Three hours northeast of Bogota, on a mountain range in the heart of Colombia, lies Lake Iguaque. The history, mythology and vastly diverse flora and fauna surrounding this enchanting lake, has enabled the lake and surrounding 6,750 hectares to be officially protected as a sanctuary since 1977.
The lake itself is considered a sacred place for the Muisca people. According to their legends, it is the birthplace of mankind, where the goddess Bachué came out of the lake with a boy, who, once grown, became her husband. Together they set out and populated the earth. After they had many children and believed their work done, they returned to the lake in the form of snakes. Still today, the Muisca people believe making the pilgrimage here can cleanse their soul and spirit.
Alongside its cultural significance, the sanctuary was created to preserve its ecological benefits as well. The area provides the populations of Villa de Leyva, Arcabuco and Chiquiza with their main source of drinking water. Not only is the sanctuary preserving the ecological benefits, but also the habitat for a large population of plants and animals ranging from threatened to endangered. Colombia as a whole is home to roughly 726 flora and 605 fauna species listed as threatened or higher on the IUCN Red List in 2021, many of which are found in the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary of Iguaque.
Tourism, as always, has its pros and cons for areas such as this, and finding that perfect balance of sustainability is the trick. For instance, taking the 3-4 hour hike up to Laguna de Iguaque and experiencing the cultural and natural significance can have a positive impact, as the influx of tourism supports the local communities and the preservation of the sanctuary itself. The attempts to expand the “attractions” with modern centers, hotels, restaurants, etc., are an example of a con, with people seeing the financial gain in upsizing the tourist features. The locals, however, have stood firm and declined such proposals as they understand that would tip the balance out of sustainability.