Guatavita, the lake that inspired the legend of El Dorado
This is the lake that started a gold rush when the Spanish discovered that the Incas used to throw large amounts of gold into the water as an offering to the gods. It features at the centre of the legend of Eld Dorado (seen the film?). You can hike around Lake Guatavita, which has beautiful turquoise water on a sunny day. Unfortunately, the first time we tried to go to Lake Guatavita, we maxed out on the Bogotá day trips and tried to do it in the same day as visiting Monserrate, the Salt Cathedral & Zipaquirá, so when we arrived with our driver at the entrance to the national park at just after 4pm, we were told it was already closed to entry. If doing the Catedral and Guatavita, visit the lake first, and don’t try to cram Monserrate into the same morning. By any means, you’ll want a few hours to enjoy the hiking around the lake.
Our driver was really disappointed in himself for not knowing Guatavita Lake would be closed (bless him!), so he took us to the nearby town of Guatavita instead. Here, we checked out the beautiful waterfront of the man-made reservoir (nope, what you see from the town is NOT Guatavita Lake!) and had amazingly rich hot chocolate with a cheesy almojábana bun in a coffee shop there. The town is pretty small, with not much more than a little museum and some souvenir shops, but a lovely place to chill out before or after your hike (which tbf is fairly painless).
However, fear not! We were determined to see one of the most popular Bogotá day trips through and returned to Guatavita 9 months later to conquer that pesky lake hike in broad daylight. The best time to go is around midday with clear skies for the best chance of that turquoise blue you see on Google Images. We got a little unlucky on the colour front, but it was still incredible.
The lake is 7km from the town, so if you don’t have your own car you’ll need to get one of the buses that you can buy tickets for just opposite the old bullring (Plaza de Toros) in town. They leave more or less every half hour. The return journey will cost around 14,000 COP (£3.50), and when you get there the entrance plus guide is 17,000 (£4.25) for a 90 minute tour – note that we only saw Spanish options for this tour, but if you’re a Spanish-speaker it’s really interesting and in-depth!
Note that the tour ends at a different place to where it begins, so if you drove yourself you’ll have to pay 1500 pesos for the public bus that takes you back to the car park. You’re not allowed to go back along the trail the way you came.
How to get to Guatavita from Bogotá
Although we had a driver the first time, the second time we got the bus to Guatavita from the Portal Norte in Bogotá (it also goes past Terminal Norte and picks people up on the street from outside there, but doesn’t actually go into the terminal officially). It cost 8000 pesos (£2) each way and took 1.5 to 2 hours – annoyingly, the route goes all the way round the reservoir before terminating at Guatavita town.
Can you stay at Guatavita Lake?
Not the lake itself; there’s nothing at all around that, but you can stay in the town of Guatavita and the surrounding countryside. While there are some cheap guesthouse options such as Hospedaje de Guatavita, we highly recommend taking this opportunity to do some glamping in the mountainside domes and teepees of Bajo el Cielo. It’s a wonderful place to see the stars away from any light pollution on a clear night, and catch views of the misty valley as dawn approaches.