Laguna de Guatavita: a small mysterious lake a 1.5-hour drive outside Bogotá. Located near my so beloved village of Guatavita, a much visited destination by tourists. Who want to see with their own eyes the little lake that has a famous legend attached to it. We too venture the rather fierce way up the mountain to get to Laguna de Guatavita. A road where we got stuck in mud and at one point had to remove rocks to continue. Once we arrived, it began to rain even harder, while we still ventured the hike up with raincoat and umbrella. Why is this little lake so famous? And was the laguna worth all that effort or can you better spent your time elsewhere? You read it here!
Laguna de Guatavita: a popular day trip from Bogotá
The name Laguna de Guatavita suggests that this little lake must be near the village of Guatavita. Now this is true, but to get there you have to travel a bit more.
Located 57 kilometers north of Bogotá at an altitude of 3,100 meters in the mountains near Sesquilé, you can only get there via a narrow muddy path uphill. Because of its high altitude and high probability of clouds and rain, it is only around 10 degrees.
Despite this, it is a popular day trip from Bogotá. Several theories circulate about the creation of the crater lake, including the impact of a meteorite. What actually caused the lagoon is unknown. The name Guatavita comes from Chibcha, the language of the Muisca, and means “a pool on the top of a high mountain”.
From Bogotá to Laguna de Guatavita
By car, we drive from Bogotá to the lake. Soon we hit a very bad mud trail. It’s not that many kilometers, but because of the rain and the many bumps, stones and mud, it takes us a long time. One thing is certain: when we get home, the car has to be washed.
Arriving at the top, we parked the car at a farmhouse. A little further on, a car belonging to a Dutch travel agency is forced to stop due to a pile of rocks on the road. We do the hike up, after which our shoes are not the same after only three steps.
Once at the entrance, there is almost no one there. We buy a ticket and continue walking up the stone path. Meanwhile, the rain is starting to get harder and harder. But oh well, after that long muddy trip, I now want to know why this lake is so special!
Update: Meanwhile, the road to Laguna de Guatavita has been made and is now good to drive on.
The famous Colombian legend El Dorado (gold country)
Have you ever wondered where the name El Dorado (gold country) comes from? A name common in Colombia; Bogotá’s international airport, among others, is named after it.
Many myths circulate about the meaning and history behind El Dorado. It would be a gold country located somewhere in South America, but where exactly… What all the myths have in common is that there should at least be many valuable stones and gold in Laguna de Guatavita.
The most famous story is that during an initiation ritual of the Colombian Muisca Indians, the chief, doused with gold powder, threw gold and precious stones around himself on a raft in Lake Guatavita and immersed himself. But there are many other versions.
Looking for El Dorado. In search of gold.
Whether this really happened and whether Laguna de Guatavita is really the El Dorado that has been sought for years, is unclear.
Well into the 18th century, many countries, including Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, searched for the mythical gold country. At least the hidden gold should be in South America, but where is still a mystery. Possibly the Indians told false stories to keep the many prospectors at bay. Lake Guatavita was also frequently searched.
The lake was even partially drained once to make it easier to locate the gold. But it never yielded much. So to this day, the true meaning behind El Dorado is still unknown, and especially where all that gold is supposed to be. Want to know more about the legend El Dorado? Then read the whole story on Wikipedia here.
The hike to Laguna de Guatavita
From the entrance to Laguna de Guatavita, it is still quite a tough hike. Especially if you are not yet used to the altitude. A stone path takes you through beautiful nature to the top, where you have beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Because of the low-hanging clouds, we can’t see very far, but it still has something. Those clouds. As in all of Colombia, the landscapes are best described as fifty shades of green. Wonderful to see!
After a long trek uphill, we arrive at the small lake. Is it really that special? No, I don’t think so. It is beautiful to see, but it is nothing more than a small crater lake. Maybe we were just unlucky with the weather, because with the sun out the colors will be a lot brighter. In any case, the walk was wonderful!
Laguna de Gutavita: worth it or not?
I’ll be honest: Laguna de Guatavita is not my favorite destination in Colombia. Colombians themselves love it, but it ends up costing a lot of money and time and you only find a small lake at the top of a mountain.
The hike to it is very beautiful though, beautiful greenery and when there are clouds it makes it look mysterious. If you like hiking it is definitely worth it!
And when the sun shines, the whole picture will look just a bit more colorful, but especially if you have limited time (or budget travel, as this getaway is not cheap) there are destinations near Bogotá at least as beautiful and much easier to get to. Like San Francisco and the Hummingbird Garden, or the village of Guatavita itself.
In addition, there are much nicer hikes to do near Guatavita, namely in Chingaza.
Laguna de Guatavita: practical information
Entrance fee and opening hours
As with many crowded places in Colombia, entrance to Laguna de Guatavita is also more expensive for foreign tourists than for Colombians. At the entrance to the natural park you will find a ticket office where you have to pay 25,000 pesos (2023) to start the hike. The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday and Mondays if it is a holiday, from 8:30am to 4:00pm. Please note that on weekends and vacations it will be very busy!
How to get to Laguna de Guatavita?
Laguna de Guatavita is quite remote, but you can also get there quite easily. From the bus station/parking lot in Guatavita they advertise the park, and you can arrange transportation there. You can also arrange a tour from Bogotá. Prefer to go out on your own by car? Here you will find more information about driving and renting a car in Colombia.
Caution: there is a lot of name confusion about Laguna de Guatavita. Even some locals think it refers to the lake near Guatavita, called Embalse de Tominé. So first, find out if you are talking about the same thing when you start planning your route.
You can also easily visit Laguna de Guatavita with a tour on a day trip from Bogotá. Click here for a day trip Laguna de Guatavita and the salt cathedral in Zipaquira.
What to wear and bring?
Both the road to the entrance and the hiking trail up the mountain can get quite wet. In addition, it rains a lot and the temperature can drop to low. It is best to put on closed walking shoes and bring at least a warm sweater and raincoat. An umbrella is also not a luxury.
There are a few restaurants to buy food, but I am not sure if they are open on weekdays. Bring something to eat and drink to be sure. Also bring a plastic bag to dispose of packaging and other trash at home to preserve the beautiful nature.
Don’t want to do Laguna de Guatavita on a day trip from Bogotá, but want to stay in the area? That’s perfectly possible. Cundinamarca has an awful lot to offer; you can easily spend a week here.
Stay for example in Colombia’s nicest village: Sopó. Here you will find many wonderful hotels and this is the perfect place to explore the area.
Staying in Guatavita itself is also a good option. From here, though, it is more difficult to explore the area by public transportation. With a private car, though, it’s doable. Click here for hotels in Guatavita and surrounding areas.
Guatavita in music: No Te Pido Flores
The singer Fanny Lu, famous in Colombia, released the song No Te Pido Flores in 2006. A song that became very famous in South America and reached No. 1 on many charts. The first version of the video was shot in Laguna de Guatavita, according to both English and Spanish Wikipedia. Now I’ve watched the video carefully twice, and I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. It looks more like Embalse de Tominé near the village of Guatavita. What do you think? Listen and watch this very cute Colombian song and judge for yourself!
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