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“The Tequendama Falls” and the smell of its torment

Quite often in the week, at dawn and also at twilight, the Tequendama Falls are hidden under a thick cloud; but when the sun appears and the atmosphere clears, from the top it is seen as one of the most majestic sites in Colombia.


salto de tequendama foto wikipedia 2  Félix Albisu


As part of an ongoing historical-scientific debate, we find our attentions directed, once again, to the existence of the Tequendama Falls on the southern outskirts of Bogotá, because the Physics Department of the National University has recently modified data about these falls originally provided in 1801 by the German Alexander von Humboldt. Von Humboldt, in view of his research merits, is generally acknowledged in the Western Hemisphere as the second discoverer of America.

On his various journeys through these Andean landscapes, the Teutonic naturalist had noted in his vast collection of records that the Tequendama Falls were 210 metres high, a fact that has now been corrected by the local scientific institute, which has given the real height to be 157 metres.

What is certain is that whether its true height is one figure or another, little is being done to change the current calamitous situation of that natural wonder whose untouched splendour was once enjoyed by the first indigenous inhabitants of Bacatá (as the savannah of the central Andean highlands was then called).

The great problem faced today by the famous waterfall close to Bogotá, has nothing to do with its height, rather, it is that interest in such a magnificent natural site has disappeared over time.

salto de tequendama foto wikipediaThe cause: through that rock today flows the smelly waters of the Bogotá River, considered the most polluted river in Colombia. Large amounts of waste from the large metropolis is carried by the river and discharged chaotically when it reaches the waterfall, as if it were an ecological complaint coming from the heart of nature itself.

The falls are located only 30 kilometres from Bolívar Square, the historical centre of the capital, in the municipality of Soacha, in the department of Cundinamarca which surrounds Bogotá.

Originally, the waters of the town river were stemmed before reaching the waterfall by a dam constructed in 1895 as part of the El Charquito hydroelectric works.

And in 1928, when the luxury Hotel El Salto opened its doors, its guests could enjoy views of the waterfall. Then, in 1940 the Muña dam works were added which restricted the waters of the Bogotá river even further up in the district of Sibaté.

Everything was magnificent in that era. Indeed, there still remain relics, like loyal guardians, which point to the former prosperity of the district: buildings such as the lookout tower and also the Tequendama Falls Biodiversity and Culture Museum.

salto de tequendama foto wikipedia 4But later came the unorganized growth of the Columbian capital (which today has more than eight million inhabitants) and as a result of this growth, the Bogotá river and its tributaries were chronically attacked and polluted.

Today, the restored and widened southern motorway crosses close to the waterfall, and its sinuous topographical movements produce a pleasant scenic feeling on reaching Bogotá from that cardinal viewpoint.

However, the traveller, going by private car or passenger bus, will not escape the malodorous fumes that are spread as that dark, viscous liquid moves slowly towards the drop, where it discharges onto the rocks below, forming a mist that fills the air.

It is therefore essential to have wet wipes to cope with the penetrating, bad smell, which happens to hang there as the traffic speeds by.

When people first arrive in Bogotá, they can’t imagine that there is such a distain for the environment, but later, they too become resigned to it, as if the Tequendama Falls were a cancer with no cure.

As various governments come and go, complaints from environmentalists and health institutes persist unnoticed to the point where the topic is not even discussed, as if those in charge of such an affront to nature did not even care.

salto de tequendama foto wikipedia 3A State Council ruling, issued on the 28th March 2014, has set a maximum deadline of three years to put in place a rescue plan for the Bogotá river and to establish the bases of its definitive depollution.

This subject of the pollution of that river artery has been through a legal process that has already lasted 23 years, with accumulative legal records of 14,323 folios. (PL)

(Photos: Wikipedia)   –   (Translated by Claire Donneky –  Email:

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