Lake Tota, Colombia

Lake Locations:

Colombia -

Also known as:  Tota Lake, Lago de Tota, Laguna de Tota

Spanning almost 15,000 acres, Lake Tota is the largest lake in Colombia. Located in the Andes Highlands, Lake Tota lies at nearly 10,000 feet elevation on the eastern slope of the mountain range. For many years, the lake was considered sacred to the Muisca culture. Muisca tradition believes the lake was created by one of their mythical heroes, and this tradition appears to have contributed to another bit of folklore about the massive lake. It is said that the mythical hero battled and killed a monstrous black snake, the death of which created Lake Tota and the three islands it holds. By the time the monster was described to conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, the ‘pitch-black snake with a head like a bull and bigger than a whale’ was considered an active and feared inhabitant of the lake. Since the early 1600s, the ‘monster of Lake Tota’ has been an oft-repeated tale, gaining local respect similar to the Loch Ness monster, Nessie.

Lake Tota holds a spectacular white-sand beach on its east shore called the Playa Blanca. The beach is popular with both locals and visitors. Sun bathing is a favorite activity, and some people swim although the water is quite cold at this altitude. Here, tourists can rent a boat for boat cruises, hire a guide for fishing excursions, or hire a boat to tow them for kite-skiing, water skiing, and wake-boarding. Kayaks are available for rent, and sailing is popular although there is no actual marina. Horses may be rented for riding the nearby countryside, and many walking paths allow for scenic vistas and bird watching. The lake’s wetlands support myriad bird species, with 116 species reported here. Some of the endangered birds include the least bittern, Apolinar’s wren, Colombian ruddy duck, and the Bogota rail. Now considered extinct, the last Colombian grebe sighted was at Lake Tota. The average 53-degree temperature of the water makes the lake an excellent trout fishery. One mounted specimen displayed in a restaurant in nearby Aquitania weighed in at over 15 pounds.

Despite its attractions, Lake Tota is not a highly developed tourism destination. There are no organized resorts here, although a camping area can be found near the lakeside village of Aquitania. Occasionally, one finds villas for rent for a few weeks or longer. A few small bed-and-breakfasts and small hotels do business in Aquitania, along with restaurants serving excellent trout dishes. Guides may also be found here for local excursions. But the plains surrounding Lake Tota are primarily farmland. The fields are dedicated to the production of onions; the area produces 90% of the onions consumed in Colombia. The lake itself is used for fish farming, with trout raised in cages. Bus service runs to Aquitania regularly, and the bus in Aquitania runs the short distance to Lake Tota.

The few small villages near the lake are picturesque and appreciate visitors. Iza, a few miles west of Lake Tota, boasts several hot springs that visitors can enjoy for a fee. Wooden handicrafts can be obtained here. Most visitors make the larger town of Sogamoso their base for traveling to the lake. Sogamoso has many hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts, a full complement of restaurants and most services. Sogamoso is the ideal spot to become steeped in the colorful history of the entire Boyaca District and to learn about the Muisca culture. The Archaeological Museum of Sogamoso preserves the remnants of the Muisca culture, with artifacts, ethnographic replicas of houses, and the most important temple ever constructed by the members of the Muisca culture to honor the Sun, the monument to the aboriginal leader or “Cacique” Sugamuxi. Here the visitor will learn the cultural significance of Lake Tota to the Muisca and the fact that the name of the lake itself is derived from the Muisca term for ‘astronomy observatory’.

Many hiking trails begin in Sogamoso that lead active hikers several miles to the 300-year-old town of Mongui. Taxis are also available. Often called the most beautiful town in Boyaca, the town showcases a monastery built in the 18th century, the Basilica, old town square, and the storied Calicanto bridge. The main product of the town is balls of all kinds, and these can be purchased as souvenirs. Or, one can head north along a country road to Nobsa. Nobsa is known as the handicraft center of Boyaca; wood carvings, textiles and leatherwork are specialties, along with dried fruit. The best wine in the region from the local vineyards can be procured here.

Although the ancient myths credit native heroes for the lake’s creation, geologists have a very different interpretation of its origins. Lake Tota is what remains of a vast prehistoric sea which left fertile sediments in the surrounding areas, excellent for farming. Other small lakes dot the plains and originate from the same ancient sea. The lake is the origin of the Upia River which flows into the Orinoco River basin. Because the lake maintains a temperature averaging 53 degrees Fahrenheit, rainbow trout introduced into the lake created an excellent trout fishery. The trout unfortunately proved too much competition to the native pez graso or ‘grease fish’ which are now extinct in the lake.

Use of the lake for fish farming, irrigation, and fertilizer run-off have degraded the lake’s former purity to the point that the worldwide community is expressing concern for its future. The wetlands are designated a Ramsar site, and the World Wetland Network assigned Lake Tota the Grey Globe Award to call attention to the endangered status of the lake. Because the lake is vital to the livelihoods of a huge number of people in the region, protecting the lake is a sensitive economic and political dilemma. The Colombian government is committed to protect the lake from further degradation, and local science teams are working on ways to better detect pesticides in the water and protect the lake from further harm.

Lake Tota is a bit over three hours north of Bolivia and can be reached by car. Because accommodations can sometimes be questionable, it may be best to make arrangements through a knowledgeable travel agent who knows the area. Because Lake Tota isn’t hugely popular yet, visitors shouldn’t face crowds. That is likely to change once the wider world becomes aware of the charming destinations, glorious mountain scenery, and beautiful blue Lake Tota.

*Statistics listed may not be completely accurate as sources differ on some figures.

Things to do at Lake Tota

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Birding
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Tota

  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Lake Tota Photo Gallery

Lake Tota Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 14,928 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 9,892 feet

Maximum Depth: 203 feet

Water Volume: 1,621,426 acre-feet

Lake Area-Population: 500,000

Drainage Area: 77 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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