The “Lost City” of the Tayronas, CIUDAD PERDIDA ranks among South America’s most magical spots. More than a lost city, it’s a lost world. Although its ruins are more understated than those found at Machu Picchu in Peru, thanks to its geographic isolation the once-teeming city perched high in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta manages to preserve the natural allure that the overrun Inca capital lost years ago to tourism. While steadily climbing the sierra’s luxuriant foothills, you’ll get a chance to bathe in idyllic rivers, visit inhabited indigenous villages and marvel at the swarms of monarch butterflies and beautiful jungle scenery.
Built sometime after 500 AD, the Tayrona capital is less than 50km southeast of Santa Marta and is believed to have been home to around four thousand people before the Spanish wiped the Tayrona out. The ruins weren’t “discovered” until the early 1970s, when a few of the more than ten thousand guaqueros (tomb raiders) from Santa Marta chanced upon the city while scavenging for antiquities. Perched atop a steep slope 1300m high in the vast jungle, the site consists of more than a thousand circular stone terraces – with more still being uncovered – that once served as foundations for Tayrona homes. Running throughout the city and down to the Buritaca river valley is a complex network of paved footpaths and steep stone steps – more than 1350, if you’re counting – purportedly added later to obstruct the advance of Spanish horsemen.