Located in the Andes of Colombia, around 56 kilometers from the bustling capital city of Bogota, is the beautiful Lake Guatavita. More than just its mountainous charm, Lake Guatavita has a rather fascinating history behind it, as it is rumored to be the source of the legend of El Dorado.
Lake Guatavita is found at 3000 meters in altitude. Previously it was debated whether the crater was caused by a comet or by volcanic runoff, but recent studies have shown that it is actually a sink-hole, caused by the erosion of the salt deposits below the surface of the water.
Known in Spanish as “Laguna de Guatavita”, the lake is found just 30 minutes away from the small town of Guatavita. This makes it a very reachable attraction for tourists and travelers.
Comprehending the importance of Lake Guatavita in South American and Middle American history means that we must look back in time. Lake Guatavita was an incredibly important place for the Muisca people. The Muisca people were one of the four major groups in pre-colonial Americas, alongside the Aztecs, Incas and the Mayas.
The Muisca people were spread over what is now known as the Andes of Colombia. Research has confirmed without a doubt that Lake Guatavita was one of Muisca people sacred lakes, and was the site for an extremely sacred tradition, which, when viewed by European invaders, would change the course of life forever for the people of the Americas.
This ritual is where the myth of El Dorado was conceived. It was a sacred tradition for the King of the Muisca to be covered from head to toe in gold dust. He would then row out into the center of the lake, and throw countless ornate and intricate golden ornaments into the water. Once all the gold was thrown, he would jump into the lake himself. The gold dust would then spread into the water and the surface of the water would turn gold.
When the European invaders saw this ritual, many were said to have fallen into a “Gold Fever”, a case where they would be simply desperate to collect more gold.
To get to the lake, travelers will need to climb the small hill that it sits in. There are roughly 150 steps up to the brink of the crater. You’ll pass wildlife and plant life on your way up that are unique to the Colombian Andes, and you’ll see the beautiful flatlands of the country on your way up. There is a free tour available for travelers, which is greatly informative but only available in Spanish. If you can understand a little Spanish or can travel with someone who can, we recommend taking the tour for a more detailed and comprehensive history.
Be aware that there is not much shade on the walk to the top of the hill, be prepared with a good sunhat and plenty of water, especially if you plan to travel during the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
The best time to visit the Lake depends a lot on the type of experience you wish to have. If you travel at the weekend, then there will be more people around. The tour will fill up quickly and travelers will have a better opportunity to connect with locals. However, try to arrive earlier in the day to guarantee that you have company without being crowded.
If you opt to take a tour to Lake Guatavita from Bogota, you can find a company that provides an English speaking guide. If you don’t speak very good Spanish, this is the recommended route of travel.
The hike is suitable for kids as long as you are willing to pace yourself with them. Wear comfortable shoes, pack bug spray, sunscreen, and a hat that will protect you.
It is difficult to do anything but relax while visiting the wonderful Lake Guatavita. It’s an area surrounded by incredible natural beauty, and the waters themselves are an incredible color. Get ready to lose yourself in both nature and in history in this incredible place.