Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

The lost city trek is an epic walk through the jungle in the Santa Marta region. Before setting off you should be carrying minimal weight, boots with good grip, and you should be fit and healthy. I’d also recommend walking poles, they will save your knees on the descents and generally assist, learn how to use them before the trek! Depending on who you choose as you guides, you’ll arrive at various camps at different times to other parties.

Day 1

Meeting an the Expotours office in Santa Marta, the group went down to the Large jeeps, and were soon on the way out of Santa Marta, and within an hour or so on rough tracks leading up to the village of Machete, where a meal was served with drinks. Once we’d had a feed and brief talk, we were on our way on foot towards the first camp.

The first day in my opinion is the hardest, the track is mostly uphill, there’s no shade and the sun is high and beating down on you. It’s not the longest day walking, but if you’re not in good shape or haven’t done a big trek for a long time you’ll be questioning what you’ve gotten in to. Hang in there.

There are stops along the way where fresh fruit such as pineapple, watermelon and oranges are provided for free. Also little tiendas (shops) will sell bottled water, coca cola and gatorade etc. The absolute best drink to have in my opinion is freshly squeezed oranges from Ramon who has one of the first stalls you’ll encounter. At the time of writing he has a little baby pig and a dog.

Ramon’s baby pig

Once you reach camp you’ll be served up more food (you’ll need this), and iodine treated water is available for free, but you can buy bottled water for 5000COP. Beds will likely be bunks with nets, though in busy seasons you might find yourself in a hammock, which also come with mosquito nets. Other snacks and drinks will be available, including beers, but remember you’re walking in hot sun for days, water and lots of it is best.

The scenery is quite impressive as you climb on the first day, some mountain ranges, rolling hills and woodlands. Some of the tracks are clay, so could be hazardous in wet weather, and there’s a short chalk section. Another hazard here is motorcycles, used to take supplies to the first camps, whereafter mules take over the shifting of supplies (and people).

Day 2

Day two is the longest stretch, but this is where you’ll find your own pace, the guides will allow you to take this challenge as you see fit. The terrain starts to change now, motorcycles give way to mules, and the beating sun is shaded by trees as you ascend and descent hills. We woke at 5am and were walking from 6 after a breakfast, I can’t reiterate enough to eat your meals, even if you feel unwell try and get something down, one guy skipped breakfast and struggled for energy later. The day is split in two, you’ll have stops to again fill up on delicious fruits, and buy drinks before the camp. Arriving at the second camp after 3-4 hours, this offers an opportunity to cool down with a swim in the river (and feel a bit cleaner) before lunch. You also have an opportunity to leave anything you don’t need on the third day at this point, before you do the afternoon stretch to camp 3, so go as light as possible.

After lunch you’ll head to camp 3, more magnificent scenery, but harder because the sun is now high. You’ll be pretty tired by camp 3, where again you’ll get a meal, opportunity to refill your water and buy snacks. Rest up ready for day 3 and the main attraction.

Day 3

Another early start. Make sure you’ve got your entrance passport for the site, or you’ll be shelling out a small fortune no doubt. It’s a fairly gentle trek to the base of Ciudad Perdida, then the steps to the site. The steps are steep, small, likely wet, moss covered and slippy so take care and take your time, it’s no race and groups go together to different parts of the site before being taken to the famous view. You’ll learn more about indigenous culture from your guides, see more huts close up and then settle at the place to take your photos with the other groups.

You’ll need to be patient for photos, different groups may walk on to the main terrace, and the army who are present at the site will walk on there from time to time. If you’d like to walk to the top terrace to shoot all of them, expect to wait a long time, and you’re tour may not allow for this.

The most difficult, or risky part of the day is the ascent of those stairs, the tread on my boots is not the best, and I actually missed the last twenty or so steps after slipping, fortunately getting only a graze and bruise. From there you’ll walk back to camp 2, and stay overnight.

Day 4 / 5

Depending on your choice you’ll have a long day 4 walk back to the starting point in Machete, or split this over two days with a sleep at camp 1. Doing five days lets you go a little more at your leisure, and take more photos.

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Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a city within the Magdalena district on the caribbean coast. It was founded in 1525 as the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. It’s hot, humid, colourful, and has plenty of bars, cafes, and street vendors to keep visitors fed and watered.  The city is used by backpackers as a stopping point for other destinations such as the lost city.

Day 1

Day one was spent travelling, but after dropping things off at the hostel, it was off to find food, and to keep this Brit happy the chosen restaurant was Maharaja serving fantastic Indian food, and  not the British Indian restaurant type but real authentic Indian food, the kind you find in India (and sometimes south London).  The meal for two with lassi and soft drink came in at 40,000COP including a tip.  The vegetarian menus are the cheaper options.

 A good meal in a roasting hot climate should be followed up with ice cream, and there are plenty of places serving a myriad of flavours.

Day 2

The need for laundry increasing, day started with a mission to find laundry, quickly accomplished by walking down Calle 11 where there are two!  Opted for Lavender Santa Marta (6000COP per kilo).  Groceries picked up at Exitó, and a stroll around the waterfront to wonder at the enormous cruise ships in the docks.  I witnessed one of south americas tragedies, Venezuelans selling items not eh pavements including bundles of Venezuelan money which is now tragically worthless, aside from novelty value.

There are loads of street vendors in this city, serving up all kinds of snacks, arepas and delicious juices. Today I say back while guy prepared a huge smoothie costing around 4,000COP.

Day 3

A bit more wandering and relaxing today, collection of laundry, keeping costs to a minimum as the budget is currently not on track, so no beers, menu del dials etc.  Simple sandwiches coming in at around 5,000COP, and a couple of excellent smoothies 5,000 each plus 1000 service charge.  The highlight food wise was arepa con queso, with lashings of guacamole and picante salsa.

Accommodation

In Santa Marta I stayed in El Hostal de Jackie, a fairly lively place with rooftop bar and a decent view of the surrounding streets. There’s a courtyard at the back with small swimming pool, kitchen, cutlery, fridge etc. The only downside is there’s a little bit of noise, especially if your room, or your window opens onto the courtyard. The rooftop bar does happy hour, 4 Club Colombia beers costing 10,000COP.

Three nights accommodation cost 240,000COP for a private room including bathroom. They will also store your bags if going on the lost city trek, up to three days for three, then 5,000COP for each additional night.

Getting a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta

The bus station in Cartagena is a little far from most hostels, and uber from minde cost 8000COP to Berlinas offices.

Get the ticket from the office and you’ll be told which bus to get on, dont expect any kind of ticket you’ll recognise though, it’ll just be a scrap of paper with the bus number as assigned seats. Mine was a fairly old minibus seating 15 people, take your luggage to the person at the back of the bus, and keep your  receipt safe for the end of the journey.  I’d suggest keeping anything valuable on your person. When get on you’ll probably notice there’s not much in the way of legroom, and the noisy air-conditioning will be humming away in the rear.  The bus will be fairly cool once the doors are closed and you’re moving, bear this in mind

The bus might stop a couple of times, and people will board selling little snacks like crisps etc.

The drivers generally don’t announce much, so keep an eye out when you’re near your destination, a few of use got off the bus way ast the most convenient drop off point, and had to shell for a cab back to a couple of hostels. Perhaps use google maps or something to see how near you are to your hostel, and ask to be dropped off.

Cartagena

Cartagena is a city on the northern, Caribbean coast of Colombia, famed for its walled old city with colourful buildings, graffiti and street life. It’s a major port and the Colombian navy is also situated in the modern Boca Grande area.

Day 1

The first day was spent checking out the walled part of the city, acclimatising to the humid heat, and watching the streets spring in to life.  Excellent coffee was served up at Abaco Libros y Cafe, bookstore and cafe, but the best treat of the day was vegan ceviche at Cebiches & Sebiches, absolutely delicious.

Day 2

The day was spent relaxing and visiting the old town again for more photos, there’s good light in the late afternoons for photographs, but as this was a weekday it was fa busier than the preceding Sunday.

Accommodation – Three dogs house, Manga

Staying at a friendly and easy going hostel, with some slightly dangerous quirks!  The private bathroom had a light switch just about connected to the wires by tape and you had to press on it a few times to get light.  More of a concern was that on the opposite wall to the shower, one meter or so away was the fusebox!!!  Another annoyance was sometimes waiting for someone to hear you when you come back from wherever.  The young attendant guy was often asleep in his hammock and the other staff could not hear people shout up to be let back in past the locked gates.  I’m normally not down on anywhere but this was a little frustrating.

Medellín

Day 1

Leaving Bogotà for Medellin, an Uber was booked (COP26980 including tip) to El Dorado.  The airport has quite a lot of choices for eating and grabbing a coffee (2 cups COP3200), and is fairly painless to get through checkin and security.  The flight is fairly short at 40 minutes, and if it’s clear you’ll be treated to some spectacular views of the landscape.

Getting from the airport to the hostel was a case of using the bus from outside the airport to El Centro, then walking a few hundred meters to San Antonio to get the metro.  There’s an electronic ticket available called Civica, but inexplicably you have to buy a ticket to get past the barriers before you can purchase this and currently the queues inside are an hour or so wait!

The hosel of choice for Medellin was Hostel Rich, a short walk from Estadio metro station.  It’s a clean and friendly hosel, fridges on each floor, fast wireless and a kitchen on the ground floor.  Use of the kitchen is not permitted outside morning and evening, so lunch has to be prepared early if you’re on a tight budget.

After dropping bags, the first priority was food, and in no time I was sitting before a plate of Tipicó Paisa at El Colmado, which consisted of super fine mince, pork, beans, rice, salad, plantain and egg (COP13,000) washed down with juice (4,000).

Basic groceries were picked up from Jumbo 65 which was another short stroll from the hostel, it’s a giant supermarket selling all sorts, including budget packets of pasta, expensive chorizo, and milk in bags – a south American thing that is the most unpractical for backpackers like myself!

Day 2

Starting the morning with a walking tour of central Medellin, this Is something I would highly recommend to any visitor to the city,  I don’t want to reprint the history and stories, they are better delivered by a local guide like Milo, who was passionate about his city and made this one of the best walking tours I’ve done.  It’s interesting to hear views on life, food, architecture, politics and of course the most famous criminal who’s name will not be mentioned, al from someone who’s grown up in the midst of some of the events.  The tour is free, but you should definitely tip well.

After the fairly painless bar the queuing for the Civica card at San Javier (much sorter queues), it was a short stroll the the base of Escalaras in Comuna 13.  Comuna 13 has had a turbulent past, but now tourism is helping the area that was once almost disconnected from the city.  Instead of taking retarded selfies, maybe put down the selfie stick and buy something from a local.  Banana or Guanabana (like custard apple) milkshakes were excellent.  You can get a guide here too, and you shouldn’t stray from the main areas.

Day 3

A spur of the moment decision was taken to head for Parque Arvil.  This is a large area that would take a couple of weeks to explore alone.  Opting for a short walk, it was a little disappointing as there  was little fauna, but plenty of barbecues to be witnessed along a small river.  Note that on the way to the starting points you’ll have to walk on the roads so keep your eyes open and not on your phone.  I witnessed a clueless cyclist attempt to overtake a car, while another was oncoming, and you can surely guess it did not end well, the riders more rotund figure probably cushioned the blow!  It could have been a lot lot worse!

An area to return to with a tent perhaps and wander further into away from the day tripping crowds.  There a good little market up top near the cable car terminus, slightly over priced empanadas, perros, etc, as well as fruit bowls with lashings of sweet cheese at COP3000 (yes, really.  Try it.).  The best part of this trip, despite not having a head for heights was the cable cars, aside from the sights is the fact that you can hear the life on the street below, all of it!  There are two sets you need to take, one to San Domingo, and then the more expensive ride (COP6000) to the park.  Top tip here, use the Civica card, and ensure you’ve got at leat 12,000 COP to save you queuing for ages at San Domingo, you’ll be in the same line as the day trippers, while everyone else walks by and straight in to a car.

San Domingo itself is quite interesting, another poor part of town, but bustling and interesting streets and loads of places to eat make it worth stopping for.

Day 4-8

I enrolled in Spanish school at Toucan who have fairly small class sizes, mine was 6 people.  I was in the level for just above beginner, and the teacher (profesora) was excellent, she spoke Spanish most of the time which was probably better for learning.  There’s a free meal on the first day, and sever activities run throughout the week such as Salsa lessons, movies and language exchanges.

A Lesson Learned

When the tube is packed in rush hour (hora pico), it’s really packed!  Like sardines packed.  This is the perfect opportunity to get your pockets picked, which is exactly what happened to me, do not leave anything in your jeans pockets, no matter how deep or snug you think they are.  Keep everything in your bag, zipped up and on the front of you at busy times.

Bogotá

Day 1

Arriving late on Monday after three hour stop in Toronto with little sleep, it was straight to the hostel via the official taxis outside the airport (COP40,000) and an attempt to acclimatise.

On Tuesday morning after a quick stop to pick up SIM cards (COP 25,000) from a local Claro store, it was time to stretch the feet and check out some of the city. People suggest taking it easy to get used to the altitude, but as this stay had four nights there was not time to waste, heading from CX Hostel on Cra. 7, to the centre of town. The area is pretty safe and there’s lots of other people on the busy roads, but I would still keep expensive cameras in a bag while not in use.

First port of call was the square Simon Bolivar, which was to be honest, a little disappointing. Quite a few hawkers, hundreds of pigeons and nothing too exciting visually. Next up was Museo del Oro (COP4000) which had hundreds of fascinating artefacts from Indigenous populations of South America, using gold and other metals, along with a history of world metallurgy and documentary of the exploitation by Europeans.

Todays eats included a couple of empanadas were picked up (COP1000 each), and Menu del Día at SPQR which consisted of a delicious sopa (soup) and plate with taco, salad, rice, potatoes and beans, plus a pineapple juice on the side. All for COP10,000, a bargain.

Day 2

The second day was spent wandering around the area close to the hostel in Chapinero. There are lots of nice places to eat in this area, a fine empanada and pastel was devoured with coffee at Pan de Dios and cost only COP7,800. After a brief spell of relaxation and reading back at the hostel, a good long stretch was taken towards Parque Metropolitano Simón Bolívar, quenching the thirst at the magnificent JuGo where a smoothies (COP5,000) were drowned before heading in.

The park is pleasant and relaxing, a nice change from the noise and pollution of the city. Canoes and pedalos can be hired, and judging from the crashed kites in some of the trees, this is also popular here, as is cycling, running, and the free outdoor gym areas.

To finish the day, a visit was paid to a Mexican in Chapinero, which served up fine tacos, quesadillas and guacamole. Fairly expensive for two people with a cokes at COP42,000 but still cheap if you consider that’s around £12 back home!

Day 3

Getting up fairy early, an Uber supplied the ride down to the Monserrate funicular entrance (COP9,504 inc tip), then the ride to the top itself weighing in at COP10,000 per person. It’s not too busy around 8am, and aside from the walk, the funicular is the only option as the cable car runs from mid-day. The downside of this time in the morning is the city is mostly shrouded in fog, but be patient and you’ll get some excellent views of the city. There’s plenty of little eateries up here, and they’re all keen to get you to sit down.

After a knee straining walk back down to the city, a visit to a gallery was in order, the Museo Botero being the destination of choice, and what a choice! Fernando Botero is a fascinating artist, creating larger than life characters in paint and drawings, with lashings of political commentary and humour. The museum also hosts works by other artists including Picasso and Miro. Entrance free!

Craving some authentic colombian food, lunch was to be at Hibiscus where Bandeja paisa was heartily enjoyed, washed down with fruit juice. Craving more food and drink, beers in the evening at the fashionable El Mono Bandito Chapinero with a pinta and copa (pint and half) costing COP22,398 with service charge. After beer, what more does anyone want other than pizza on the street, two slices for COP6000 on the corner of the hostel.

Colonia, Uruguay

Arriving by boat from Buenos Aires, the port of Colonia was situated close to the center of, and the accommodation was only a short walk. Colonia is a beautiful old town, the side along the coast has plenty of nice shops and some great ice cream and milkshake parlours.

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We stayed with our hosts Carla and Ariel, a writer and musician, who were very welcoming and generous, offering us wine and engaging in conversation in the evenings, giving us advice on places to check out. There are plenty of places to eat in the town, a few parilla buffets are available, along with many other restaurants. We plumped for a pizza at Candela Express, a joint popular with young people, the walls adorned with graffiti which seems to be a tradition here. Pizzas are 50% if you order para llevar (to take away).

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Some people stay for just a day, but I could happily stay a bit longer due to great company at the hostel. The lighthouse can be visited for ARG$25, and the art gallery of artist Fernando Fraga is definitely worth perusing, I’ll be heading home with a couple of prints.