and also found a new friend in Andrew, who decided to stay with us the full duration.

The best thing you can do after 6 days of walking is reward yourself with few days on the beach, which is exactly what we did. After one necessary night in the hostel we headed out to Parque Tayrona the next day.  I was thinking that after doing 4 hours trekking each day 45min walk to the camp site would be nothing but it’s hot, sweaty and it turned out that I was pretty fed up with going up all the time… Having said that, place is very nice. We ended up staying at Finca San Pedro which even though not right on the beach was really lovely and peaceful. We decided to sleep in the hammocks (the cheapest option). The beaches are nice and it was a great place to rest. I think after being beach spoilt in Brazil I did not consider the place as amazing as other people did. Thinking that the food was going to be drastically overpriced we brought our own supplies. What we did not realise was that we will need to make our own fire!!! But being with two boys who bragged about being former scouts I did not think it was going to be much of a problem… And so it only took 2 hours to make the fire but after so much effort even the simplest pasta with tomato sauce tasted pretty amazing!!!

Sadly the next day it was time to say good bye to Andrew who after 15 months of travel was heading home. I have to say that meeting him finally made me think about going home myself and realising that 8 months on the road is a fair amount of time and with just 3 months left I should maybe start getting used to the idea of normal life…

Michel and I sticked around on the beach for another day and then decided to make a move and head down the coast to Cartagena.

Tags: beaches, ciudad perdida, losy city, on the road, parque tayrona, santa marta, trekking


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