Intangible Heritage: Hotel del Salto, Colombia

Colombia has a rich and diverse culture and history but has been marginalized and placed into a “box” of stereotypes by the Western world. “Colombia” tends to conjure images of drug trafficking and other forms of violence, negative stereotypes that overwhelm other, more positive realities such as a lush natural environment and complex, multicultural history. If one studies Colombia objectively, one discovers incredible natural sites such as the Bogota region’s Tequendama Falls. These falls are just 30 km southwest of the capital city of Colombia.

In 1928, the luxurious Hotel del Salto was erected at the Tequendama Falls for wealthy travelers visiting the five hundred foot tall waterfall. In the decades after the hotel was built the water in the river became contaminated, resulting in a dramatic decrease in tourism. The Hotel del Salto closed down in the early 1990s after being abandoned for nearly two decades, leading to rumors of ghosts and other strange occurrences.

Ghost stories have contributed to the folklore associated with Hotel del Salto and the Bogota region. The area is famous for the story of La Llorona– Spanish for the  “weeping woman”–whose story is told differently in every region. Details of the tale differ are shaped locally, but the story always ends with an abandoned woman drowning her own children in despair. There are many in Colombia that claim to have seen La Llorona, particularly in the waters of the Tequendama Falls. Another haunting aspect of Hotel del Salto is that, to this day, it attracts jumpers that have fallen to their deaths in the lake below, a lake known for its “underwater cemetery.” The lake contains the flooded ruins of two towns and their cemeteries, and tombstones peak out of the river, creating a spectacular context for the ghost of La Llorona. Hence, Hotel del Salto is a prime destination for Colombian ghost lore and gossip.

La Llorona is an important part of the Salto Hotel’s history and reputation, but she has experienced an evolution of her own in academia and mass media. Her image has been appropriated into new contexts, some staying true to the original, but most developing into new forms.  La Llorona is “alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, a person, legend, ghost, goddess, seductress, moral tale, metaphor, story and symbol…as her story has evolved, storytellers and artists both inside and outside her community continue to adapt her story to new contexts” (Perez).  La Llorona has been transformed into a cultural sensation, and her image has been used to sell a range of commodities from underwear to milk advertisements (in which she weeps for milk, not her lost children). Even the Hollywood movie Shutter Island has used her image, with La Llorona portrayed as the protagonist’s unstable wife who drowns their children while he is at work.

The reputation of the Salto Hotel has become a commodity along with La Llorona, through the contamination of water, the hotel’s closure, ghost-lore and its underwater cemetery. These supernatural elements provide an alluring image that stimulates visitors from all around the world. The hotel started as a small business for the elite class, but after the area’s contamination issues led to its closure it remained empty for a long time. It was renovated into an environmental museum in 2012. This museum is destined to become a tourist “hot spot” not only because of the beauty of the environment but also because of the intense history of hauntings related to the hotel. It is a unique part of Colombia’s history that celebrates its surroundings but still reaps a commercial profit. Maria Victoria, director of the Ecological Farm Foundation of Porvenir, says, “the site was very touristic before but fell because of the contamination of the river, so what is being moved forward especially is that we can restore it somehow, the next step of our project we can focus more on the tourist theme than the environmental theme.” Evidently there has been a change in the hotel’s function, from fashionable housing for the wealthy to a commercial educational facility. These developments, along with La Llorona’s transformation from humble oral tradition into a commercial enterprise, illustrates a more complex side of Colombia’s incredible history.

Kassondra Krahn

Works Cited

“30 Abandoned Places that Look Truly Beautiful .” Why Don’t You Try This?. . 

Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia. Los Angelos: University of California Press, 1993.

Goodwyn, Melba. Chasing Graveyard Ghosts: Investigations of Haunted and Hallow Ground. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2011

McAndrew, Jennifer. “La Llorona’s Revenge.” The University of Texas at Austin.

Schlosser, S. “Mexican Folklore.” American Folklore.

Scott, Courtney. “Historic Colombian Hotel to be Converted into Museum.” Colombia

Reports, Sept 04, 2012. 

This entry was posted in Bogota, Colombia, ghosts, haunted cemetery, Hotel del Salto, La Llorona. Bookmark the permalink.

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