Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.
– Jerry Dunn
“What do you mean we can’t use the bridge? The river is too dangerous to cross and we’re freezing!” There we were, 15 trekkers and our 2 guides arguing with a troll who was blocking the bridge. The rains were torrential, the thunder was deafening and we had just spent the past 6.5 hours trekking along dirt paths, which had now turned to mud and mini rivers.
The end of the day was near, our beds were close, but first we had to get across the turbulent river.
With a cigarette in his mouth and an almost empty bottle of aguardiente (local booze) by his side, the man would not let us cross unless we paid him a ridiculous amount of money. He wouldn’t even let our guide pass so that she could get us a rope to help us navigate the river safely.
We all came to the conclusion that as a matter of principle, we would not pay this irrational man. It was agreed that we would take the risk with our lives (and our electronics!), and cross through the rushing river.
A French guy in our group announced that he’s a white water rafter and that he knows a lot about rivers. He scouted out the best path for us all and stood in the middle of the river to help people cross. Once the first person was across, they stood at the 3/4 mark and helped as well.
We had 3 people in the water assisting us and making sure our bags weren’t dropped in the water. Our perfect assembly line of people and gear worked and all 17 of us made it across the icy water in one piece.
After 5 minutes of walking, there was another river, just as sketchy as the last. This solidified the fact that we made the right decision in not paying the grumpy old man!
Seeing our first of three camps was a sight for sore eyes. We were greeted by Alfredo and the family who owns the camp, but our eyes were immediately diverted to the numerous hammocks hanging underneath a covered area, as well as many bunk beds.
After the 2 hour jeep ride to the starting point of our jungle trek, and the 5 hour day of trekking the entire time in the rain (that’s right, the sky opened up literally as soon as we started walking), we were desperate for a bed, not a hammock.
Our guide, Josa, announced that our group could have a section of bunk beds and Nick and I grabbed the first ones we saw. We all then proceeded to peel off our wet clothing, which had pretty much become a part of us at this point, and change into our only set of dry clothes that we had – while thanking every God that it didn’t get wet during the river crossing.
We dumped the water out of our shoes, hung up our sopping wet clothes, changed into flip-flops and PJ’s, got our headlamps on and made our way to the picnic tables to have a beer with our fellow trekkers and chat about the epic first day we had just completed.
After a surprisingly delicious meal of fried fish, rice, plantain and juice, we were off to bed. It was 8:00pm and we were all exhausted.
One day down, three to go.
We awoke to a quiet little voice saying “Hola, Nick, Buenos Dias Dariece. Time to wake up”. To which we barked out “What time is it?!” It was 5:00am and pitch black outside.
The rain had stopped during the night, but nothing dried. Not even close. In fact, if it’s possible, I think our clothes were wetter than when we hung them up. Plus, they had taken on a weird odour.
Day 2 began with us putting back on our soaking wet, cold, smelly clothes.
Because we had to carry everything we brought with us, we wanted as little weight as possible. So we only packed 2 shirts each, 1 pair of bottoms for hiking, our bathing suits, and enough underwear and socks for four days. Plus, our nighttime clothing.
We ate a breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit, grabbed our hiking sticks and hit the trail around 6:30am.
Josa was really great in that she would lay out the day for us in “chunks” so we would know what to expect. First up was about an hour of “Colombian flat” (which actually meant a fairly good incline), followed by an hour of “up, up”, then a break at the watermelon station, which was a little shop at the summit of the “up, up” where a bunch of watermelon would be cut up and waiting for us.
One of the aspects that we loved about this tour was that we didn’t all have to walk together, we could go at our own pace. A guide would be in the very front and one in the very back. And in fact, sometimes we were out in front with other trekkers, but without a guide! The most important thing was that no one was left behind or lost.
Surprisingly, we had quite a bit of energy that morning and were able to make it to the top without feeling like we were going to pass out. The sun was shining, the watermelon was juicy and we were feeling energized.
We started our descent and passed by a few nice viewpoints. Thankfully the sun was out so we could actually see something other than clouds and rain! We crossed two easy rivers and arrived at a beautiful open field. We passed by a traditional Kogui village and two little kids came running out, but then backed away apprehensively.
We saw their mothers in the next field and they actually waved at us, so we knew it was OK to play with the kids, even though they are taught from a very young age not to speak or interact with foreigners in order to preserve their culture.
Around 11:00 we arrived at another camp where we were going to have lunch.
The sun was shining and we were all overheating rather than freezing like the day before, so we headed down to the river for a swim. It felt great to cool off and wash off the sweat and dirt. We had a two-hour break here and used that time to swim in the river, dry our shoes in the sun and eat a delicious bean & rice soup.
Carrying on trekking with a full belly from lunch was quite the task and we were all a little sluggish after our lunch breaks. Our journey continued along of the most beautiful river paths we’ve been on. We were incredibly high up on the cliff edge and the views of the water and massive boulders below were amazing.
We eventually arrived at a very high suspension bridge, with no troll! We crossed and began our ascent to the next goal: the pineapple station.
This portion of the trek was straight up and we definitely struggled a little at this point. Even though we were in the front of the pack, we weren’t going fast whatsoever and had to stop and take many breaks to catch our breath.
The pineapple station was a welcome relief, but the day wasn’t over yet.
This next portion of the hike was one of the most scenic. We passed by moss-covered boulders, little creeks, banana trees and more. It was so damp, cool and lush! After about 7 hours of hiking and 15 kilometers later, we arrived at our second camp: Paraiso, also known as base camp.
Then, like clockwork, the rains arrived around 3:00pm.
Base Camp is where many of the groups of hikers finally met up with one another. Expotur isn’t the only company running tours and at camp there were about 5 different groups, with about 15 people per group.
Needless to say, it was a busy and bustling camp. We were a bit worried about having many people on the trail during the trek, but the groups are staggered in a way that unless you’re super fast, or very slow, you shouldn’t meet up with anyone else.
We were thoroughly exhausted and sweaty at this point but thankfully there were some basic, cold showers here! Rather than waiting in line, I took to the river and rinsed off in the fresh water. After hanging up our nasty clothing and choosing our bunk beds, we all regrouped in the “dining hall” for cold beers, food…and to tend to any wounds we had received during the day.
Knowing that we were going to be woken up at 5:00am again in the morning, and that it was the day we were all waiting for (the ruins!) we went to bed around 7:30pm to be well rested for the morning.
Some of us slept better than others.
I was rudely awoken at 3:00am by a familiar cramping in my stomach. A feeling that had happened one too many times in the past, and one that I hadn’t had to deal with in a long time.
The stomach issues were either from food itself (doubtful), something I touched, the dishes, or some river water. Who knows, all I knew was that I had about 1 minute to get through the mosquito net, climb down from the top bunk, find the toilet paper that we brought and run to the bathroom!
While everyone was excitedly eating their breakfast the next morning and chatting about how they couldn’t wait to see the Lost City, I was shoving Pepto Bismol in my mouth and feeling like dying in my bunk bed. Thankfully we were hiking to the city, then returning back to this same camp for lunch, so I was able to leave my backpack behind.
I made it through the cramping and after pulling over to the side of the trail (just once) to relieve myself, I started to feel better.
Just in time to hike up 1,200 stone steps.
This was why we signed up for this epic jungle trek. This was why we had all dragged our tired, aching bodies out of bed at 5:00am. We had made it to the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida), and what a site it was! Josa gave us a brief history of the ruins and she knew the answer to any and all questions that we had.
We’ve all heard of the Inca Trail and the famous ruins of Machu Picchu, but not many people know about this ancient city built by the Tayrona people in 800AD, which is actually 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu!
The Lost City wasn’t discovered until 1972 when a group of looters came to raid for gold and precious metals. They saw some steps (the same 1,200 that we climbed) and followed them until they reached the stone terraces.
However, 1972 may be when outsiders discovered these ruins, but the indigenous people say that they’ve been coming to this site for years, but just kept it to themselves.
We wandered around the stone structures taking photos and chatting with the military men that are there to guard the ruins, and the tourists. In 2003, eight tourists were kidnapped by the ELN guerilla group in order to raise awareness of human rights violations. The hostages were released three months later and there hasn’t been an incident since.
We had the perfect weather at the highlight of our trek. The clouds parted, the sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue. I even spotted a toucan! We spent a couple of hours at the Lost City enjoying the views and taking it all in.
Back down the 1,200 narrow steps we went and arrived at our camp for lunch. We were now heading back the way that we had come the day before. Unfortunately, the trail isn’t a loop and we needed to backtrack in order to get out of the jungle.
Again, like we all predicted, around 2:00pm the flood gates opened and Mother Nature gave us one final beating!
That huge two-hour ascent that we had done the day before (the one that was incredibly difficult for us), had now turned into a slippery mud road. The rain was coming down hard and we were sliding everywhere. We dug our wooden walking sticks into the mud for some traction, but that didn’t really help.
It was just Nick and I on the trail for the longest time and it felt like it took us forever to get to the camp we would be sleeping at.
After a fairly gruelling 11 kilometer day, we made it! Soaked to the bone, we continued with our daily routine of peeling off our wet, smelly clothing, hanging it to “dry”, rinsing off our bodies and putting on our PJ’s.
Mumake Camp didn’t have any electricity, so we dined by candlelight and used our headlamps to get around. This was our third and final night together and I actually went to bed at 6:30pm and slept all the way until 5:00am!
We all pushed our bodies to the limit and promptly passed out at the end of each day.
The next morning, I considered trekking in my bathing suit as my clothing had taken on a very unusual, potent odour of rotten meat! The smell was horrific and I felt bad for anyone who came near me. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who smelled awful.
Day 4 was a difficult one.
After breakfast, there were no breaks. We were trekking all the way back to the village of El Mamey where we started the whole journey. We would have lunch and catch a ride out of the jungle. It was supposed to take about 7.5 hours, but somehow Nick and I and a few others did it in 5 – 5.5 hours.
For a solid 2 hours we were in what we dubbed “beast mode”. We were unstoppable. The massive ascent that we were dreading felt like a piece of cake. Once we arrived back at the dangerous river that we had crossed the first night, it was unrecognizable. We easily crossed by rock-hopping.
Those same boulders were completely submerged just days before.
The muddy path down that first night had now dried up completely. Regardless, this ascent was difficult for us and even though we were all cursing the rain throughout the hike, we were now praying it would come.
The sun was shining brightly and it was an intense heat.
Our feet were aching, and we were starting to get a sun burn, but we pressed on. We knew at the end of this would be an icy cold beer, a proper shower, a good meal and a big celebration with all of our new friends!
Our group was amazing and we couldn’t have asked for a more positive, upbeat bunch of travellers. Even though we were all going through tough times during the 47 kilometer hike, no one complained and everyone was there to offer encouragement when it was needed.
One by one, our fellow hikers started to arrive at the restaurant and we all applauded and high-fived one another for completing one of the most memorable and challenging treks, under some extreme weather conditions. What an accomplishment it was!
People can make or break your trip, and this group of thirteen travellers, and our two adorable guides were the best we could have asked for. We’ll never forget our epic trek in the Colombian jungle.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Trekking Ciudad Perdida
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