Colombia // Cartagena and the Caribbean //

The hike

The trek covers 40km, with most hikers opting for the five-day version. You get picked up in Santa Marta for the three-hour drive to Machete, the village where the hike begins after lunch. From here it’s four to five hours to Camp 1 – mostly a steep uphill slog with a long, steep descent towards the camp. There’s a swimming hole close to the start of the trail and another at Camp 1, where there are hammocks with mosquito nets. Day two’s four- to five-hour hike to Camp 2 is an hour’s ascent, a steep hour’s descent, and an attractive flat stretch that takes you past a Kogi village. At the camp there’s good swimming in the river and relatively comfortable bunks with mosquito nets. Day three consists of a four-hour hike that includes a narrow path overlooking a sheer drop and ups and downs along a narrow jungle trail, and a bridge across the main river. Camp 3, Paraíso, tends to be the most crowded, and has hammocks, bunks and musty tents with mattresses. Weather permitting, some groups press on to the Ciudad Perdida in the afternoon (four-hour round trip), an hour’s ascent from Camp 3, most of it up a very steep bunch of uneven and slippery stone steps – particularly challenging on the way down. And then it’s there – your prize – stone terrace upon stone terrace, tranquil and overgrown with jungle, with splendid views of the main terrace from the military outpost. The alternative is to hike to Ciudad Perdida on the morning of day four. On your return, you either stay overnight in Camp 2 at the end of day four or, if you made it to Ciudad Perdida on day three, you make the eight- to nine-hour hike from Camp 3 back to Camp 1. Day five is then either a very early start and a gruelling seven-hour hike from Camp 2 back to Machete before lunch or – if you’re already at Camp 1 – a somewhat less gruelling four-hour slog, with the steepest part at the very beginning. Hearty victory lunch at Machete follows, and a transfer back to Santa Marta.

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