When ready to explore Colombia, Teyuna or Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) has all the ingredientes for an adventurous hiking trip in the dense jungles of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
A six-day (44km) round trip expedition climbing mountains, crossing chest-high rivers and dealing with the hot and humid jungle climate where mosquitoes reign everywhere, day and night. However, it's very doable and only a moderately difficult trek.
Also known as Buritaca, Teyuna is one of the country's most ancient archaeological sites, dating back to 800 BC. It's believed to be 650 years older than the Lost City of the Incas (Machu Picchu), in the Cuzco region of Peru.
Sitting at an altitude of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) on a ridge overlooking the Buritaca river valley, Ciudad Perdida is a complex of houses, plazas, ceremonial areas, staircases, canals and other constructions that can only be accessed by climbing 1,200 stone stairs leading to over 150 stone terraces that conform the Lost City's present state.
Currently only three thousand square meters are open to exploration, while another nine thousand are still awaiting to be cleared from the thick jungle that has overtaking it for centuries.
Originally home to the Tyrona civilization, the site was abandoned by the time of the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the XVI century. They were forcibly integrated into the labour system of the Spaniards and annihilated. Another reason for their extermination was smallpox and syphilis brought by the Europeans, the most devastating cause of death for the indigenous population throughout South America history.
The very existence of Ciudad Perdida was known to the local aboriginal population such as the Arahuaco, the Koguis and the Asario, who kept quiet about it. In 1972, a group of men hunting for birds stumbled across a series of stone steps rising up a mountainside. That led to the discovery of the citadel.
Soon after, when the word spread, huaqueros (tomb riders) began looting graves in search of gold artifacts, a situation that lasted for about three years. In 1975, the Colombian National Institute of Anthropology took control of it and completed reconstruction between 1976-1982.
Ciudad Perdida became then an attractive tourist destination and began receiving international visitors, until September 2003, when an unfortunate incident took place in the area.
Eight foreign visitors to Teyuna were kidnapped by the left-wing guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) in exchange for some demands on human rights abuses placed to the Colombian Government.
Three month later, the last of hostages was released unharmed, but access to the citadel was restricted as a consequence. In 2005, the trek to Teyuna became operational again, when the Colombian Army secured the region.
At present time, treks to Ciudad Perdida are available from Santa Marta through several authorized tour operators at the price of around US$350 per person, meals included. See it on the map through the Global Heritage Network (you will need Google Earth plugin).
Just make sure to use a good pair of hiking boots, long pants and a shirt with long sleeves. Most importantly, don't forget to include waterproof bags for your electronic gear and other valuables and a good supply of insect repellent.
Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) is located 16.5km or 1/2 hour driving from downtown Santa Marta. If you are traveling overland, there is a good network of long-distance buses from/to major cities in Colombia. If you happen to be in Bogota, distance to Santa Marta is 952km / 592 miles.