A Day Trip to Lake Tota – The Largest Lake in Colombia
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I have seen Lake Tota in pictures and visiting this beautiful natural lake was always something on my agenda during my Colombia trip. I finally got the opportunity to venture there on my recent stay in Sogamoso.
Lake Tota Overview
Located in Boyaca, the Andes region of Colombia, Lake Tota is the nation’s largest lake and it has one of the world’s highest beaches, Playa Blanca. For foreign visitors, Lake Tota is a hidden gem, and its beautiful surroundings of colonial villages, greenish farm fields, welcoming locals, and untamed countryside make Lake Tota a wonderful place to visit.
How to get to Lake Tota
From Bogota, one can take a three-hour bus to Sogamoso. The bus to Sogamoso departs frequently from Terminal de Norte in Bogota. When going to the Terminal De Norte, make sure to get on the Super Directo bus or you will find the bus stops at every village.
On reaching Sogamoso, take the bus to Aquitania and then take another one to Lake Tota. If you are nowhere near the station, just flag the bus and it will stop for you.
Places to visit in Lake Tota
A journey to Lake Tota (Spanish Lago de Tota) passes through some of the beautiful towns in the Sugamuxi Region. My suggested route primarily follows the loop of Lago de Tota, so not only can you explore the lake and the beach but also immerse in the local culture and enjoy being the rare tourist in the villages along the way.
On the shore of Lake Tota, Aquitania is a major town in the Sogamuxi province. It is a tranquil and picturesque place famous for producing water, onion farms, and trout fishing. We stopped off at the tourism center made by a tent on a rainy morning where we were given the information about the lake, dressed as an ingenious tribe, and took pictures with the locals. As the first tourist group of the day (we had doubts if we were the only foreign tourists on that day). We were not asked to pay for the pictures and took the designated tours. The tourist office pointed two interesting places, a local wool factory and a church, for us to visit and get to know the local way of life.
Playa Blanca – A happy place on earth
Playa Banca is on the south shore of Lake Tota and it has a little stretch of white sand. The rolling green hills dotted with colorful properties as its surroundings make Playa Blanca a wonderful destination to visit.
I dipped my hands in the water and found the temperature was merely bearable. Next to me, two children were playing in the water, chasing each other on the beach and laughing as water splashed on their face and hair. We stood there watching the two kids with smiles on our faces and talked with a local lady on where to find the best trout.
Despite the high elevation (3,015 meters above sea level) and the cold changeable climate, which tends to overshadow the beauty of the lake, Playa Blanca does not lack visitors lying on the beach, with music and laughter spreading on the shore. Lake Tota is one of the most lively places in the Sugamuxi Region and people who flock to this world’s highest beach knows exactly what they need to do—have fun and enjoy themselves.
I took a loop and went all the way around the lake where I stopped at Iza, a calm and traditional village on the shore of Lake Tota. Iza was founded in 1780 and its economy largely relies on agriculture, livestock, and wool spinning. Arriving at Iza, you can easily spot its main square where restaurants and churches are located in a colonial setting.
Iza means a place of healing, and one could easily have spent afternoons there soaking in the outdoor hot spring. There are two hot springs you can get access to—Piscina Erika and a natural pool. The natural pool is tricky to reach (need to take a taxi but cannot find any), so I took a supposed to be 10-minute walk from the bus terminal to Piscina Erika where open fertile land that is lined with lush water meadows, greenish farmland, and rolling mountains were within my arm’s reach. The wild creatures are just wild dogs and cows running across the pathways to play with the other cows.
I arrived at Piscina Erika knowing the hot spring had literally no one in it. I made a swift change before walking down to the concrete pool. After spending days in the highlands with changing weather, I indeed to give myself a treat with hot nature water while looking up the picturesque mountains and yew trees.
Where to Eat in Lake Tota
I enjoyed my trout dishes at Hotel Refugio Pozo Azul. The hotel has a dining room featuring window seats and outdoor seating area where you can get the best view of Lake Tota. It has several different trout dishes with salad, rice, and fries, and the portions are huge and great to go for the afternoon and evening.
This hotel is five minutes hike from the shoreline of Playa Blanca, and parts of the trail are steep and can be muddy and slippery during the rain. The five-minute hike down to the Hotel Refugio Pozo Azul will guarantee a mini-adventure with the tranquil lake view along the way. When we arrived, we were welcomed by the picturesque backdrops and an empty dining room. We were blessed to have the entire dining area on our own, with the tender trout meat melting in our mouth while glancing at the beautiful lake in the beautiful rural setting.
Where to stay in Sogamoso
I stayed at the Finca San Pedro, which is a 15-minute walk from Sogamoso town center. There is a beautiful garden in the front yard with coffee plantations and stunning flowers. Two Colombian owners, Juanita and Felipe, and their staff are friendly and helpful. They made us fresh coffee, cooked our breakfast in the morning, and helped guests with tours, directions, and taxis. The hostel has a common area, fully-equipped kitchen, yoga retreat class, and communal lunch ($10,000 pesos extra).
Paramos: on the top of the Sugamuxi Mountains, a day’s trek on Paramos allows you to get to know the unique ecosystems in the world and have a magnificent view of the Lake Tota area.
Mongui: one of the most beautiful towns in Boyaca, and it is worth an afternoon walking through cobblestone streets, colonial houses, across Adobe Bridge and getting a panoramic view of the rolling landscapes of Boyaca.
Lake Tota is a charming and a joyful place, and it provides you opportunities to experience its century old colonial towns, rural villages, and suburban area. The rolling farm fields, lush mountains, delicious food, and welcoming locals are guaranteed to make your trip memorable.
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