|Surface elevation||c. 3,000 m|
Lake Guatavita (Spanish: Laguna de Guatavita or Lago Guatavita) is located in the Cordillera Oriental of the Colombian Andes in the municipality of Sesquilé, in the Almeidas Province, Cundinamarca department of Colombia, 35 miles north-east of Bogotá, capital of the Republic of Colombia.
The lake is circular and about a quarter mile in diameter, formed by what appears to be a crater. The earlier theories of the crater's origin being a mereorite impact, volcanic cinder, or limestone sinkhole are now discredited. The most likely explanation is that it resulted from the dissolution of underground salt deposits from an anticline, resulting in an unusual kind of sinkhole .
While the existence of a sacred lake in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes associated with Indian rituals involving gold was known to the Spaniards earlier, possibly as early as 1531, its location wasn't discovered until 1537 by conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada while on an expedition to the highlands of the eastern Andes in search of gold. This brought the Spaniards into first contact with the Muisca native peoples inhabiting the region around Bogota and the nearby Lake Guatavita.
The name of the lake is derived from Spanish laguna: pool or pond, and Guatavita from Chibcha (language of the Muisca people) gwa: mountain or gwata, gwate: high elevation, or gwatibita: high mountain peak; hence, a pool at a high mountain peak.
The lake is now a focus of ecotourism, and its association with the legend of El Dorado is also a major attraction.
Lake Guatavita was reputedly one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca, and a ritual conducted there is widely thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado, "the golden one". The legend says the lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named "El Dorado" by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters, washing off the gold. Afterward, trinkets, jewelry, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers. A few artifacts of gold and silver found at bottom hold proof to this claim; however, to date, attempts to drain the lake or salvage the gold (see Lake Guatavita gold) have yielded no more than these.
- Lake Iguaque, another sacred lake of the Muisca
- Lakes of Siecha, other lakes also implicated in the El Dorado legend
- Tominé Reservoir, which buried the old town of Guatavita
- Gold Museum, Bogotá, where archaeological objects from the lake are displayed