By Jennifer Degtjarewsky
If you find yourself anywhere near Bogota Colombia, trek 20 miles southwest outside the city to the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity, also known as the historic Hotel Del Salto. One of Bogota’s most popular attractions, its legendary story tells how the once grand hotel clashed with nature in all its full and brutal majesty.
How To Visit:
To get there, you’ll drive (or ride a tour bus) on slow Andean Mountain roads from Bogota to Mesitas del Colegio that will take you past scenic views of the Bogota River. Though pungent from severe water pollution, as you rise in elevation the air quality begins to improve and you’ll have spectacular views of the forested subtropical habitat all the way to the 515 ft. drop of Tequendama Falls.
The best time to see the falls is during the cool, rainy months of April – May, and then again in October when the full force of the Bogota River is pushed through a mere 60 ft. gorge before it tumbles down the side of the mountain creating the spectacular waterfall. By the month of December, the equatorial climate heats up, the rain recedes and the falls will be nearly dry.
Backstory: Hotel Del Salto
As one of the most popular spots for visitors to Bogota, the hotel was first built in 1923 as a residential mansion for well-to-do architect Carlos Arturo Tapias. By 1928, an addition had been built and it was formally opened as the elegant Hotel Del Salto to much fanfare with hopes of capitalizing on tourism to Tequendama Falls. This venture was a successful one, as the hotel would be in operation for the next 60 years.
1928 Hotel Del Salto Grand Opening
In the 1950’s, plans were laid to rebuild the structure into an 18-floor hotel, but this goal was never realized and the Hotel Del Salto continued on until the original structure became too damaged from the ever increasingly polluted Bogota River to operate, closing its doors in the early part of the 1990’s. The Hotel Del Salto sat vacant and rotting for the better part of twenty years, during which it was reported by tabloid media to have been haunted.
Tragically, it was also the scene of several suicides. Local legend has it that the indigenous Muisca Indians used to jump from Tequendama Falls to avoid capture by Spanish conquerors, where upon falling they would transform into an eagle and fly away. This mythical story attracted the broken-hearted who leapt to their death from the hotel’s cliffs overlooking the falls.
Inside, the scenes of abandonment were not much better as furniture was left to mildew and the surrounding foliage began to claim the foundation as it’s own. For most, it was thought the once-elegant hotel was too far gone to be saved, much less be returned to its former 1920’s splendor.
The Museum is Born
Good news came in 2011 when the Ecological Farm Foundation of Porvenir and the National University of Colombia’s Institute of Natural Sciences began a joint restoration effort of the hotel’s intricate architecture. Their aim was to convert the Hotel Del Salto into a museum that would serve as a national symbol of cultural heritage and environmental restoration. They renamed it the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture.
An intricately restored room inside Hotel Del Salto, now known as the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture.
The ground floor reopened as the Grand Hall of Biodiversity in August 2013. With large widows overlooking the falls, its first exhibit, Caverns: Ecosystems of the Underground World, beautifully showcased the diverse local ecology for an anxious and inspired public.
The exterior was refurbished and painted too. It’s no longer the pink structure you’ve seen all over the Internet. Now, it’s refined, white exterior seems to float within the surrounding subtropical cloud forest. All of the former overgrowth is also gone and the grounds are neatly manicured.
In early 2015 a new exhibition was launched celebrating the work of French explorer and botanist Aimé Bonpland. Between 1799-1804, Bonpland identified over 60,000 South American plants that were unknown to Europe as he traveled with naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The presentation, aimed at school-aged children, was created with the hope that younger generations embrace the Colombian museum and return as new exhibits are cycled through in years to come.
The lower floors of the Tequendama Falls Museum are not open to the public at this time, however the restoration continues. It is expected the museum project will cost upwards of $2 million before completion.
Things To Know Before You Go:
- The Bogota River is the second most polluted waterway on the planet and the river’s smell often precedes it.
- The mountain road that leads to the museum is prone to landslides. It’s often slow going and takes about two hours to make it 20 miles to the falls.
- There is very minimal onsite parking, which is why many opt for a tour bus or a cab driver who will wait for you.
- Plan your visit carefully because the roads are treacherous after dark. Be sure you are back in town before nightfall.
- Pack a lunch as there are no formal food facilities on site.
Your Say: Have you been to see Tequendama Falls? What was your impression of the Bogota River?