The incredible Lost City Trek in Colombia is the very definition of adventure.
With four days (or five if you hike with G Adventures like us) spent hiking through the thick, verdant jungle of the Sierra Nevada in search of an ancient city, thought to be forgotten for centuries, it’s also one hell of a challenge for most travellers.
Surviving it requires a decent level of fitness, a positive mental attitude, an open mind, and a little bit of advance preparation. After all, whilst you’re struggling with the heat, the bugs, and the humidity along the single dirt trail and river crossings, you will have to carry pretty much everything you need for the hike in a single backpack for the whole trek. Therefore, packing smart, packing light, and packing for the conditions you’re actually going to face, is absolutely key for any Lost City trekker.
After our own trek, we have shared our Lost City packing list so you can know exactly what you need to bring, what you can leave behind, including the essential toiletries and some of our advice on how to learn from our mistakes and not to be the stinkiest member of your group (trust us though, everyone will stink a little bit by the end).
A well-fitted 20-40L Backpack
For the Lost City, you should only bring one backpack with you and, once it’s fully packed, it’s recommended that it doesn’t weigh more than 6kgs. Obviously, the more stuff you put in there, the more strain on your shoulders each day of the hike.
However, we cannot stress enough how much easier this hike will be if you have a backpack that fits your back properly, has waist straps and is properly adjusted.
As we were doing this trek as part of a 4.5 month trip through South America, we had no choice but to use our standard camera + tech day packs, but they were far from ideal - especially for Emily who suffers with a bad back at the best of times. They’re great bags for our usual day-to-day travel style, but just not that great for multiday hikes.
Stick with a bag capacity under 40L (if possible aim for 20-30L) as this will help prevent you from overpacking and physically limit how much you can carry. On our own advice, for our next hiking trip, we will be investing in one of the following:
A refillable/filter water bottle
Staying hydrated on the Lost City trek given the humidity and heat is incredibly important, and so it’s fantastic that safe drinking water in a big cask is supplied to groups at each camp and meal stop.
However, as we were doing lots of hikes in South America and like to reduce our plastic footprint wherever possible, we took our two Water-to-Go water bottles on the hike. This meant that we could also fill up from various rivers and water sources along the way and always have safe drinking water with us.
If you don’t choose to invest in a travel filter water bottle, then you have to at least take standard refillable water bottle. We use this one when travelling in Europe (it keeps cold water cold for 24 hours) but if you’re only out in Colombia for a short period of time and prefer to glug, consider one of these large BPA-free reusable plastic bottles by Nalgene.
Yep, we’re banging the hiking pole drum again, but seriously, they're particularly useful on this hike (find out exactly why in our ‘Essential Things to Know Before the Lost City Trek’).
After weighing up lots of options back in the UK, we settled on this pair by Brasher which are lightweight and fold up to be easily stored in our backpacks when not in use.
It is of course absolutely possible to complete the Lost City Trek without hiking poles (and many people do!), but they do make it easier and provide welcome support on the various slippy sections (particularly in rainy season). If you have knee or back problems, then definitely take them.
Our guide advised our group back in Santa Marta that, due to the humidity and rainfall, bringing only one set of hiking clothes was necessary. We thought this seemed a little conservative, and so decided to take a few extra vests and an extra pair of shorts / trousers - as these were all lightweight and we were keeping everything else down to a minimum (except for the cameras), we were happy to carry them and see what happened.
Based on our experience, our advice to you is to definitely take the extra vests and shorts / trousers!
Overall, the best approach on your hiking kit is to bring high wicking sports or hiking clothes rather than cotton or canvas items; the latter will only grow very heavy with sweat and stay very smelly, whilst the former will draw moisture away from the body but retain much less of it in the material. They’re also much lighter, packable, easier to give a rinse at night, and dry quicker.
Invest in a pair of good quality, high-wicking, sports shorts for this hike. You will be wearing these shorts every day on the Trail - they need to be breathable, light, quick-drying and in a material that won’t chafe (trust us, you do not want chafing!)
His | Running shorts by Baleaf
Hers | Nike running shorts
Hiking leggings or trousers aren’t a terrible idea, but in the heat and the humidity they quickly grew incredibly uncomfortable on the single morning we wore ours on the trail.
Two high-wicking vests
Not only will you need vests that wick away all the sweat that this hike induces, they need to be quick-drying to allow you to rinse them out at the end of the day (yes, you will need to do this) and still be dry in the morning (spoiler alert: nothing every gets properly dry on the Lost City).
Emily carried a couple of white vests with her on this hike, one of which unfortunately ended up in the bin upon our return. Moral of the story? Don’t take anything you’ll be upset to lose - that dirt gets properly engrained in light coloured clothing.
Two sports bras (girls only, obviously)
If you wash them out as required, two will be fine for the duration of the hike.
Emily found these ones by H&M to be ideal, as they were cheap enough to throw away if too gross!
Clean pairs of underwear for each day
Neither of us took daily changes of hiking clothes, but we did prioritise clean underwear. Of course, this is personal preference, but even when you’re filthy, putting on a new pair of pants makes all the difference!
Even Andrew, who is usually a ‘two days, one pair of pants sort of guy’ on multiday hikes, decided that bringing a pair for each day was appropriate given the sweaty nature of the Lost City Trek…
A clean pair of Hiking socks for each day
As we mentioned in ‘23 Things To Know Before Taking On The Lost City Trek’, this is the number one piece of advice which you really really need to listen to when it comes to packing!
Ok, we of course hope that maybe you’ll listen to a bit more than just this, but this is the surefire difference between a great Lost City experience and a horrible one.
With the humidity and rainfall on the trail, it’s very difficult to get anything dry overnight. There is nothing, literally nothing, worse on a hike than having to put on the previous day’s wet socks on in the early morning before setting off to cover several kilometres of tough terrain. Not only does it make you feel miserable, but it also massively increasing the chances that you’ll develop blisters.
So, don’t just bring good quality hiking socks for the Lost City trek - bring good quality hiking socks for every day of the hike, plus one spare pair to change into in the evenings (or change into the fresh pair that you’ll be wearing the next morning). We bought these socks by Brasher and used them for the last six months - they’re perfect and affordable.
Tip | Before you put on your hiking boots each morning, give them a shake out to make sure no scorpions or other creepy-crawlies have set up camp overnight. Yep, that’s right, we said scorpions.
A solid pair of hiking boots
Emily’s boots were held together with Andrew’s emergency duct tape on the final day of the hike as the shoe finally came away from the sole (it had been threatening to do this for a few weeks); if the boots hadn’t been very solid to begin with, this could have been disastrous.
You will be climbing up and over rocks, walking almost exclusively across uneven surfaces, through long grass (all sorts of things live here…), potentially through thick mud and down steep and sometimes treacherous paths. This is not a hike to chuck on a pair of old trainers and hope for the best - you really, really do need a good pair of hiking boots (and if you’re heading to Peru on the same trip, then you’ll be needing these hiking boots quite a lot on your trip).
Just be sure to wear them in first before going anywhere near the Lost City trail.
A Sweat Rag
You will sweat.
You will sweat a lot.
You will sweat even more.
Although (quite justifiably) having the piss taken out of him by our group members, Andrew opted for the Rambo look with a red bandana around his forehead to soak it up. Emily also wore a headband throughout the hike, and they’re essential. A few others in our group preferred a wide-brimmed hat.
Taking one of these incredibly versatile hiking headbands is a good shout.
As we did this hike in the dry season (and checked the forecast before we set off), we didn’t pack a rain poncho; should you be hiking during the rainy months however, it’s an absolute essential.
Be sure to get a poncho that is big enough to fit over you AND your backpack, like this one. If you’ve got a backpack with a waterproof outer shell or raincover, then that’s a bonus.
We also took our waterproof Northface jackets but thankfully didn’t have to pull them out of our packs during the five days.
There are a few waterfalls and swimming holes along the way, and each group is likely to visit at least one, so bring a pair of swim shorts, bikini, or a swimsuit and go for a refreshing dunk.
Once you’ve reach camp in the evenings, you’ll need to take your compulsory shower and then change into some cleaner, warmer clothes. Comfort should be your first priority here, as well as items which are relatively lightweight and warm.
Leggings/slouchy pants - to wear in camp and sleep in
These will double up as your around the camp trousers, as well as your sleepwear. Ideally these should cover your entire leg so as to protect you from mosquitos at dusk and keep you warm (it gets surprisingly cool in the jungle at night).
Emily went for her bog-standard loose travelling pants and Andrew simply used his lightweight hiking trousers as his camp + night clothes.
Clean Cotton T-Shirt
We both took a spare t-shirt which we kept dry and wore in the evenings after our showers. If you’ve got space or room, taking an extra one or two is a good idea.
Long-sleeved t-shirt / shirt / hoody
As with the trousers, bring something that’s warm enough and comfortable enough to sleep in as well as slouch around the camp at night.
These will not only be your at-camp footwear, but also your shower shoes (you really, really don’t want to be in there barefoot).
Lastly, a packing cube to keep your clean clothes away from the dirty ones (or vice versa), or your nighttime camp clothes away from your hiking ones (or vice versa!). We have used PRO packing cubes for years and had no complaints at all.
As much as we hate using plastic bags, bringing a couple (or something similar) with you to store really wet or dirty clothes isn’t a bad idea.
This is where you really want to be careful when it comes to your Lost City packing, as too many liquid toiletries can add quite considerably to your weight. For every multiday hike, you either have to embrace the stink (whilst staying hygienic and clean) or spend way too much time or effort trying to maintain city level standards of scent.
We are firmly in the stink camp, but it’s actually really easy within your 6kgs limit and with the shower facilities at the accommodation to feel fresh and clean each night without bringing the kitchen (surely that should be toilet no?) sink. Be aware that, even if you bloody hate cold showers, it’s mandatory to have one each night before getting into bed. Use a reusable plastic ziplock bag from the airport to stash it all in, or your usual toiletry case.
Toothpaste and toothbrush | Easy peasy.
Travel Towel | An essential piece of backpacking kit - we use these towels by lifeventure.
Soap | We took one bar between the two of us.
Sunscreen | We took a SPF 30 for our body and SPF 50 for our face.
Bug Spray | The bugs are no joke in the jungle, and you’ll need to douse yourself in a good repellent. We’re big fans of this one by Incognito which is deet-free, 100% natural, not tested on animals, and actually works.
Deodorant | Some guys on our hike definitely didn’t consider this a necessity (including Andrew)
Wet wipes / Facial wipes | Since realising how bad these are for the environment, we no longer use these. If you can’t do without, consider using these eco-friendly ones. However, please try to avoid taking the other kind.
Toilet roll | Almost every toilet we used along the trail or in the camps DID NOT supply toilet roll, so you need to bring your own from Santa Marta and bring plenty!
Travel Hand Soap | Essential for the campsites as you really don’t want to pick up a stomach bug on this trek.
Blister Packs | Neither of us got blisters, but several members of our group did. Remember, put these on before the blister fully develops!
Medication | Your tour provider should have essential medical kit with them, but you will be responsible for taking any of your own specific medication. It’s also a good idea to bring sanitary products, just in case.
Note that we chose not to take shampoo or conditioner with us (and embraced the dirty hair look or cover it with a bandana).
Also, as with every group, there will always be someone who hasn’t prepared at all and has to mooch everything off everyone else - don’t be that person! And do not forget to ensure you have suitable travel insurance for this hike and your Colombia adventure (if you don’t have a clue about where to start, then start here).
We are an absolute exception here as we carried way too much technology with us due to the very nature of our work exploring the Lost City Trek with G Adventures. It added considerable weight to our bags and we would strongly advise considering how many photos you’ll actually take before chucking a large dSLR and multiple lenses into your bag for the Lost City!
If you are going to be leaving a lot of technology back at the hostel in Santa Marta, then we recommend storing them in the secure lockers available at La Guaca Hostel.
For everyone else, these are the essential pieces of technology to bring with you on the Lost City Trek:
Technically there are charging points at most camps along the route, but finding a free one when the camps have more than just your group in them can be nigh on impossible, electricity isn’t always guaranteed, and you’d be foolish to leave your phone unattended whilst charging.
So, instead of fighting off other smelly backpackers, bring a lightweight charging block like this one with you.
We heard rumours that there is wifi at some of these camps, but to be honest we never went looking for it. The lack of phone reception on the trek was wonderfully liberating and is something that should be fully embraced.
Phones do however have another use on the hike though, and with the exception of a couple of point and shoots, almost everyone in our group used their phones as their main camera. A pack of cards is also a good idea for nights at the campsite.
There is electricity in camp, but as lights go out at 9 p.m, you’ll definitely need a head torch for those late-night bathroom visits. We’ve been taking two of these travel head torches by Petzl around the world with us for the last five years and will not be changing any time soon!
We also stored and carried our tech in this 10 litre drybag for convenience and an extra layer of protection on river crossings, although it won’t be necessary for most hikers.
Lastly, it’s not a bad idea to bring a few sweets or treats with you from Santa Marta. On a long day of hiking, the little sugar boost can go a long way to boosting your mood and energy.
What To Pack For The Lost City
1 x 30l / 40l backpack
1 x hiking poles
1 x sport shorts
2 x high-wicking vests
4-5 x pairs of underwear
4-5 x hiking socks
1 x hiking boots
1 x sweat rag
1 x swim stuff
1 x packing cube
1 x rainponcho / jacket
1 x long-sleeved shirt / hoody
1 x camp slouch trousers
1 x cotton t-shirt
1 x flip-flops
1 x travel towel
Various toiletries (including Incognito bug spray and suncream)
1 x head torch
1 x battery powerbank
1 x mobile phone