One of my favorite places in Colombia is Lago de Tota and its surroundings, located in one of the most beautiful departments in the country: Boyacá. No wonder I have been here many times by now. The surroundings are enchanting. Still so unspoiled, without mass tourism. From Bogotá, you can drive to the lake in just four hours. Where you can eat at one of the restaurants along the route, often with beautiful views. It rains regularly in this region, but with any luck, the sun comes out frequently. In this article you will read all about Lago de Tota and what to do in this part of Colombia.
Why is Lake Tota worth a visit?
Lake Tota is the largest natural lake in Colombia and is located in the department of Boyacá, in the eastern part of the Andes Mountains. The lake covers an area of about 55 square kilometers and lies at an elevation of about 3,015 meters above sea level. This makes it the third highest located lake in South America.
The surroundings of Lago de Tota are rich in biodiversity. You can find a variety of plant and animal species, including birds, fish and amphibians.
Although off the beaten path for foreign travelers, Lago de Tota is a popular vacation destination for Colombians. You can do all sorts of things, including hiking, kayaking, visiting villages and even diving in the (freezing cold) lake.
What is there to do at Lago de Tota in Colombia?
At Lago de Tota you can easily stay a week or more. There is much to do and see, both for adults and children.
1. Playa Blanca
Lago de Tota is particularly known for its white sand beach: Playa Blanca. The sandy beach that just about every tourist who comes here drives straight to. Many people are not, by the way; tourism has yet to take off here. I don’t mind at all, which leaves this part fairly untouched. An interesting part, because this lake with that sandy beach is located at an altitude of no less than 3000 meters. So swimming in the lake is also quite a challenge, as it is freezing cold.
At Playa Blanca you can rent boats and on the rocks are restaurants where you can eat the traditional “trucha” (trout). Definitely a must-do, is an experience in itself!
Playa Blanca is fun to drive by, but certainly not the highlight of a visit to Lago de Tota as far as I’m concerned.
2. Visit Pueblito Antiguo
Located directly on the lake, this nature reserve offers not only beautiful views but also an interesting look at the history of the Colombian department of Boyacá. For example, you will find a historic village recreated, short hiking trails and an old train. Read all about Pueblito Antiguo.
3. Diving in Lago de Tota
It is freezing cold and far from clear, yet it is possible to dive in Colombia’s highest lake. Jimmy did this with a group to remove trash from the water. In addition, it is a special experience and you can immediately brush up on your diving skills. Read more about diving in Lago de Tota here.
4. Take a drive around the lake
Not only is the nature at Lago de Tota beautiful, you will also find many authentic villages. Around the lake you can hike, bike or drive around by car beautifully. A road runs around the lake, not paved everywhere. Here you will experience traditional Colombian farm life. Discover quaint villages, such as Iza, Aquitania and Cuitiva. Be sure to take a look at these villages, a look at Colombia off the beaten path!
5. The surroundings of Lago de Tota: 7 sights to see
Lago de Tota and the villages immediately surrounding it are beautiful, but there is much more to do and see in the immediate area. Far away from mass tourism in Colombia, you will find authentic villages, nature where you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere and the most extraordinary fincas (hotels) to stay.
1. Monguí: the ball village
Probably the most famous village near Lago de Tota: Monguí. This village is known for manufacturing and selling balls: soccer balls, small balls, basketballs, big balls, leather balls, you name it. The whole village is full of them. Not only that: rarely have I seen such a beautiful church as the one here. This village is a must-see if you are in the area!
2. Hiking through Páramo de Ocetá.
Monguí is the base for Páramo de Ocetá, also known as the most beautiful páramo in the world. Here you can hike through one of the most beautiful natural areas in Colombia. Where you will be introduced to an ecosystem found almost nowhere in the world. Highly recommended. Read all about hiking in Páramo de Ocetá here.
3. Nobsa: the poncho village
Want to buy a genuine Colombian sheep’s wool poncho? Then you must be in Nobsa. Whether or not you’re looking for a warm ruana, as the poncho is actually called, Nobsa is fun to visit anyway. This little village is known for its ponchos, and it is a real treat for the eyes.
The streets are full of all kinds and colors of ponchos. Most are white, black, brown or gray or a combination of these colors. There are also colored ones, purple or blue. In many villages, especially in this region, really almost everyone walks with a poncho, something that is very beautiful to see. And necessary too, because like Bogotá, it can be quite cold at this altitude.
Of course, I can’t be left behind, so as soon as we drive back, I too am the proud owner of a very nice, cream-colored poncho and matching scarf. Click here for fun facts about the Colombian poncho (ruana).
4. Sogamoso: street art and the temple of the sun
Sogamoso is the largest town in the area. In itself not a place you want to stay long, but especially if you are traveling by bus an ideal place to find your hotel or hostel. From Sogamoso, buses go to all the places around Lago de Tota, and from here it is easy to travel on to places such as Barichara or Villa de Leyva.
Are you in town or nearby? Then the street art in Sogamoso is beautiful to see. And don’t forget a visit to the famous Archaeological Museum and the Temple of the Sun. The place to learn about Colombian history and the Muisca Indians.
5. Toca: the safest village of Colombia
On the other side of Lago de Tota you will find the village of Toca. A mini-village where the police are playing soccer in the square. They have nothing to do here in the safest village in Colombia. Toca itself is nice to walk through for a while. Even more fun is staying nearby in a typical Colombian finca. How about Casa Yerbabuena? In the house or at the glamping directly on the nearby lake. A great experience I can tell you!
6. Paipa: cheese, thermal baths and the monument Lanceros del Pantano de Vargas
Paipa is a popular weekend destination for Bogotans. Here you will find the famous Paipa cheese and many thermal baths. Personally, this is not my favorite village, but the monument there is certainly beautiful to see. I wouldn’t be staying there anytime soon myself, but if you’re in the area this is a good place to stop and behold this massive sight. The monument is called Lanceros del Pantano de Vargas. The largest monument in Colombia, so quite special.
The monument depicts the attack of the 14 lancers commanded by Colonel Juan José Rondón. It is 33 meters high and was dedicated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Colombian Declaration of Independence (1970).
You can find the monument here, a little outside the village.
7. Pueblito Boyacense in Duitama
Next to Playa Planca one of the most famous sights in this region. The aforementioned Pueblito Antiguo is a smaller and less touristy version of Pueblito Boyacense. An open-air museum where you will learn about the different villages in Boyacá. Each block represents one of the seven cities in the department.
The special thing about this model village is that the houses are actually inhabited. And many residents sell crafts and meals to visitors.
It is particularly fun to visit Pueblito Boyacense with children, or if you are short on time. It is hugely touristy and also really focused on tourism. In my opinion, it is much more fun to visit the villages in this article yourself and wander through the picturesque streets, without tourism. That way you will get to know Boyacá much better.
Lago de Tota and surroundings: where to stay?
Boyacá is the place to experience authentic Colombian life. The best way to do this is from a finca. Here are some tips on where to stay for the best experience at Lago de Tota and surrounding areas.
Located near Bogotá, this finca is particularly geared toward backpackers. It has a very special decor and a beautiful garden. It is obviously a very old farmhouse where the room door barely closes. Everything is wooden and it has a very homey feel to it.
This finca is about a thirty-minute drive from Sogamoso to the south. It is difficult to find and can only be reached via a dirt road of several kilometers. The finca is so remote that there is no TV, no wifi and no phone and Internet coverage. But that didn’t bother me at all. Because the view of the mountains and the cows, of the farm life, the fresh air and all the sounds of nature at night make this a very special stay in the Colombian countryside. Highly recommended!
A beautiful finca and glamping in the middle of nowhere. To get here, you absolutely need a car. Far away from civilization, right on a small lake, you will find this beautiful residence. From here you can explore Lago de Tota and the rest of Boyacá.
In a beautiful part of Sogamoso, from where you walk straight into the street art, you will find this great hostel. Ideal for budget travelers, or if you are traveling by bus and want to explore the area from Sogamoso. Great owners who help you with everything, a location from where you can easily do everything ánd a wonderful stay.
How do you visit Lago de Tota?
The best thing to do is car rental, which is the only way out of the towns to visit the countryside. For example, you can rent a car in Bogotá, and drive to the lake in about 4 to 5 hours. You don’t necessarily need a 4×4, but a regular car may not get you through certain roads. The road to Pueblito Antiguo, for example, is pretty bad. In that case, turn around and choose another destination.
Another option is by bus. In that case, your base yourself best is Sogamoso. From Sogamoso, you can go to Monguí, Duitama, Paipa and Tunja. To travel on from those places to other destinations. If you travel by bus, you cannot get to many places easily, and you will need more time to see all the sights described above. In any case, you can easily get to Monguí, Páramo de Ocetá, Duitama, Nobsa and Paipa.
Lago de Tota is the perfect stop on the itinerary from Bogotá to Barichara and through Villa de Leyva. Check out this entire itinerary here.
Lago de Tota: a hidden gem of Colombia
Lago de Tota, a beautiful part of Colombia. A place where you can experience real Colombian farm life. You can enjoy fresh air and lower temperatures. Where you can jog along mountain roads at 3,000 meters. Where the cows still just live outside instead of in a barn. Where many roads are still just sand instead of asphalt. Where the horse is an important way of transportation. Where in most parts there is no internet coverage. Where the poncho marks the street scene. Where you can rest. And can enjoy. From this hidden gem of Colombia.
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