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El Dorado Myth: a story that started in Guatavita

El Dorado Myth

Joanna Ruiz

Many of you have probably heard about El Dorado, a fantastic city in America where, according to aboriginals, everything was made of gold. Many of the colonizers who heard about it, moved by ambition, undertook dangerous adventures just to find this magical spot. In my third visit to Colombia, I found out that it’s likely this myth started in a place very close to Bogotá: Guatavita.

The first time I heard, or read, about El Dorado, I was a little child in Venezuela. According to that first version of the story, the colonizers were absolutely amazed by the golden pieces that decorated the aboriginal bodies. When they asked them how it was possible to have so much gold, the aboriginals said there was a place where everything was made of gold.  It was implied in this first version that I heard (or read, I can’t remember now) that aboriginals were truly aware this place didn’t exist but wanted to get rid of these inquisitive foreigners as soon as they could.

The history behind

Moved by ambition, many colonizers undertook risky adventures and crossings just to find this magical place. They never found it, of course, and many of them lost their lives in their eagerness to find it in this land full of unknown diseases and dangerous roads. Although it was never seen (or maybe, because of that), El Dorado captivated adventurers for a very long time, including my child imagination.

Once I was an adult, I got interested in El Dorado again. It was in my third trip to Colombia, when I was invited to visit the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita lagoon). Our touristic guide told us that this lagoon was the scene of an ancient Muisca ceremony which helped to create El Dorado myth.

El Dorado Myth
© Photograph by Joanna Ruiz Méndez

It was like that:

The Cacique -name used for the heads of all indigenous tribes- was covered in gold dust and was placed on a raft which had many treasures and precious stones on it. When he was in the middle of the lagoon, these pieces were thrown at the bottom of the waters as an offering to their gods. According to all sources that I consulted, the balsa muisca (Muisca raft) – the most famous piece of the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)- is a representation of this rite.

I don’t know if it was because of the story, but I felt the magic that emanates from the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita Lagoon). Although it’s not as fantastic as a place where everything is made of gold, it’s fascinating how these rites and beliefs are still able to excite our imagination.

If you haven’t been to the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita lagoon), you have to go and feel the El Dorado vibe yourself! Here are some recommendations and information from Colparques -an organization that promotes the Colombian Natural Parks- so you can enjoy your visit to the fullest:

How to get there:

If you go by car: by the Autopista Norte (north highway, one of the main streets in Bogotá), you reach the detour of Sesquilé and then go towards Guatavita. The lagoon is 8 kilometers down the road that emerges to the left after skirting the Embalse de Tominé (Tominé dam). The other option is to take a tour because it’s not easy to get there on public transportation.

El Dorado Myth
© Photograph by Google Maps

Price of the entrance ticket to the park (for foreigners)

 COP $17,500 / USD $6 (approximately).

When to go

Tuesdays to Sundays and Holiday Mondays. From 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

What to bring

They recommend a first aid kit, a cap, warm clothing and waterproof boots. I would add that you should bring a lot of energy and have a decent physical condition because the hike to the lagoon can be a bit challenging. If you want to bring some snacks, that would be fine, as long as you don’t leave any waste at the place.

If you go to the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita Lagoon), please visit Guatavita, the town, as well. There you can enjoy its typical architecture, its crafts and its delicious food.

Do you know other facts from El Dorado? When did you first hear about this myth? Have you visited the Guatavita lagoon? I would like to know! Please share your experiences in the comments section below!

Keep visiting Colture for more information on Colombia history!

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