The Lost Cities of the World


Once in a blue moon, forgotten civilizations like Machu Picchu or Pompeii emerge from the fog, reminding us how much we still have to learn about our world’s past. Traverse unforgiving terrain to remote locations where entire ways of life are just waiting to be found. The following spots have receded into obscurity due to natural catastrophe, disease, or conquest; but by some twist of fate, they have emerged from the ashes, welcoming the outside world to dig up untold tales. The truth is, many of these places are no secret to the natives who live in the area. It is the rest of us that are coming in with fresh eyes. From bucket list staples to obscure archeological digs, we’ve scoured the world for the most intriguing cities that are making a comeback!

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Updated 5 years ago

Machu Picchu

9 saves

Cusco, Peru • Recommendation • 

Follow in the footsteps of a real-life Indiana Jones to a citadel hidden in the mist of the Andean mountaintops. Machu Picchu is an awe-inspiring city at the heart of the fallen Inca Empire. These people forewent wheels, steel tools, or mortar to build, yet the settlement has held on through the ravages of time and earthquakes since the mid-14th century. Roam grassy plazas and fortified dwellings; and marvel at the pristine terraces carved into the peaks. Out-of-reach on its steep perch, Machu Picchu evaded discovery from even the Spanish conquistadors (soldiers and explorers) that wiped out the ancient kingdom. It would be hundreds of years later in 1911 before a local farmer, Melchor Arteaga, led Hiram Bingham III to the ruins. Bingham was a professor and explorer, much like the whip-wielding Indy would later be. Scholars to this day only infer the finer details of Machu Picchu, as the Incas did not use written language. Go ahead and channel your inner adventurer. Who knows what else you may discover here?

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Pompeii Archaeological Park

Parco Archeologico di Pompei

2 saves

Naples, Italy • Recommendation • 

In the summer of 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius exploded in a devastating eruption. It immediately buried everything alive in volcanic ash, and Roman cities like Pompeii and Herculaneum vanished. Out of sight and out of mind, Pompeii only resurfaced in 1748. Explorers were shocked to find that thousands of residents, along with animals and artifacts, were perfectly preserved in sediment. Sift through traces of what would have been a normal day in Pompeii—if only Mother Nature had different plans. Some of the bakeries even still had bread in their ovens! It’s always a haunting and profound visit for the pilgrims who’ve come through the years. One-third or so of the area is still under compacted debris, so the outside world is learning about local life alongside scholars and archaeologists.

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Herculaneum Archaeological Area

Parco Archeologico di Ercolano

1 save

Naples, Italy • Recommendation • 

Just a few hours away, Herculaneum suffered the same fate as Pompeii. Much less was excavated, but the baths, taverns, temples, and villas were even better preserved since the layer of ash here was deeper. In the early days, archaeologists even found organic matter (like wood) intact. Herculaneum is a bit often overlooked, drawing a much smaller crowd than Pompeii (of, course weekday mornings are even quieter). Remember to wear comfortable clothes and stay hydrated since you’ll be walking a lot. Gain an intimate look at elaborate frescoes, mosaics, and marble works that adorn the aging walls. These give us a peek at just how wealthy the residents were. Some mansions like the Villa dei Papiri even overlook the sea, inviting people of power (such as Julius Caesar’s father-in-law) to vacation here.

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4 saves

Wādī as Sīr, Jordan • Recommendation • 

The Lost City of Stone, otherwise known as Petra, was a capital trading post and caravan-city. The Arab Nabataeans painstakingly carved their edifices into the sandstone cliffs. When new merchant routes emerged, the people simply moved on. Snap pictures in front of The Treasury, its most popular facade, to immortalize this bucket list adventure! Inhabitants didn’t just survive the desert climate, they thrived. They engineered systems that redirected the rainwaters to verdant gardens, refreshing swimming pools, and bubbling fountains. Silks and spices shuttled through the narrow canyons to and from Asia, Arabia, and the West. Immigrants also flocked here, growing the desert oasis to a 30,000-person cosmopolis. You’ll see this melting pot of cultures color the decorated walls, murals, and artwork still giving glory to Petra.

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La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

2 saves

Santa Marta, Colombia • Recommendation • 

From the starting point in Santa Maria, the five-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida involves a lot of things: communing with indigenous groups, sleeping in humble accommodations, hiking through dense jungles, bathing in gushing rivers, and coming face-to-face with exotic animals. Even with a name as literal as “The Lost City” in Spanish, the abandoned village was never really isolated to natives—just the rest of the world. That means that the only way here is by a local guide and translator. The challenge is worth it in the end when the lush land starts to form into stone terraces. The view of the region’s vast expanse comes into full view as you ascend the 1,200 flat stone steps to La Ciudad Perdida, finally emerging from under the canopy of trees. The Tairona people rooted themselves 3,000 feet above sea level to be close to the stars and their god, Wymaco. Amidst the untouched landscape, it always feels like “The Lost City” has been found for the first time.

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Archaeological Park of Baia

Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baia

2 saves

Naples, Italy • Recommendation • 

Luxurious villas where the rich and powerful went for a hedonistic weekend sounds a lot like an invention of this era. Baia was Ancient Rome’s own sin city that indulged its guests in all sorts of earthly pleasures. Steamy bathhouses and mosaic-clad pools dot the resort town. Influential people came for a good time, and legendary scandals followed their trails—what happens in Baia, stays in Baia. The volatile volcanic activity that fuelled the popular hot springs were also what caused its disappearance. Half of Baia slipped into the sea due to the earth’s vents, but statues and columns have remained unscathed. Peer into the shallow waters via a glass-bottom boat tour or suit up for a scuba-diving session (there are several in the area to choose from)!

  • Via Lucullo, 94, Bacoli Naples, Italy

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Termessos Ruins

2 saves

Antalya, Turkey • Recommendation • 

Alexander the Great once likened Termessos to an eagle’s nest. The city's high-altitude location (over 3,000 feet) made it virtually impenetrable, saving it from any possible invasion by the Greek conqueror. As a result, its original inhabitants (the Solim people) lived in peace and remain a mystery. Scholars pin the end of the Solim’s time in Termessos to a loss of water supply. An earthquake wrecked the aqueducts and everyone just packed up. They left behind a complex of buildings that have started to crumble over time. A giant Roman-style theater is the most impressive (and intact!) structure in the entire vicinity. The jagged horizon and clear skies play backdrop to the round stage. Take a seat and take it all in. It’s a quick drive from Antalya and an upward march up to the zenith. Just think: you can say you did something that Alexander the Great didn’t dare to.

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موئن جو دڑو

2 saves

Lārkāna, Pakistan • Recommendation • 

Wander through a labyrinth of sunken chambers and crenelated brick walls amidst dry Pakistani plains. It’s all that remains of Mohenjo-daro (“Mount of the Dead Men”), a kingdom of the Indus Valley that flourished in 2600 B.C. It disappeared for unknown reasons, and it was only in 1920 when the city reemerged to the public. Little is known of its residents, but they were believed to be masterful engineers. Admire the street grid and complex drainage systems that have endured for thousands of years. Mohenjo-daro was in the league of the better-known Greek and Egyptian civilizations. Around 40,000 inhabitants successfully lived off trade and bountiful land.

  • Mohenjo-daro, Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan
    موئن جو دڑو, لاڑکانہ, سندھ

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Nan Madol

2 saves

Palikir, Micronesia, Federated States Of • Recommendation • 

By the eastern shore of Pohnpei Island in Micronesia, locals created about 92 artificial islets right on a coral reef. Collectively they’re called the Nan Madol Ruins. Pentagonal columns of black lava rock, some as long as 20 feet, make up dwelling places. The dark constructions contrast against the bright green foliage and light blue skies that surround it. Have the entire island to yourself and freely amble through the capital of the native Saudeleur dynasty. Legend is tightly entwined with the origins of Nan Madol. The tale goes that two sorcerers sought a place to worship their god of agriculture, Nahnisohn Sahpw. They eventually settled in the area, commanding a dragon to help them build with the massive rocks. They conducted rituals and ceremonies in Nan Madol, and the rest (as they say), is ancient history.

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