Sweat, some more sweat, and lots of heavy panting. Ah yeah. But really, there’s nothing sexy about Ciudad Perdida, the “Lost City,” a massive, Machu Picchu-esque archaeological site rediscovered in 1972. Yet, the intrepid set out daily to tackle the four-day journey, eager to photograph themselves atop the virtually unspoiled ruins of its past, ones that have won their rightful spot on the bucket lists of YOLO travelers. The expedition is a rather arduous one… sort of uphill, both ways, sometimes in downpours, ala grampa storytelling style. But the payoff— Instagram jumping photos GO!— and its accompanying struggle are worthwhile. If only for your ego. Mind you, proceed with a few graphic and awkward heads up:
—What the hell am I getting myself into?—
(Plenty of people have written wonderful accounts of the actual history of Ciudad Perdida, so be sure to read up before you proceed. Such as this one. However, I will say that the history is exciting. Think gold and weed and cocaine. All things obviously exciting).
There’s two sides to any story. In terms of this one, you got 1). a spectacular hike through the beautiful Sierra Nevadas to one of the most inaccessible and historically-intriguing sites in South America. And 2). a grueling test of will, complete with sweat baths and a pay-off that lasts approximately 1/8 of the trip. So then, is it worth is? Why yes, I believe it is. Ever been to Machu Picchu? I haven’t. But I hear it’s full of TOURISTS. Like swarming with them. Ciudad Perdida is definitely not. Unlike Machu Picchu, you can’t ride your lazy ass there on a bus or train. Yes, there will be other tour groups milling around but it’s a large complex. We were all able to get pictures, free of bystanders. I assume it’ll be awhile till this changes. But when it does, you can tell your grandkids how you had to ford rivers and chase turkeys off your bed in order to see a Lost City. Coolest old person ever.
—What tour company should I pick?—
So anyway, you have your choice of companies, Expotour and Magic Tours being the most popular. Whichever you pick, THEY WILL ALL OFFER THE SAME THING. You will sleep at the same camps. You will have the same hiking schedule. You will eat the same awesome food. You will see the same people every day. The trek is a well-oiled system that has been perfected in such a way that the poor guides described their sheer boredom with the routine. Pasta for dinner on night #3? That ain’t no surprise.
—Am I capable?—
Anyone can do the damn hike, trust me. Our guide has seen people as young as 6 and as old as 75 finish it. Plenty of people have dropped out, but as long as you’re in sort of shape, you’ll make it. Needless to say, the struggle is real. There’s a f&*$ ton of hills. Some rivers to ford. Mud to slip through. It’s tough. Like walking for 8 hours a day toward a mirage that only appears on day 3. As for the 4, 5, or 6 day choice? I would have rather threw myself off the actual ruins than do more than 4 days. Ain’t nobody got time for that. We met some people at camps that were on the 5-day version, which seems to just imply extra rest time. For booze.
No one has died on the Ciudad Perdida trek since like 20 years ago… when some knucklehead got swept down a river for not following directions. That being said, you can very easily be injured. If it wasn’t for my youthful endurance— LOLZ— I should have broken both of my ankles having ADDed for like 1/2 a second. This shit requires concentration. And don’t f&*% with the local plant life. Some time ago, a bunch of smart Aussies decided to make tea using the trumpet flower (found at Camp 1) and coco leaves. Needless to say, they all got stoned and spent the night pacing back and forth from one side of the river to the other.
—How NOT to f*&$ up (aka tips)—
- Go in January. Yes, I realize you may not have a choice in your travel plans. But January practically promises a dry hike. And it’s cooler. Not that I was “cool” any step of the way but I didn’t suffer heatstroke.
- Don’t go in September. The whole trek closes for the month to a). let the forest take a breather and regrow; b). let shamans cleanse the woods of the stinky gringo presence. For reals.
- Ladies: bring three sports bras. I never thought I would accumulate so much boob sweat that I could WRING OUT my bra, but alas, I have achieved this milestone. I say three because besides lunch time when the sun is at its highest, nothing will dry overnight short of a miracle. You’ll be thankful for that dry bra on day four when everything smells of wet diapers.
- Bring industrial strength earplugs and eye mask. This is mostly necessary for Paradiso Camp on night #2. The floorboards are incredibly squeaky, confused roosters freak out at 3AM, and nobody can find the light switch to turn it OFF.
- For malaria’s sake, just wear long tights or light pants. Even during the actual hiking. The only time I got bit by the clouds of mosquitoes was the one night I left my ankles exposed… and the one that got to my ass somehow. Of course I doused myself in citronella and Deet in the vulnerable areas— and practically dipped my tights in the over-clothing shit— but that won’t stop them. You need a barrier so they get lost and attack your friend.
- Just pack light in general. I managed with a small backpack but still had sore shoulders/ back upon return. Dry clothes are worth the weight in gold but…
- Don’t be an asshole and take pictures of the indigenous people during the trek. You will see them every day, clad in white, babies strapped to their heads (yes), but remember that it’s their damn home. We are the odd ones in this equation. So just don’t.
- Look up. Well, stop first and then look up. The actual Ciudad Perdida is real purdy but 95% of your trip will be the journey. The Sierra Nevadas are splendiferous on their own accord. I watched parakeets squabbling. Red ants deconstructing giant leaves. Vistas and butterflies and mules and turkeys and tadpoles. And a lot of hardy horses and donkeys.
—The ‘lessons learned’ packing list—
- 4 pairs of underwear
- 2 pairs of socks
- 3 sports bras
- 1 pair of shorts with tights underneath/ hiking pants
- PJ pants for nighttime
- Mini soap and shampoo
- Quick-dry towel
- 750% Deet
- Money for beer/ snacks at camps
- Hiking shoes
- Medical tape
- Earplugs and eye mask
- Roll of toilet paper
- Crocs or Croc-like shoes for camp, gross showers, and river crossings
- Garbage bags for wet, dirty clothing and to cover backpack
- Booze if you don’t drink beer
Need some video proof of Ciudad Perdida? Check out both parts of our journey below: