© iStock/Fausto Riolo
© iStock/Fausto Riolo

El Dorado legend, the lagoon and the town of Guatavita

4 minutes to read

It all started with the Muiscas, years before the Spanish colonizers came to America. The Muiscas is a native Colombian tribe that inhabited, amongst other departments, the one that is now known as Cundinamarca - where the Guatavita lagoon is located. The Muiscas considered the lagoon the center of the universe, a place of connection between the underworld and the world beyond, occupied by their gods.

© iStock/Working In Media
© iStock/Working In Media

El Dorado legends

El Dorado tells the legend of a lagoon, which was full of gold in its depths. There are two stories linked to how all that gold got to the bottom of the Guatavita lagoon. One of them is a love and heartbreaking story: The chief of the Muiscas had a wife and a daughter, but apparently he did not know how to love his wife right, so she found herself a lover. The chief heard about it and commanded some of his servants to follow her day and night, and supposedly got her lover killed as well. His wife could not bear the situation anymore, and one night she jumped into the lagoon with their little daughter. This brought extreme sadness to the chief, who sent people into the lagoon to bring them back. They found the daughter's body with no eyes and told him that his wife was happily living in the depths of the lagoon. To honor his dead wife, he threw gold and emeralds into the lagoon for her and continued doing this ritual often.

© Wikimedia/Reg Natarajan
© Wikimedia/Reg Natarajan

Another story talks about an investment ceremony that was celebrated whenever the Muisca tribe had to appoint a new chief (cacique). According to tradition, the new chief used to go into the lagoon on a reed raft richly decorated. His body was entirely covered with gold dust, and on his feet, he had a large pile of gold and emeralds to offer to the gods. Once the raft would reach the center of the lagoon, those who were on the shores would throw pieces of gold and precious stones into the water. A raft made out of gold, a symbol of such ceremony, is nowadays kept in the Gold Museum in Bogotá.  It is estimated that the figure was made between 600 and 1600 A.C.

When the colonizers and other explorers came to America after hearing about these stories, they became obsessed with finding that gold. They tried for many years but never succeeded. 

Museo del Oro de Colombia, Bogotá
Museo del Oro de Colombia, Bogotá
Cra. 6 ##15-88, Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Guatavita town

Guatavita is a colonial town located 53 kilometers away from Bogota. It is known as the religious capital for the Muiscas. This lovely town of fewer than 2000 inhabitants is rich in history, nature, and culture. 

With cobblestone streets, all-white houses, and cool weather, one of the nicest things to do in town is walking around admiring its captivating architecture and soaking in its magic vibe: a mix between ancestral Muisca culture and colonial feeling. One day is enough to see the whole town on foot. There is also an indigenous museum full of history that you can visit.

©  iStock/Working In Media
© iStock/Working In Media
Museo Indígena de Guatavita
Museo Indígena de Guatavita
Cra. 7 #5-1, Guatavita, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Guatavita's gastronomy

Guatavita's gastronomy is enjoyable indeed: try some fresh grilled trout, a few different lamb variations, or some of the typical desserts offered around the city. There are also a few charming local cafes where you can relax while having a nice drink. There is a cozy and charming one called 'Café y Museo': it offers coffee, of course, and some other beverages and finger food. It also has a mini-museum. 

Museo y Café Guatavita
Museo y Café Guatavita
Guatavita, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Sesquilé & the nature reserve

The Guatavita lagoon from the legend above, is actually geographically and legally part of Sesquilé, a different adjacent municipality. It takes about 40 minutes by car to get there from the town of Guatavita. It is situated in an area that is now a nature reserve, located In the eastern mountain range. At one of the points where it reaches its greatest width, it has an area of ​​613 hectares. The heights recorded in the reserve vary between 2,880 meters above sea level in the extreme southwest, and 3,200 meters above sea level approximately in the center of the reserve. Native forests of encenillos surround the reserve.

To get to the lagoon, you can walk a path of about 7 kilometers from the bottom of the road that leads to the top of the mountain, or you can take a bus in the town of Guatavita that brings you to the top as well. Once you are up at the highest point, you will get a striking view of the impressive nature of the region. The entrance fee to the natural reserve costs about USD 6 and includes a guide who walks with small groups, explaining facts about the history, nature, and culture of the area.

Laguna de Guatavita
Laguna de Guatavita
Laguna de Guatavita, Sesquilé, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Neighboring towns

At a very short distance from Guatavita, we find the neighboring towns of Sesquilé, Tominé, and Suesca, which are all lovely little towns with exceptional nature. Around Guatavita and these other three towns, one can enjoy activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and horse riding. There are also places for camping and beautiful glamping options as well.

There is also the Tominé reserve with 18 kilometers of length, where you can practice water sports like sailing, boat riding, water skiing, kitesurf and windsurf. 

©  iStock/Arturo Rosenow/
© iStock/Arturo Rosenow/

This is the perfect area to relax and connect with nature and to learn about Colombian history and culture. You will absolutely marvel your eyes with extreme beauty. I hope you get the opportunity to visit and enjoy this incredible part of Colombia and learn more about the El Dorado legend, the lagoon and the town of Guatavita!


The author

Michelle Jiménez

Michelle Jiménez

I am Michelle, 30 years old, from Colombia. Passionate about traveling and different cultures, cuisines and languages. Nature and sports lover. I am in love with Colombia and I’ll do my best to make you fall in love too.

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