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Hiking Ciudad Perdida with Kids

Nestled way up high in the jungle of the lush Sierra Nevada mountains, Colombia’s Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) hike is a legitimate bucket list item for many intrepid travelers. It’s not an easy trek to Ciudad Perdida and unlike Machu Picchu there is no train to get you there the easy way. You may be wondering, “can I hike to Ciudad Perdida with kids?”

Many people will say you can’t trek to Ciudad Perdida with kids, but we are living proof that it’s possible. We did this hike with our two kids aged 4 & 6 in December 2019. Our 6-year-old daughter walked every step of the way, and we only carried our 4-year-old son for short spurts (like over streams or down a steep slope).

Two kids on a 6 day trek to the Lost City, Santa Marta, Colombi

We believe that any regularly active family can also do this hike, but please read our account carefully – it isn’t for everyone. This is a legitimate mountainous jungle trek and you and your family must be physically and mentally capable of doing it.

This post has everything you should know about hiking Ciudad Perdida with kids.

A family photo on the way to Ciudad Perdida Colombia

This post contains compensated links.

Authorized Lost City Tour Companies

This is NOT a sponsored post. We paid our full way, so you’ll get an honest account of the trip below.

Access to the Lost City hike is strictly controlled and you must join a tour by an authorized Ciudad Perdida tour guide. There are currently only 6 companies authorized to give tours. You will see familiar tour operators like G Adventures and Intrepid selling tours, but they actually subcontract out to one of the authorized vendors.

Because of the requirement to join an organized tour, we initially felt that we couldn’t hike to Ciudad Perdida with kids. Our kids are very capable little hikers, but they are obviously slower than most adults. We didn’t want to slow down or inconvenience the other hikers on a group tour.

Our english translator talking to our kids on the Lost City trail

A Family-Friendly Ciudad Perdida Tour Company

Our original plan was to get a beachfront condo in Rodadero for a week and each parent would take a turn doing the hike in 3 days. But then we started talking to Magic Tour Colombia (an authorized tour agency) and they came up with a family-friendly solution for us.

The most common way to hike to the Lost City is to do the trek in 4 days / 3 nights. This requires you to hike an average of 7.1 miles (11.5km) each day for 4 days. You hike to Camp 1 on the first day, then to Camp 3 on Day 2. You visit Ciudad Perdida on the morning of Day 3, then hike back to Camp 2, before finishing the hike on the final day.

The new bridges on the Ciudad Perdida trek reduces the number of river crossings on the trek

Magic Tour Colombia organized a private 6-day tour for us, reducing the average daily distance to 4.8 miles (7.8km). We would hike to one camp per day, spending the night at each of the camps (1, 2 & 3) on our way up. We used Camp 3 as the base for our push to the Lost City, then stop at Camps 2 & 1 on our way back.

Having a private tour enabled us to let the kids hike at their natural pace (slow, but steady and strong) without needing to badger them to keep up to the group. We were so excited about this possibility, we instantly booked it.

Magic Tour Colombia gave us the two best guides we could have asked for. Jose, our official guide, is a kind-hearted father of two, who was very good and patient with the kids. Andrea, our translator, simply loves kids and was wonderful to them.

Our Lost City guide fist bumps our 4-year old son after a good day of hiking in Colombia

It’s important to note that the guides were not paid babysitters – the kids were still very much our responsibility. Jose and Andrea were such good choices for us, that our kids gravitated to them throughout the trek.

Daily Hiking Statistics for 6-Day Ciudad Perdida Tour

To give you an idea of the approximate distance of each leg on the Ciudad Perdida trek, here are the daily hiking statistics for each leg.

Day 1

We left El Mamey to begin our hike at noon. The hike to Camp 1 was 5 miles (8km) long with 1,560 feet (475m) total elevation gain. This leg took us roughly 4.5 hours to complete.

Kids enjoying a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada mountains on the Ciudad Perdida trek

Day 2

We were on the trail by 8:10am. The hike from Camp 1 to Camp 2 was approximately 4.2 miles (6.7km) long with 900 feet (275m) total elevation gain. This leg took us roughly 4.75 hours to complete.

All smiles while hiking the Lost City trail Colombia

Day 3 – Part 1

Day 3 was our longest day of the trek and we hit the trail early at 6:40am. The hike from Camp 2 to Camp 3 was approximately 4.7 miles (7.6km) long with 1,490 feet (455m) total elevation gain. This leg took us roughly 5 hours to complete.

the indigenous children on the Ciudad Perdida trek were so cute

Day 3 – Part 2 – Hike to Ciudad Perdida

Most tours will hike to Camp 3, spend the night, then climb up to Ciudad Perdida in the morning. After consulting with our guides, we elected to hike up immediately after lunch on Day 3.

a 4-year old climbs the 1200 stairs to Ciudad Perdida

This is another benefit of a private tour – we can make our own decisions. This turned out to be an excellent choice as we had the entire Lost City to ourselves; just us and the indigenous people who live there – not another gringo in sight. What a great (and incredibly rare) experience!

the famous Ciudad Perdida archaeological site

We began our ascent at 1:50pm. This leg is short, but steep. Including the distance walked while at the Lost City, the total distance hiked was approximately 2.7 miles (4.3km) long with 835 feet (235m) total elevation gain. This leg took us roughly 3.25 hours to complete.

For more flavor on what the final climb to Ciudad Perdida is like, read our post on Ciudad Perdida Trek – Tips for 2020.

Day 4

Having already bagged Ciudad Perdida, we enjoyed a lazy morning. The other groups woke super early and scrambled to get on the trail up to the Lost City. We took our time and were on the trail by 8am.

The hike from Camp 3 back to Camp 2 was approximately 4.7 miles (7.6km) long with 475 feet (145m) total elevation gain. This leg took us approximately 5 hours to complete.

Day 5

We were on the trail by 6:50am. The hike from Camp 2 back to Camp 1 was approximately 4.2 miles (6.7km) long with 965 feet (295m) total elevation gain. This leg took us approximately 4.5 hours to complete.

Two kids enjoy a break on the way back to El Mamey after sucesfully hiking to the Lost City Colombia

Day 6

For our final day on the Ciudad Perdida with kids trek, we were on the trail by 6:45am. The hike from Camp 1 back to El Mamey was approximately 5 miles (8km) long with 805 feet (245m) total elevation gain. This leg took us approximately 4.5 hours to complete.

colorful blankets line a bridge on the Ciudad Perdida trek

After a final lunch with our excellent guides, the kids fell asleep in the 4×4 on the way back down the mountain, despite the extreme bumpiness of the drive down.

How to Get to the Start of the Lost City Hike with Kids

The logistics of traveling with kids can be tricky sometimes. The start of the Lost City hike is several hours away from the nearest city and I seriously doubt any of the tour companies offer child seats in their 4×4’s. We got around this problem by using mifold travel seats for our kids.

With the child seat issue taken care of, the rest was super easy. Magic Tour picked us up in our 4×4 right at our beautiful oceanfront Airbnb in Rodadero. The highway driving was beautiful, through the mountains and jungle. Watch for fun animal crossing signs, such as anteaters, snakes and foxes.

Magic Tour Colombia picked us up in a 4x4 at our Rodadero condo

At the end of the highway portion, you’ll stop at a store for refreshments. Here you recieve your park entry bracelet and a chance to go to the bathroom. Make sure everyone goes as the next leg of the trip is super bumpy!

Food on the Ciudad Perdida Trek

Like all kids, ours can be picky eaters sometimes, so we get a bit nervous when we enter a situation where the food selection for our kids is out of our control. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about.

Our cook would frequently check to see if the kids were ok with the upcoming meal items. On the infrequent occasions where there was a potential issue, he’d work with us to find something suitable.

root vegetable soup is a hearty lunch after a morning of hiking the Ciudad Perdida trail

Here is a list of all meals on our trek to Ciudad Perdida with kids:

Ciudad Perdida Trek Breakfasts

  • Camp 1: eggs, toasted cheese sandwich, more toast with strawberry jam, pineapple and papaya
  • Camp 2: a plate of pineapple, papaya and cantaloupe followed by eggs and toast
  • Camp 3: cheese arepas with sour cream, sausage, pineapple, papaya and cantaloupe
  • Camp 2: arepas with cheese, toast, pineapple, cantaloupe and papaya
  • Camp 1: cheese empanadas and eggs, pineapple, papaya and cantaloupe
  • Coffee is available at every camp. The only milk option is powdered creamer.
A typical breakfast on the Lost City trek

Jose bought a box of Choco Crisps cereal for the kids in El Mamey, so for the first two mornings our kids got to eat cereal for breakfast. And not just any cereal – Choco Crisps has real chocolate chips in it! Our kids went mental for the stuff, but seriously… real chocolate chips in a breakfast cereal?!?!? ha-ha!

We feel sheepish saying this, but the first two mornings ended up being hard for the kids as they didn’t have a healthy meal in their tummies. Our guide’s heart was in the right place and we loved him for it, but without a healthy protein and carb balance to fuel their legs, they were hangry as we approached camp on the cereal days. Once the kids joined us for regular breakfast, this problem went away.

Lost City Trek Lunches

  • El Mamey: pre-trek lunch at an outdoor restaurant. We ate salsa chicken, beans, rice, plantain, onion and tomato salad. (Caution: we got more mosquito bites here than on the rest of the trek! Spray yourselves with insect repellent before going in!)
  • Camp 2: beef vegetable soup with rice and Milo chocolate cookies
  • Camp 3: spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Camp 2: salsa chicken, rice and root vegetable soup
  • Camp 1: sausage, rice, salad and beans
Salsa chicken was one of our favorite foods on the Lost City Trek

Ciudad Perdida Trek Dinners

  • Camp 1: We all shared an appetizer of avocado slices. The adults had a whole (head-on) fried fish, rice, plantain and salad. Due to the concern about kids not liking fish, our cook prepared omelets with rice, tomato, cucumber and fried plantains. We all enjoyed GOL chocolate bars for dessert.
  • Camp 2: chicken fillet and french fries. GOL chocolate bars
  • Camp 3: salsa chicken, rice, potato and guava candy
  • Camp 2: steak, yucca, carrots and green beans. GOL bar for dessert
  • Camp 1: steak, mashed potatoes, salad and a large brownie
A delicious appetizer of avocados before dinner on the Lost City Trek

Lost City Trek Drinking Water

Purified drinking water is provided free of charge at each camp. We had read many reports of the provided drinking water tasting bad due to the purification tablets, but we thought the water tasted perfectly fine. We saw evidence of modern water filtration systems at most of the camps, so this could be one reason why.

You will also be given drinks at mealtimes. For breakfast the kids will be given a hot chocolate drink, while you have coffee or chocolate. For lunch and dinner, you’ll get a glass of very tasty fruit juice. The variety changes with each meal, but it’s a crowd pleaser for the kids and a great way to get more fluids into them.

Stuff Your Kids Will Love on the Ciudad Perdida Trek

Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City

Our kids are only 4 & 6 years old, but even they could tell that the Lost City archeological site was somewhere special. I can just imagine seeing this magical place through their eyes. We had been talking about it for months leading up to our trek, and now after a lot of hard work, they had made it.

But of course, they were most interested in running, climbing and exploring the Ciudad Perdida ruins. And after checking with our guides that they were not doing anything culturally disrespectful, we were happy to let them run wild and enjoy themselves – they had certainly earned it!

A family enjoys exploring the Ciudad Perdida archaeological site

Getting a bracelet from the village spiritual leader was another special moment for the kids. They knew he was a man of importance and listened to his every word (even though they didn’t understand a word). The bracelets are special reminders of their accomplishments.

A spiritual leader gives bracelets to two kids at Ciudad Perdida

Wildlife

Ok, it’s not exactly wildlife, but the animal fun began less than a minute into our trek. Our guides invited us into the home of an El Mamey local and introduced us to their children and their pet baby pig! Our kids thought the baby pig was a riot! It was a fun start to the hike and put the kids in a good frame of mind to hit the trail.

Kids play with a baby pig on the Ciudad Perdida trek

At the very beginning of our hike, our daughter was not happy with all the ants. But she soon realized that the trails of ants along the trail are literally every minute of every day, she soon got bored of making a fuss about them.

In fact, she soon began to appreciate them after being exposed to the amazing leaf-cutter ants. These fascinating ants cut little chunks of leaves off trees and then carry them above their heads along a little leaf-cutter ant highway back to their nest. It’s an amazing sight each-and-every time and it’s a real crowd pleaser with the kids (and to be honest, the parents too!)

There are tons of butterflies flittering around on the trail to the Lost City. Keep an eye out for my favorite butterfly in the world – the Blue Morpho. You’ll know it immediately by its brilliant iridescent blue – so beautiful!

Near the top, you’ll also see little black and red butterflies with numbers on their wings – for real! These butterflies will have the number 88 or 89 on their wings. Pretty cool!

Free Watermelon!

There are two intermediate summits along the Lost City trail. There are rest stops near each of these summits where everyone could enjoy free water-rich fruit. Most days it was watermelon, but occasionally it was pineapple. A brilliant idea, these fruits help replenish everyone’s water supplies.

Our kids especially love watermelon, so they ate their body weight worth and we just let them.

Enjoying a watermelon snack

Not all tour groups will enjoy this perk as it depends on your guide arranging this for you ahead of time, but it seems like most groups participated. Check with your guide before you get to El Mamey if this is important to you.

Meeting Indigenous Kids

All along the trail, our kids had chances to interact with the indigenous kids who live along the trail. These encounters, which our kids and the locals really seemed to enjoy, were facilitated by our guides.

Canadian kids meeting indiginous kids while trekking Ciudad Perdida

On some occasions, we’d trade small bags of candy with the kids for a bag of bananas grown in their village. On other occasions, they’d just smile and stare at each other, but you could see the wheels turning on both sides.

At one of the camps our kids ended up playing soccer with some local kids around their age. They had tons of fun running around and playing together, even though they couldn’t say a single thing to each other. Smiling, laughing and playing are a universal language.

A Canada vs Colombia soccer match while hiking Ciudad Perdida with kids

Our Guides

Again, we were so lucky with our guides. They spent hours playing games with our kids, singing hiking songs, teaching each other Spanish and English. Our kids simply loved having two new friends to play with and we loved the rare opportunity to enjoy a tiny bit of kid-free hiking.

A boy gets a piggy back ride from his guide while hiking to the Lost City Colombia

Respect from Other Hikers

To be honest, we got occasional judgmental glares from other hikers on the trail (likely from those who struggled to make it). These few negative people were more than offset by positive hikers with great attitudes.

The kids got tons of high-fives along the way and plenty of people stopped to talk to them. The locals who live and work along the trail were exceptionally friendly, kind, supportive and encouraging.

Swimming in the River

There are several different Camp 1’s and Camp 2’s, so not all camps will be the same, but there are opportunities to go swimming in the river near several of the camps. We had a chance to go into the river at our Camp 2 & 3, but we only went in once during our first visit to Camp 2.

Swimming in the river was a lot of fun, but the water was freezing, so we couldn’t stay in for long. We felt our kids benefitted from the downtime at camp the other days, instead of dog-piling one more physical activity onto their already tired little bodies.

A boy enjoys swimming in the river at Camp 2 while trekking to la Ciudad Perdida

Great Learning Opportunities

Our guides made our trek to Ciudad Perdida with kids fun and educational. The kids especially liked the Sleeping Plants, which are little plants whose leaves temporarily wilt when you touch them (like they are going to sleep).

Our group stopped for a little talk with an indigenous person on our way to Camp 2. We learned about their daily life and belief systems. Our kids were interested in his tools and stuff, but they found the rest pretty boring.

Learing about local culture while trekking Lost City with kids

What Life is Like in the Lost City Camps with Kids?

The Beds at Lost City Camps

The beds in the Lost City camps are typically long rows of bunk beds.

The quality of the bedding ranged from well-worn to quite new. The pillows were well used and quite flat. Reports of the blankets and pillows being smelly were untrue.

mosquito netting around a bed at Camp 1 on the Ciudad Perdida trail

Each bed has mosquito netting all around, which you tuck under your mattress to keep it tight. This setup was quite effective at keeping the little annoying buggers out of your bed.

Our guides always made sure our beds were together. If possible, request beds away from the bathrooms. This is a noisy area and you’ll be woken up by the headlamps of people walking to the bathroom.

Lost City Showers

The shower water is so cold at the Ciudad Perdida camps, you will probably scream! This makes it challenging to convince your little hikers to splash off at the end of the day.

Most days we simply hand washed them as they stood to the side in the shower. There was simply no way they’d agree to stand under that stream of ice cold water.

Ciudad Perdida Toilets

The toilets are all western-style sit down style, but some are missing seats. These toilets are shared by hundreds of people a day, so set your cleanliness expectations accordingly.

Toilet paper is sometimes provided by the camps, but it’s not guaranteed, so bring your own toilet paper supply for the family. We had two large rolls of toilet paper with us and this, coupled with the supplied TP, just barely lasted us.

Toilets at Camp 1 on the Lost City hike

Sleeping on the Ciudad Perdida Trek with Kids

Don’t expect your kids to get a full night’s sleep while trekking to Ciudad Perdida, even if they are physically and mentally drained. It’s not due to partying or people making noise though…

On a typical night, the lights get turned out in camp between 8:30 – 9:00pm. Almost everyone goes into their bed at this time and it gets very quiet.

Rows of beds lined with mosquito netting at a Ciudad Perdida camp

Dogs will bark at anytime throughout the night and the roosters will start crowing anytime after 3am. And just when you fall back asleep from the roosters, the camp lights get turned on every morning between 4:45 – 5:30am.

We managed to get our kids sleeping before 7pm each night, while everyone else was finishing up their dinner. This helped as they weren’t kept up by the others getting ready for bed.

Ciudad Perdida Overnight Temperature

It can get chilly overnight, but the camps provide a fleece blanket for extra warmth if needed. Our kids had long sleeve pajamas and slept with socks on if it was a bit chilly. We also put their fleeces in their bed with them, just in case.

A young hiker in his pajamas and a headlamp getting ready for bed at camp on the Lost City trek

Potential Dangers When Hiking with Kids to the Lost City

This is a multi-day trek through a mountainous tropical jungle, so there will be some dangers along the way. Here are some to consider:

Injuries

We love Keen sports sandals and each brought a pair with us to the Lost City. We made the mistake of buying our son a new pair and not breaking them in prior to the trip. As a result, our son got a blister on his heel pretty quickly.

A blister can be very hard to heal while continually walking on it in a very moist tropical environment. We were glad to have brought moleskin, polysporin antibiotic ointment, bandaids and a second pair of hiking shoes. This treatment plan him happily walking while he healed and it was never a real issue.

A 4-year old boy is all smiles while trekking to the Lost City in Colombia

Insect Bites

Kids lack the self-control of adults and when they get bug bites, it can be really hard to get them to stop scratching. If they scratch too much, they can bleed and when they bleed, the open wound can be exposed to infection.

We were lucky that the bugs mostly left our kids alone. We used After Bite for the bites they did get, helping us avoid any further complications.

There are ticks in the area, so check your kids daily and make sure to bring a small tick removal kit. We were on the trail for 6 days and only heard of one person with a tick bite. We loaned him our tweezers to remove the tick at 3am, but it’s best to be prepared.

Jungle Critters

Would you believe a tarantula riding the back of a large flying bug flew through my legs? Yup – true story… Our guide said that tarantulas often attack these bugs and they take off, flying erratically trying to shake the hungry hairy spider loose.

That night in Camp 1, there was another tarantula hanging out on the wall of the toilet… sitting there all big and hairy…  taunting me… 

A tarantula on the wall of Camp 1 toilet on the Ciudad Perdida trek, Colombia

This all happened to me on the first leg of our hike when I was already feeling nervous about taking the kids on the Lost City trek. But in hindsight, it was kinda funny. Tarantulas aren’t naturally aggressive towards humans, so we were never in any real danger. We didn’t see any more tarantulas for the remainder of the Lost City hike.

We’ve read reports of scorpions sleeping in peoples hiking shoes in the camps. We didn’t hear about any scorpions on our trip, but we made sure to shake our our shoes easy morning.

The only snake we saw on the trail was dead, but our guide did report that it was a poisonous variety.

Motorbikes and Horses

The trail between El Mamey and Camp 1 is shared with young guys on dirt bikes. The rest of the trail upstream of Camp 1 is shared with trains of supply mules.

Although somewhat annoying and potentially dangerous, these guys serve a vital purpose. They help resupply the camps upstream and occasionally carry down injured hikers. For a fee, you can also hire a mule to carry your bags for you…  We carried all our own stuff to the top.

mules (mulas) carry supplies to the camps along the Lost City trek, Colombia

River Crossings

If you are doing this hike in the dry season (our guide said anytime after October), you’ll only have to contend with one real river crossing between Camp 3 and Ciudad Perdida.

Here, you’ll need to wade into the water to cross the river, using two parallel ropes for balance. In December, the water was thigh deep and I’d rate its power as a 6/10. Our guides carried our bags, while we put our kids on our shoulders and crossed.

A mom and her son cross a river on the final leg of the Ciudad Perdida hike

There are also a series of smaller streams to cross along the way by stepping on a path of stones. These aren’t a big deal, but watch that your kids don’t get their feet wet as it’s incredibly hard to dry anything that gets wet in the jungle.

A mom helps her son cross a small stream on the way to the Lost City, Colombia

The Heat

Kids are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion. My best guess is that this hike is in the direct sun about 40% of the time. The sun is very hot and powerful, amplified by the increased humidity of the jungle. Bring as much water as you can carry; we each carried a large water bladder in our daybags for our family water supply.

To help the kids get re-hydrated at night, we’d often fill the water bladders and put them in their beds with them.

The kids also wore their trusty Sunday Afternoons sun hats while they were in the sun. We’ve used the same two hats for the kids on every trip we’ve taken for years. They pack down super small, but they are comfortable and very effective at blocking the sun.

Two kids take a break while hiking to Ciudad Perdida

Final Note on Ciudad Perdida Safety

This area was once used by the drug trade for coca farming and as a result was quite dangerous. Today it’s a much different story, the drugs are gone and the tourists are in. This trade makes the lives of the local communities much better.

Beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains scenery, Colombia

You’ll occasionally see a very well-armed member of the Colombian army on patrol. Don’t be concerned, they are there to ensure we all have a safe visit to the pride of their nation.

What to Pack When Hiking Ciudad Perdida with Kids

To help you decide what to pack (and what not to pack) on our trek to Ciudad Perdida with kids, we’ve written a separate blog post on What to Pack when Hiking to Ciudad Perdida (coming soon).

So, Should You Hike Ciudad Perdida with Kids?

I confess that I didn’t sleep much the night before our Lost City tour as I was filled with worries… Did we make the right decision? Is this going to be too hard for the kids? Will the bugs eat our kids alive?

It turns out, it was an excellent decision to hike to Ciudad Perdida with kids. In fact, our kids named the Lost City trek as their favorite part of our 3.5 week long Colombia trip (even over a 6 day stretch on the beach at Isla Mucura).

We are so happy and grateful we had this opportunity as a family. It was a ton of fun and an incredible confidence booster for the kids.

It’s an accomplishment no one will ever be able to take away from them.

A family hikes to Ciudad Perdida with kids

Please consider the information within this post carefully when making your own decision about hiking the Lost City with kids. We have tried to convey an honest account of the risks and rewards of hiking Ciudad Perdida with kids.

If you are an active family and your kids are physically and mentally strong, we believe you can do it!

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