Modern tourists visiting Bogotá tend to do at least two things while they’re in town. Firstly, they walk through Bolivar Square and scare away the pigeons. Secondly, they go check out the remains of the haunted Hotel del Salto. Anyone that can handle the putrid stink surrounding the building is soon met with another, far graver challenge: Spirits.

The Hotel del Salto enjoyed a rich and luxurious past, and on the surface, it remains just as delightfully whimsical and French as ever. However, what was once an opulent and gleaming jewel beside the Tequendama Falls is now a quiet, slightly sorrowful museum.

Poor pollution policies certainly helped contribute to the decimation of the once-fabulous Hotel del Salto. Due to its proximity to the falls, it also lies on one of the most dangerous roads in Colombia. But considering the history of the place, the Hotel del Salto may have been doomed from the very start.

A place of desperate despair

Before the Spanish landed in South America and began wiping out the native populations, Bogotá was called Bacatá and was ruled over by the Muisca. These native peoples were just as advanced as the Incans and Aztecs, but they were also woefully unprepared to deal with European diseases and weaponry.

Many Muisca were raped, murdered, or forced into slavery and servitude by the Spanish conquerors. Some chose to escape this fate by running off the edge of the Tequendama Falls.

Tequendama Falls
Tequendama Falls / Photo Courtesy: [Donald H. Allison/Flickr]
As these desperate souls plummeted 515 feet to their deaths, they held firmly to a belief that their bodies would transform into that of an eagle’s. With their new wings and lighter bodies, they’d be able to fly away from the Spanish and find freedom. While their souls may have flown away, their bodies did not survive the fall.

Prosperity and the roaring twenties

Several centuries later in 1923, the wealthy architect Carlos Arturo Tapias built his spacious home near the gruesome falls. Within the decade, he would transform his mansion into a decadent hotel.

Perhaps Tapias was simply lonely and bored. But perhaps he was seeing or hearing the echos of spirits walking through his home’s massive, empty corridors. Inviting people to come and stay in your home is one way to lessen the horror of living in a haunted place. Throwing a party is even better. So, that’s exactly what Tapias did.

Tapias invited the wealthiest celebrities and politicians to stay at the newly named Hotel del Salto, and together, they partied the remainder of the 1920’s away. There is written and photographic evidence of excessive drinking, dancing, and gluttony.

The party raged on for nearly two years. But in late October 1929, everything changed. The Wall Street Crash sunk the world into an economic spiral and kick-started the Great Depression. Because many people couldn’t find jobs, families weren’t so keen on taking expensive vacations — or any vacations!

For the Hotel del Salto, the Great Depression might as well have been a death sentence.

As the National Park Service remarked, “The Great Depression struck the tourist trade a great blow. Expenditures for hotels, restaurants, vacation clothing, and travel supplies fell from $872 million in 1929 to $444 million in 1932.”

Clearly, the people who would stay in business during tough times would be those who could appeal to the smaller number of tourists on the road.

For the Hotel del Salto, the Great Crash might as well have been a death sentence.

The slow slide into darkness

The well-to-do aristocrats that freely partied at the Hotel del Salto were now either destitute or were being very watchful of their expenses. Consequently, there were very few guests visiting the opulent home after 1929. This was the beginning of the hotel’s slow descent into darkness.

At the same time, the falls that were nearby the site had remained popular in local legend and tradition as the place where the Muisca people had found solemn, deadly peace. Locals who found themselves wrapt in a similar depression occasionally wandered out to the falls to end their lives.

Many had to walk past the hotel to reach the jumping point, and the few guests that dared to stay there soon found themselves assisting in police investigations. This did little to improve the Hotel del Salto’s reputation.

But things were about to get worse.

As the 1990s rapidly approached, the aging home of Carlos Arturo Tapias began to rot. This decay was, in part, caused by the hotel’s proximity to the Tequendama Falls. It’s moisture, after all, has a way of breaking down even the toughest materials.

As pollution took over the river, in the early 1990s, the hotel shut its doors.

But the majority of the damage caused to the structure was the result of pollution. The City Paper Bogotá features an illuminating comment on the nature of the pollution, “Since 1952, the Bogotá aqueduct system has been contaminating the Río Bogotá, and we are still debating what to do about it,” said Fernando Vásquez, director of Fundación Al Verde Vivo.

There are parts of the Bogotá River that are so toxic, not a single species of animal can survive in the waters. That water flowed several hundred feet below the Hotel del Salto, and it still does. If guests weren’t choking on the smell of unfound suicide victims, they were gasping through the poisonous fogs. In the early 1990s, the hotel shut its doors.

While it’s widely believed that the Hotel del Salto shut down due to pollution and structural decay, there is another prominent theory that deserves some attention. Many guests that stayed in the hotel while it was operating reported strange apparitions and sounds.

This only worsened when the hotel closed to the public. As nature reclaimed bedrooms and bathrooms, creeping in through holes in the stonework, curious explorers and squatters took up residence in the old mansion. Some claimed that they saw the shadows of people who weren’t there. Others heard quiet, distant conversations in a strange language.

The age of abandonment

It’s possible that the poisoning and polluting of the Bogotá River awakened more than one vengeful spirit from the Tequendama Falls.

The empty and vine-covered Hotel del Salto attracted curious ghost-hunters, but it also attracted lost souls. There are many accounts of drifters and mentally ill people being found dead within the hotel. These misguided folks may have been lured by paranormal forces.

The Musica believed in curses. If they were being driven from their land — and into extinction — it’s not a far-fetched idea to wonder if they cursed the land. The Guardian‘s Chris McGreal wrote, “in the 1950s, collecting pre-Columbian antiquities was already a local tradition and…most people in the [town] gave little thought to the native Americans who had lived on the same land a millennium before them…But decades later, the…old pastime has wrought bitterness and tragedy.

Native American curses aren’t anything to laugh at. There are dozens of mysterious suicides and accidental deaths that surround the plundering and desecration of sacred Native sites. It’s possible that the poisoning and polluting of the Bogotá River awakened more than one vengeful spirit from the Tequendama Falls.

Hotel del Salto restoration and renovation

For more than twenty years, the Hotel del Salto stood physically empty. However, it buzzed with the sound and energy of lost and broken souls. These spirits continued to enjoy their long stay at the once-gorgeous, palatial residence.

In 2013, they were rudely interrupted. The local government decided to renovate the building and transform it into something different: A museum. This project was successful, and the Casa Museo Salto de Tequendama Biodiversidad y Cultura (Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture) is now open to visitors.

Though you won’t be able to rent a room in the Hotel del Salto anytime soon, you can still visit the haunting location.

While you’re here, you can view the museum’s main exhibit: Caverns and ecosystems of the subterranean world. It is a coincidence that the curators at this museum chose to explore subterranean pits and spaces? Or are they referencing the unseen underworld that seems to linger just beneath the surface of the Tequendama Falls? We may never know.

Though you won’t be able to rent a room in the Hotel del Salto anytime soon, you can still visit the inspired and haunting location. But, beware. The river that flows above and below the hotel is deadly in more ways than one. And if you hear a voice that whispers for you to follow it up the road toward the misty falls, just ignore it.

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