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When I Was Little

When I was little, El Dorado was the place Esteban et al. were searching for in the cartoon ‘The Mysterious Cities of Gold’. However, according to what I learned at Guatavita, El Dorado has nothing to do with hard-to-find jungle cites…

La Laguna de Guatavita is a crater lake in rolling countryside lying about an hour to the north of Bogotá. The combination of the bucolic stroll that one can opt for in order to arrive at the park entrance from the main road and the guided tour thereof makes for a great day trip from the capital. It is to Guatavita and to the Muísca, indigenous to her surrounds and beyond, that belongs the legend of El Dorado.

After telling us that there are many nonsense tales and the one true story, our guide recounted unto us how, as part of his inauguration into chiefdom, the new Cacique, would strip naked, be covered in a mixture of something and honey and then have gold dust blown over him. On a raft in the middle of the lake, the new Cacique would be struck by the rays of the sun as it crested the crater edge and in luminescent glory throw offerings of gold alloy and gemstones into the laguna, adding to the great riches already consigned to its depths. He never though made it clear as to whether this was the 'one true story' or something he made up on the spot to alleviate boredom. It must be true though as I’ve just checked it on Wikipedia…

Various peoples have over the years gone to great lengths to take the treasures from the lake, including (apparently) enslaving thousands of Muísca to empty water from the lake with pots, and cutting a great cleft in the side of the crater. We were told that the lake now contains only 30% of the water that is once did, 10 million cubic metres having been drained in the quest for robbing its endless riches. Happily, there are plenty of artefacts taken from Guatavita on display at Bogota’s Gold Museum, well worth a visit, especially if you are in to musea, and gold.

This Muísca raft is probably the most famous piece taken from the lake:

Muísca raft

The practicalities of getting there and back from Bogotá:

From Portal Norte (of Bogotá’s Transmilenio network), take a bus towards Guatavita (village), tell the driver that you want to get off at the turning for the Laguna de Guatavita, you come to this after passing through Sesquilé. From here it's about a 2 hour walk to the entrance of the park, the route is signed. Alternatively, you can get off the bus in Sesquilé and take a colectivo (bus) to the park entrance. On leaving the park (the exit is different to the entrance), walk down the hill a little to a little eating place for snackage. After that you can either get a colectivo or walk back to the main road from where you can catch a bus back to Portal Norte. If asking for directions, make sure that you specify that you want the Laguna de Guatavita as many locals might think you are looking for the Embalse de Tominé, a reservoir near to the village of Guatavita la Nueva.

Opening hours and entrance fees can be found on the park’s website.

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