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Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)

Deep in the recesses of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the upper RĂ­o Buritaca valley, lies one of the ancient Tayrona nation's most impressive cities, Teyuna, or Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). The archaeological site earns its name well, as until tomb robbers began raiding the city in July 1975, Teyuna was unknown to the white world.

In March 1976, the Instituto Colombiano de AntropologĂ­a (today the Instituto Colombiano de AntropologĂ­a e Historia, ICANH) was alerted of this new site and began to protect it from further sacking. For 10 years, the Institute carried out an in-depth research and restoration project. Because of the dense vegetative coverage, about 85 percent of the ruins were still well-preserved. After clearing away the jungle, Teyuna opened to the public in 1981. Since then, Ciudad Perdida has become one of the must-do treks in Colombia.

The Tayronas' sinuous architecture was distinguished in the manner of construction. First, the sides of steep mountains were terraced with containment walls and drainage ditches. Then atop the terraces, round buildings were constructed – an anomaly of American cultures, like the Aztecs, Maya and Inca, or the great urban centers of Teotihuacán, Mexico, and Tiwanaku, Bolivia, which used angular buildings. Tayrona settlements were connected with an extensive network of stone roads. Because of the steep terrain (as much as 60 percent incline), defensive walls were not necessary.

Within Teyuna, which covers 30 hectares (74 ac) at an altitude of 900-1,200 meters (2,953-3,937 ft), are the ruins of over 200 structures, including living quarters, stone roads and staircases, terraces, canals, plazas, ceremonial buildings and storehouses. The North sector has the oldest buildings, dating to the Neguanje Period (650 AD). These were used until 1100-1200 AD, and built over 1200-1600 AD.

Twenty-six other sites have been discovered nearby, in the upper RĂ­o Buritaca valley. Because of its size and monumental character, it is believed Teyuna was the political seat for the region. Some archaeologists estimate Teyuna itself had a population of 1,500-2,000 and with the surrounding settlements, the region's inhabitants numbered over 10,000. Ciudad Perdida was abandoned between 1580 and 1650 AD, but continued to be and remains sacred ground to the Kogi and other indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada.

Ciudad Perdida lies deep in undisturbed jungle. Among the 628 bird species of the Sierra are several endemic species of toucanets (tucanillo), toucans (tucán), chachalacas (guacharaca), hummingbirds, woodpeckers and parakeets (periquito). Resident mammals include paca (guatinaja, Agoirti para), agouti (ñeque, Dasyprocta punctata pandora), coati (Nasua narica), brocket deer (venado soche, Mazama rufina bricenii), peccary (pecarí or jabalí, Tayasu tajacu) and wild cats like the jaguar (Pantera onca) and ocelot (tigrillo, Leopardus pardalis). Howler monkeys (Alouatta spp) visit the ruins. It is common to encounter serpents in the park; most are non-venomous with the exceptions of the fer-de-lance (mapana or boquidorado, Bothrops atrox) and the coral (Micrurus), both of which are deadly.

ICANH (URL: has a guide to Teyuna in Spanish and English that can be downloaded for free. At present, the only authorized route to Teyuna is up the RĂ­o Buritaca valley. ICANH, the national park office and indigenous authorities require treks be done with a guide. Helicopter fly-overs are forbidden. Also, at the request of the indigenous, overnight stays in Teyuna are now prohibited. The number of visitors admitted to the archaeological site is limited to 50 per day. In 2003 a group of foreigners were kidnapped by an armed group; there were no such incidents known before or that have occurred since that event. The area is now heavily patrolled by Colombian military.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

27 Jul 2011

VIVA Colombia

Things to do in Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)

The Lost City Hike / Ciudad Perdida Hike

137498 Treks to Teyuna (or Ciudad Perdida) combine the opportunity to see some of Colombia’s natural beauty with a fascinating insight into the ancient indigenous Tayrona culture. Usually a five-day ...
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