DAY 1 – meet and greet, 1h30 drive, then 3 hours hiking in the afternoon
Expotur pick you up from your hostel or you meet at their office in the centre of Santa Marta (Cra. 3 #19-27). There you check-in, pay if you haven't already and leave any spare bags that you're not bringing on the trek with you. Expotur will keep these safe for you while you're off trekking. You are put into groups (ours was 10 people with a guide and a translator), and then into jeeps to travel 1.5 - 2 hours out of Santa Marta to a remote village called Machete. There you have lunch before setting off.
You start the walk at around 2pm, the guide talked us through the route and off we went, starting the climb. This first part is quite exposed as it’s up through the valley that suffered from deforestation for illegal cultivations.
These cultivations were then fumigated by the government with chemicals released from planes flying over to wipe out the cocaine plantations all in one fail swoop. Extremely sadly it also wiped out all the nutrients in the once fertile soil so trees, coffee plants, fruit trees…everything apart from wild grass still struggles to grow there. Our guide was great about explaining the history of the mountains, which includes the paramilitary, marijuana, cocaine, campesinos, indigenous).
We had little stops with fruit and top ups of water meaning everyone in our group could move at our own pace, knowing we would gather again at these breaks.
As regards the ascent, you start at 200m a.s.l (above sea level), get to maximum of 600m a.s.l., then descend a bit to the first night’s accommodation.
Look forward to an awesome natural pool and waterfall surrounded by jungle for an end of day swim. The river swims were a particular highlight for me. Every day, at least once, for those who wanted to, you donned your swimmers and bathed in the refreshing river water.
Lunch and dinner had a similar themes, good sized meals normally with a choice between chicken and fish, with rice and salad), cooked by Expotur employees who go ahead with mules.
Water treated with purification tablets is provided at the meal stops, and you can buy energy drinks and water along the route at the little stalls if you like (at the inflated prices you can expect when everything has to be carried by mule).
If you know you have a sensitive stomach, I would advise bringing extra cash and stick to buying mineral water along the route, just to minimise the risk of you being exposed to a new bug.
We were all in bed by 8pm, ready for our 5am wake up call. After a breakfast of toast, fruit and eggs, we set off walking by 6.15am.
DAY 2 – Colombian flat – 4 hours in the morning, 4 hours in the afternoon
Including breaks, our day was 11 hours long and we got our first taste of Colombian flat – which means undulating rather than steep. Plenty of jokes will be cracked about that.
We walked along the river, sometimes on narrow paths constructed on steep cliffs. You can see why the city was ‘lost’ for many years.
We had a swim at lunch, playing around in the currents, sunbathing on the rocks. You can hang things out to dry on the washing lines as the lunch stops tend to be quite long.
With tummies full, we took on a 20 min steep climb, then ‘flat’ 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes up (if I remember correctly). By this time the mules have been packed up from lunch and are overtaking you along the path so keep an eye out for them.
You pass a couple of indigenous villages – the Wiwas and Cogis tribes – getting an insight into their life. Photos are possible but be respectful - speak to your guide first to get permission from the indigenous families. Their traditions and culture are under threat due to the introduction of tourism, and more contact with the outside world. Pick up rubbish as you go along – every little helps.
The second night you are sleeping at 800m asl only 1h hike from the Ciudad Perdida, and another river swim awaits, and there are some nice boulders to relax on and watch the river go by.
The sleeping arrangements are bunk beds in open sided huts with individual mosquito nets – better than I had assumed we would get and most of the group slept well.
DAY 3 – CIUDAD PERDIDA
By this time most of our group were a little bit ill (still not sure from what) but we set off nice and early for Ciudad Perdida, leaving our bags behind where we slept to pick up on our way back down. Just took water, cameras and cream. Put lots of insect repellent on as there are some hungry bugs up there.
There are 1,200 steps up to the gallera. We shared the Ciudad Perdida with a film crew for the Colombian travel programme, The Trip, and a military helicopter doing the monthly food delivery and rubbish pick up. There is a military base housing 50 soldiers due to it being a strategic place in the Sierra Nevada.
On the way back down there is an optional little detour to a waterfall. I loved it and another great swim!
Having returned back to where we had slept the night before, we picked up our bags and began the walk home, staying the night at the place we had had lunch at on the second day (another great swim/ shower!)
DAY 4 – HOMEWARD BOUND
On the last morning, our fourth day we got up early and walked the three hours to where we had slept the first night for a quick snack and swim. The members in our group who had opted to do the trek in five days stopped here for the night. Us 4-dayers continued on another 3 hours to the end of the trek.
We lunched and showered in Machete, then jumped in the jeep back to Santa Marta, getting in around 4pm if I remember correctly.
There is an option to pre-arrange for your bags to be brought here if you are going on to Tayrona/ Palomino/ Rioacha and not back to Santa Marta. Make sure this is made clear when you drop your bags off at the Expotur office on Day 1.
Day 5 (if you chose the 5 day option) - having stopped at the place we slept the very first night (with the rock pool and waterfall) at 11am, you spend the afternoon and night there. The next morning, no need for an early start to walk the 3 hours back to Machete. To be clear, you walk the first 4 days with the 4 day-ers, exactly the same until mid-morning on the fourth day. The only different is that you split up the last walk over two days, rather than one.
RECOMMENDED KIT LIST
- A small backpack with waterproof cover (or the guides can provide bin bags to wrap around the rucksack)
- Big bag for wet stuff (eventually that will be your whole bag!)
- 1 t-shirt for hiking
- 1 pair of shorts
- 3 pairs of socks
- Hiking boots/ grippy trainers as the path is pretty muddy
- Sun cream
- Sunglasses and cap
- 1.5l bottle of water for you to refill (can buy a big bottle at the pitstop the jeep makes between Santa Marta and the start of the hike)
- Mosquito repellent
- Flipflops to relax in when not in hiking boots
- 1 jumper for evening
- Long trousers for evening
- Head torch
- Loo roll
- Swimming costume
- Light towel
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Portable charger if you want to charge anything
There are basic showers should you want to use them (I relied on the river swims to keep me clean). If you take shower gel, please make sure it's environmentally friendly .
Blankets are provided but I still got a bit cold in the middle of the night so bring warm clothes (a hoodie and trousers as per above)
No need for waterproof jacket – you’re going to get wet, but the rain is warm so no point putting anything over
TRAVELLING TO OTHER PARTS OF COLOMBIA TOO?
For the full collection of notes I collected while exploring Colombia, head to Over to you: Tips for Travel in Colombia
(Includes Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park, Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek, Cartagena, Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Isla Providencia, The Coffee Region, La Guajira and great Colombian music, books and festivals to aim for)
Hope you enjoy!! Please do share with anyone you think might find them useful.
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