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Ciudad Perdida

Coordinates: 11°2′16.79″N 73°55′30.69″W / 11.0379972°N 73.9251917°W / 11.0379972; -73.9251917
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Ciudad Perdida
View of the central area of the city. Wooden structures once stood on the stone platforms.
Map showing location in Colombia
Map showing location in Colombia
Shown within Colombia
Alternative nameTeyuna, Buritaca-200
LocationMagdalena Department, Colombia
RegionSierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Coordinates11°2′16.79″N 73°55′30.69″W / 11.0379972°N 73.9251917°W / 11.0379972; -73.9251917

Ciudad Perdida (Spanish for "lost city"; also known as Teyuna and Buritaca-200[1]) is the archaeological site of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia, within the jurisdiction of the municipality of Santa Marta. This city is believed to have been founded about 800 AD. If so, Ciudad Perdida predates Machu Picchu by about 650 years.

Ciudad Perdida consists of a series of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, a network of tiled roads, and several small circular plazas. The entrance can be accessed only by climbing up 1,200 stone steps through dense jungle.[2][3]

Modern discovery[edit]

Ciudad Perdida was discovered in 1972 by Los Sepúlvedas, a group of local treasure looters.

Los Sepúlvedas were a small family of looters living in Colombia. The family often went hunting in the forests, and one day they shot a wild turkey. While retrieving the turkey, they noticed it had fallen on a series of stone steps rising up the mountainside. They climbed up the stone steps and discovered an abandoned city, which they named "Green Hell" or "Wide Set". After the murder of one of the Sepúlveda sons at the site of Ciudad Perdida, fights broke out among the looters.[4]

Soon after, gold figures and ceramic urns from Ciudad Perdida began to appear on the local black market.[3] This alerted archaeologists, and a team led by the director of the Instituto Colombiano de Antropología, reached the site in 1976. The site was reconstructed between 1976 and 1982.[5]

Although La Ciudad Perdida is an impressive site, it is not the only one of its kind. Only about 30–40% of the sites in the Sierra Nevada region have been explored. However, thanks to recent widespread lidar access, more and more of these sites are being discovered.[5][3][6]

Members of local tribes – notably the Kogi people – have stated that they visited the site of Ciudad Perdida regularly before it was widely reported, but had kept quiet about it.[7][8] They call the city "Teyuna" and believe it was the heart of a network of villages inhabited by their forebears, the Tairona.


Boulder with carved markings, believed to be a map of Ciudad Perdida and paths connecting it to the larger area

Built around 800 CE,[4] Ciudad Perdida was most likely the region's political and manufacturing center on the Buritaca River and may have housed 2,000–8,000 people. The site was originally inhabited by the Tairona people. According to the Kogi people, who are some of the last preserved indigenous descendants of the Tairona, the Tairona lived for thousands of years, up until the age of the Spanish conquistadors.

The Tairona people were forced to flee from La Ciudad Perdida sometime in the 16th century,[3] after years of trade and conflict.

Indigenous tribes[edit]

Indigenous peoples had established advanced communities 1,500 years before the Spanish arrived. These communities were connected by stone paths, which facilitated the exchange of food and products of gold, stone, and clay. The inhabitants took advantage of the rich variety of foods and resources available in this mountainous region near the sea. They had gardens to grow vegetables such as tomatoes and corn, and fruits such as avocado, guanabana, pineapple, and guava. Due to their close proximity to the ocean, they obtained a large variety of seafood. Indigenous children learned stories and legends from elders and learned to create fabrics to make clothes and mochilas. Children and adults admired the warriors who protected the indigenous people from the Spanish conquerors.

Although they are generally referred to as the "Tairona people", there were many groups and settlements spread across the mountains and beaches in distinct, smaller communities (polities) all trading and working together. When the SThe Tairona people, much like the Kogi people today, were not violent people. The Kogi believe in kindness and equality. The Tairona people lived to protect and serve the earth, not only for themselves but for everyone.

As the European colonizers settled in indigenous territory, they began enslaving the natives who fished and collected salt on the coast. The Tairona people in the mountains, dependent on the fish and salt farmed by the coastal Tairona people, told escaped enslaved Tairona members to return and bring the Europeans gifts of gold to appease them. The Europeans took the gold but were not appeased and became more hostile to the natives. The Tairona eventually fled in the 1500s.

Around 1970, some farmers who colonized the lower part of the Sierra Nevada, up to approximately 700 meters above sea level, learned of the possibilities of finding great treasures. In a short time, some of them organized themselves and without any archaeological preparation, they dedicated themselves to the looting of the Tayrona tombs, an illegal activity called guaquería.

The guaqueros went deeper and deeper into the Sierra until, in 1973, one of them, Julio César Sepúlveda, arrived at the lost city and began to loot it. Almost simultaneously, another guaquero, Jorge Restrepo, along with his men arrived in Teyuna and dedicated himself to looting. The two sides clashed and the two leaders died in the bloody combat. History repeated itself. After almost 500 years since the first Europeans landed in America, the mania for getting rich with the gold buried in indigenous tombs continued to kill victims.[9]

The effects of the conquistador's colonization of their villages are still seen today. As the years passed, the Europeans took more and more of the gold originally crafted by the indigenous people. Much of that gold still resides in museums across Europe, leaving the current descendant tribes of today—the Kogi, Arsarios, Arhuacos, Kankwamos, and Chimilas—without any of the gold of their ancestors.

The Kogi people live in the last pre-Columbian settlement and have more-or-less kept the ways of the Tairona people since they were forced out of their settlements by the conquistadors. Although the Kogi can provide insight into the Tairona, they are distinct from the people who lived 500 years ago. The Kogi believe that everything buried in La Ciudad Perdida contributes to the peace, harmony, and balance of the world. After teaching one of their members Spanish, they presented this case to the Colombian government and successfully reclaimed the rights to their ancestral land. Now, groups like the Global Heritage Fund continuously work to protect the historic site against, as the Kogi people would say, "younger brother's" harm.

Armed conflict[edit]

The area around Ciudad Perdida was affected by the Colombian armed conflict between the Colombian National Army, right-wing paramilitary groups, and left-wing guerrilla groups like the National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

On 15 September 2003, the ELN kidnapped eight foreign tourists visiting Ciudad Perdida, demanding a government investigation into human rights abuses in exchange for their hostages.[10] The ELN released the last of the hostages three months later. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (paramilitary right-wing groups) continued attacking aborigines and non-aborigines in the zone for a while.

Resumed access[edit]

In 2005, tourist hikes became operational again and there have been no problems since then. The Colombian Army actively patrols the area, which is now deemed to be safe for visitors, and there have not been any more kidnappings.

Since 2009, the non-profit organization Global Heritage Fund (GHF) has been working in Ciudad Perdida to preserve and protect the historic site against climate, vegetation, neglect, looting, and unsustainable tourism. GHF's stated goals include the development and implementation of a regional management plan, documentation and conservation of the archaeological features at Ciudad Perdida, and engagement of the local indigenous communities as major stakeholders in the preservation and sustainable development of the site.



  1. ^ Mayorga Hernández, María Isabel (2022). Teyuna: La Ciudad Perdida Tairona: Dibujos y levantamientos como aporte gráfico a su estudio (PDF). Proceedings of the XIX Congreso Internacional de Expresión Gráfica Arquitectónica (in Spanish). Cartagena, Colombia: Escuela de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
  2. ^ "Explore the Site". Global Heritage Fund. Archived from the original on 2014-09-08.
  3. ^ a b c d Muse, Toby (September–October 2004). "Lost City". Archaeology.
  4. ^ a b "Everything you need to know about the Lost City". 3 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b Giraldo Peláez, Santiago; Fernanda Herrera, Luisa (July 2019). Parque Arqueológico-Teyuna Ciudad Perdida: Guía para visitantes (in Spanish) (second ed.). Bogotá, Colombia: Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia. ISBN 978-958-8852-76-8. Retrieved 8 February 2024.
  6. ^ Soto Holguín, Alvaro (2006). The Lost City of the Tayronas. Bogotá, Colombia: I/M Editores. ISBN 978-958-9343-03-6.
  7. ^ Muse, Toby (2004). "Lost City". Archaeology. Vol. 57, no. 5. pp. 18–23.
  8. ^ Campo, Andrés Ricardo Restrepo; Turbay, Sandra (2015). "The silence of the Kogi in front of tourists". Annals of Tourism Research. 52: 44–59. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2015.02.014. (Abstract only)
  9. ^ "Teyuna, the lost city of the Tayrona • Neperos". Neperos.com.
  10. ^ "Ciudad Perdida Kidnappings". La Ciudad Perdida. Archived from the original on 2012-11-30. Retrieved 2014-09-08.

External links[edit]