High on a hilltop, the eerie mansion sits abandoned. With only the constant roar of the nearby waterfall breaking the silence, everything feels empty and still.
But do guests of an otherworldly nature tread the creaking floorboards of the Hotel del Salto? This haunting building has a dark past that has left many fearful to cross its threshold.
In 1923 an architect by the name of Carlos Arturio Tapias set out to build a mansion worthy of Colombia’s emerging elite. He chose a prime spot above the beautiful Tequendama Falls, a waterfall on the Bogotá River in the country’s San Antonio del Tequendama region.
So it was that on the mountainside overlooking the 433-foot falls, Tapias built a mansion. A grand building featuring elaborate French architecture, it became a popular playground for the well-to-do.
The mansion proved so successful that Tapias decided to expand the property and launch it as a holiday destination. Hence, in 1928 the Hotel del Salto officially opened its doors.
The hotel’s incredible location ensured a steady flow of visitors, who arrived by train from Bogotá. From the elegant high windows, guests could watch the waters of the river thundering over the falls.
In fact, it proved such a popular destination that the owners sought to expand the property in the 1950s. Blueprints were drawn up for a revamped hotel, although the idea never made it past the drawing board.
Although it was previously rightly regarded as a picture-postcard destination that had seemed ripe for development, a problem began to emerge at the Tequendama Falls. As Bogotá grew as a city, so did the amount of waste it produced.
By the 1970s a significant amount of sewage was flowing along the Bogotá River and over the Tequendama Falls. Moreover, to make matters worse, a hydroelectric plant was built upriver that during dry spells transformed the thundering falls into a mere dribble.
Although the hotel continued operating in its original incarnation until the 1990s, it was finally forced to shut down completely when pollution levels at the falls became too high. Thus, the once-grand mansion was left to rot among the mist, the smell of sewage hanging heavily in the air.
For two decades, the building remained empty. And as its spooky and abandoned appearance grew ever more sinister, tales of a dark and haunted past began to swirl around it.
According to local stories, the hotel was built on the spot where some of the region’s native Muisca people had met a grisly fate back in the 16th century. In an attempt to avoid being caught by the invading Spanish conquistadors, these people threw themselves from the top of the falls – believing that they would become eagles and fly away.
The chilling reputation of Tequendama Falls appears to have echoed down through the centuries, too. Even today, the area remains a tragically popular place for people seeking to commit suicide.
With its dramatic location providing the perfect vantage point for observing the last moments of any poor souls who decide to leap from the falls, it’s hardly surprising that a sense of death and despair seems to permeate the Hotel del Salto. But not all the ghost stories around here originate from suicides.
Many believe that the building is home to the ghosts of patrons who lost their lives after indulging too heavily at the second-story bar. Stumbling or caught up in brawls, they would, the tall tales say, tumble off the balcony and into the abyss below.
With its crumbling walls and overgrown verandas, the hotel, until recently, certainly looked every inch the haunted house. Indeed, over the years various intrepid explorers braved the mists and pungent smells from the falls to capture photographs and videos of the building – even if any spectral residents remained elusive.
In recent years, however, the hotel has undergone a transformation. In 2011 the Institute of Natural Sciences at the National University of Colombia and the Ecological Farm Foundation of Porvenir joined forces to help preserve and restore the building’s architecture.
Rechristened the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture, the building opened again in August 2013. With exhibits dedicated to the local environment, it aims to inform visitors about the natural world.
Today, the hotel’s rotting furniture and peeling pink façade have been replaced by a smart white paint job and a minimalistic interior – filled with touring exhibitions. Unfortunately, though, the renovations haven’t been able to mask the smell from the falls, as the waste from millions of people surges by.
Still, despite the stench, tourists have begun to return to the building, taking the long, slow road around the mountain to the falls. And yet as they stand on the balcony and peer nervously over, we wonder if they consider the fates of those who once met their deaths far below.