Central and South America will whet any traveller’s appetite for real adventure with its jungle-clad ruins, steamy rainforests and wildly rugged landscapes. It’s the ultimate destination for the curious and daring, so we’ve tracked down the most intriguing lost cities of this legend-fuelled land…
5. The City of Caesars
Thousands of kilometers of uncharted plains, lonely lakes and ancient forests that were once roamed by dinosaurs – if you were looking to hide a lost city, Patagonia would be the place to do it. But if you’re lucky enough to find yourself exploring this pristine wilderness, chances are you’ve heard the words ‘City of Caesars’ echoing through Patagonia’s glacier filled passes. Typically, the legend speaks of a remote fort filled with unimaginable treasures hidden deep within the Andes.
While most of the stories agree on its (somewhere between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina), most of the debate is around who was responsible for building it. Depending on who you ask, the ‘Wandering City of Patagonia’ was either built by shipwrecked Spaniards looking for a place to hide their gold, the last survivors of the Aztec empire or, according to some, a race of ancient giants. One thing is certain; whoever built it has done a pretty good job of hiding it. Despite numerous expeditions, and a few scattered clues – to this day the City of Caesars remains shrouded in mystery.
4. Ciudad Blanca – “The White City”
The legend of Ciudad Blanca begins in a letter from the Bishop Of Honduras, sent to the King of Spain in 1544. In the letter, he describes journeying to the edge of the Mosquito Coast, climbing a nearby peak and spotting a large city shrouded by deep jungle. Consulting his local guide, he was informed that the inhabitants of this mysterious city ate from plates made entirely of gold. For the next 500 years, pilots, hunters and travellers offered similar reports of a huge city lurking deep in a valley, its giant white stones giving it the nickname “The White City”.
Interestingly, explorer Theodore Morde claimed to have found the city on a 1939 expedition into the Honduran jungle, however on his return to London he was involved in a suspicious, and fatal hit and run accident. Skeptics claim that someone, or something, didn’t want Morde to share his findings with the world. This secrecy also stems from claims that local tribes deliberately keep the city hidden, keeping its golden treasures secret from greedy outsiders.
3. Lost City of Z
With a plot that is said to have inspired the character of Indiana Jones, the story of the Lost City of Z is one of South America’s most enduring mysteries. While exploring the Amazon jungle in the early 1900s, Colonel Percy Fawcett (a former british spy) heard rumors of a lost city full of silver and gold, reduced to ruins over 11,000 years ago by a giant earthquake. He named this ancient site ‘Z’ and hoped that it may even turn out to be the infamous city of Atlantis described by Plato. But Percy was no hopeless dreamer – he based much of hypothesis on a manifesto left behind by a Portuguese expedition that described the cities large stone structures and deserted gold and silver mines in great detail.
While the original expedition disappeared in mysterious circumstance not long after their discovery, Fawcett was convinced that by following in their footsteps he could then pinpoint the location of the city himself. In 1925, he set out into Amazon jungle with his son Jack, and was never heard from again. To this day, no conclusive evidence of the city has been found.
2. Lake Titicaca
This is a tricky one. The ‘lost city’ of Lake Titicaca isn’t really a city – it’s actually just a single temple. And it is not really ‘lost’, in the full sense of the word… because it was found only a few years ago. So why is it on this list? Because it was discovered not on, or around Lake Titicaca – but underneath the surface!
While following a submerged road in August 2000, divers came across the remains of a sunken temple dating back over 1000 years. Many believed that these ruins belonged to a legendary underwater city of Wanaku that is spoken about in numerous local legends. Since the find however, archeologists have been unable to locate any further evidence of a larger city complex. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few more secrets lurking beneath Titicaca’s surface.
1. El Dorado
If you’ve heard of South America, you’ve probably heard of El Dorado. This legendary city of gold kept the Spanish Conquistadores drooling for centuries, yet its whereabouts remain completely unknown. The name El Dorado actually refers to an ancient king who, according to local tribes, would cover himself with gold and dive into a lake as part of an ancient ritual. After hearing stories of a city made of gold from captured tribes, one Spanish lieutenant claimed that he himself had spent time with El Dorado. This alone was enough to spark repeated expeditions into the heart of South America, most of which found only jungle diseases and death at the hands of hostile natives.
But it wasn’t just the Spanish who were after a slice of El Dorado’s riches – English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh became convinced of its existence while exploring the Amazon, constantly finding golden objects washing up on the riverbank. Returning with his son for a second expedition, he not only failed to find the city, but his son met an untimely end in the jungles of Columbia. Nowadays, El Dorado has become a symbol for wealth and excess, appearing in numerous Hollywood films and capturing the imaginations of those who dream of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams.
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* photo by David Beyer – Intrepid Photography Competition