Ancient lost cities spark a sort of childlike curiosity. For me, Sierra de Santa Martha includes everything reminiscent of Jumanji. There’s a jungle, drums, an alien culture, a lost city and a tomb raider! The fabled El Dorado City, now lost for many decades, attracts tourists and archaeologists from all over the world.
Sierra de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain in the world and is the birthplace of the Teyuna. This astounding indigenous civilisation has vanished with only its forgotten treasures left behind. Come along as we seek to find the treasure of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Let’s Go Hiking
Leaving the city of Santa Marta, the hiking destination of Sierra Nevada is a treasure trove in itself! Follow in the footsteps of the Spanish conquistadors whose lust for gold inspired the legend of El Dorado. This civilisation rivalled even that of the Aztecs. It’s the last pre-Colombian city, and its indigenous magic still pulses from the heart of the mountain! It’s centuries older than Machu Picchu, and much more awe-inspiring.
Getting to Teyuna is a four-day uphill hike on muddy paths once ruled by drug smugglers, treasure thieves and hostage takers! It’s 23 kilometres each way. It’s almost essential to wear rubber boots, as the mountain boasts incredible humidity and wet weather. Currently, the experience links ancient cultures and civilisations with that of modern travellers.
Your hike will begin in a village officially named El Mamey. Here, the tour guide will brief you on what to expect and the exciting bits that await. Despite having to carry your clothes, food and other essentials are carried by mules. One mule for every five hikers!
After about four hours, and 8 kilometres of uphill hiking, you reach the first base camp! Here, delicious local food is prepared by tag-along cooks. Best of all, dietary restrictions are easily accompanied. Finally, sleep in comfortable mosquito-netted bunk beds for a well-earned night’s rest!
Before the sun is out, strap on your hiking boots and go. Traversing over streams and rivers, the waterfall awaits! The strenuous 9-hour hike will leave your blood pumping as the jungle forest sings its melody. The second day’s hike is as much about nature as it is about culture. While progressing upwards, a tour guide takes you to meet the tribes.
The Wiwa and Kogi are the descendants of the Teyuna civilisation and eagerly await you. So too awaits the waterfall. At mid-day, you have a chance to bathe in the pristine waters of one of the forest’s waterfalls. Afterwards, the real hike begins! Continuing upwards, many hikers decide to pay mule owners for a ride uphill, but it doesn’t seem that comfortable.
Fly over streams and rivers with a makeshift cable car. Drawing closer to the ancient lost city, Teyuna holds its breath for the oncoming visitors. Ascend 1000 stone steps to the Ciudad Perdida and try not to gasp for air once you mount this hill! Then, take a breath. Unfolding before your eyes is the spectacular Teyuna. With its spectacular altitude and breathtaking remoteness, it sits as it once did almost 1500 years ago. Interestingly, only 200 visitors are allowed here per day!
Visiting the lost city makes for a life-changing experience. Pay respect to the local ‘mamo’ or shaman who sells beaded bracelets for health and protection. The last night at camp proves to be invaluable as the Wiwa culture is showcased through the local tour guides. Be sure to check out the top 3 special things to do in Cocora Valley, Colombia.
Going back on the same route, just in the other direction, you feel a sense of accomplishment. Observe the birds, butterflies and animals as you aim to descend down your personal bucket list. Some of the most stunning, eye-popping sights are saved for the finale. Panoramic views of the jungle are taken in before the final destination is reached once more, El Mamay.
Bookings could be done through many tour organisations, but here are a few that stands out for me: Denomades, G Adventures, Viator, and Teyuna Tours all provide world-class travel experiences. Book a 4-day tour with them for the ultimate holiday!
A Moment to Reflect
Nothing could come close to capturing the essence of a lost city for yourself. Travelling here is like finding a treasure within. The route may be challenging, but what else do you expect when setting a course for treasure? In fact, there’s so much to explore and experience in this region that no amount of words could do it justice. So set out and get ready to find the treasure of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, it may just lead to some pretty unexpected discoveries!