For reasons I still do not understand, I did not hike to Ciudad Perdida on my first visit to Santa Marta, and the Lost City has been high on my wish list for years. So when I unexpectedly end up in Colombia in the midst of the Covid pandemic, and I learn that the site has been re-opened only weeks before after a ten-month closure, I am keen to give it a go. An antigen test is required, and we gladly fuilfill the requirement as we want to do everything we can to prevent bringing the virus to the indigenous people living on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Hiking up can only be done with guides, and we are lucky to have two very knowledgeable women who turn out to be great company, too. After hearing horror stories about the hike being super hard, it turns out to be quite easy, also because we make several stops on the way up. The best stops are the fruit stops, where we feast on pineapple, tangerine and above all: watermelon. After a while, we leave the last of the fincas of regular farmers behind us. We now start seeing villages of the Wiwa and Kogi, the indigenous people who are descendants of the Tayrona people who populated the area when the Spanish colonisers arrived in the early 16th century. They brought both war and smallpox, eventually wiping out most of the Tayronas. Some were wise enough to flee high up into the mountains, and Teyuna, or Ciudad Perdida, their main city, was abandoned.
Even though a steady flow of people hike up Ciudad Perdida every day since many years, the Wiwa and Kogi seem shy. We are invited to get explanations about their life by a Wiwa, and learn that the tribes have a surprisingly high degree of autonomy to arrange their affairs. The difference between the tribes can be seen mostly through how they wear their dresses, and the hats of the Mamos (the shaman leaders): pointed hat for those living in the mountains, and a flat one for those living in the plains. When we wake up the third day, we know that this will be the big day. We hike upstream the Buritaca river, take off our shoes and wade through the cold water, and then begin hiking up the famous 1200 moss-covered stone steps to the entrance of Ciudad Perdida. After a temperature check, and a stamp in our Teyuna passport, we sit down on one of the stones and listen to a lengthy explanation of the history, the discovery, and the function of Ciudad Perdida. After the abandonment by the Tayrona, the city was overgrown by trees, although locals claim they continued to use it for ceremonial purposes. It was the Sepúlveda family, looters and hunters, who accidentally found the stairs and re-discovered the city. Others soon joined in, fighting broke out, and looted gold found at the site emerged on the black market. It was only in 1976 that one of the looters decided to inform the government about the existence of Teyuna. It was called Buritaca-200, it being the 200th archaeological site of the country. When a helicopter pilot was looking for the place, he radioed "Where is the Lost City?" to people on the ground, thus giving it the name that has stuck. It is time to explore.
The lower part, where we are, was mostly used for trade, as the Tayrona were traders. Ordinary people were not allowed to go higher up into the city. The guide shows us a rock in which a map of the region is drawn, with rivers, peaks, lakes, and trails. We walk further up to the second, or central section of Teyuna, which was mostly residential. All houses were wooden structures built on circular stone platforms, which can still be seen. It is, of course, no coincidence that the Wiwa and Kogi villages we had seen all consisted of circular houses - the shape of the sun. We reach the highest section, where the most important buildings and temple could be found. Indeed, the platforms are noticeably larger. When we reach the highest point and turn around, we enjoy the panoramic view of the terraces, the platforms, the towering palm trees, and the Buritaca valley in the background. Soldiers are stationed here to keep an eye on the historic sight (in 2003, a group of visitors was kidnapped here). Our guides have timed our visit well: when the others have left, Ciudad Perdida is ours. On our way down, we meet the Mamo of the Kogi who lives right next to Teyuna. He takes the time to answer our questions, and we feel super lucky to hear his wise words, his view of the world, an insight in his way of thinking. He tells us that he and other Mamos are about to perform a ceremony at the sea for the pandemic to lift. We wish him good luck, and walk through other sectors of the Lost City, down the 1200 steps again, through the river, and start our hike down, all the way to El Mamey. When we have lunch there, we are all bright smiles for a very successful trek through Buritaca Valley to see one of the great sights of Colombia.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Teyuna (Colombia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Teyuna. Read more about this site.