TREK THROUGH TIME

Colombia 2015 | TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY: CIUDADPERDIDA

Once at the heart of the Tairona civilisation, today Teyuna offers adventurous visitors a unique glimpse of the past.

Colombia's Ciudad Perdida, or 'lost city' trek, is today one of the county's greatest touristic landmarks. Although the local indigenous populations the Wiwa, and Koguis would argue that it was never lost as such, the site itself was rediscovered in 1975 by a group of local guaqueros, or grave-robbers when they stumbled across a 1,200 stepped stairway leading up to archaeological ruins overgrown by dense jungle. Little did both parties expect how immensely popular the site would become for foreign tourists over the next thirty years.

Today the arranged hikes and arduous journey typically begin from the nearby town of El Mamey, some 23km from the architectural site itself. The trek is usually done in four to six days, depending on how many rivers and regular stop-offs the visitor wants to make. Trekkers sleep in hammocks, and indigenous settlements, crossing and swimming in several streams and rivers adjacent to the Buritaca River, one of the 36 rivers that descend from the snowy peaks of the majestic Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The latter is Colombia's highest mountain at 5,700m—despite being only 26 miles from the Caribbean coast. The trek culminates with a fantastic ascent up some 1,200 steps to what would have been the urban centre, where a day is allowed to explore the site itself before turning back.

The settlement is known by the indigenous populations as Teyuna. According to the world heritage foundation the site was an administrative, political and manufacturing centre, the largest on the Buritaca River and may have housed 2,000 to 8,000 people, until apparently being abandoned upon the arrival of the conquistadors to Colombia.

The region of Santa Marta was the heartland of the Tayrona civilisation, a collection of chiefdoms during pre-Colombian times. There are numerous indigenous tribes in the region, the Arhuacos, Koguis, and Wiwas, whose settlements are found along the trail where they offer food and shelter for tourists and weary trekkers.
According to the Instituto de Antropología e Historia the majority of the huts and settlements in Teyuna itself were used for residential purposes, some strictly for men and others for women. The materials and artefacts discovered when excavation began in the 1970s indicate there were several buildings used for ritualistic and initiation purposes. Other areas were used to store tools, weapons and food. The cultivation of corn and ceramics was undertaken in the open spaces where the Tyrona populations would socialise. The Ciudad Perdida consists of a series of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads and several small circular plazas.

The Ciudad Perdida has at times over the past 30 years been a hotbed of guerrilla, paramilitary, and narco-trafficking activity. This chapter in the area's history is today fading, and organisations such as the Ministry of Tourism and Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Ambientales Tayrona are ensuring it becomes one of the country's most sustainable and celebrated national treasures.