Waterfall of Death: The Story of the Tequendama Falls

This week we were going to talk about haunted hotels in Latin America, but I didn’t really find much other than a few short articles and youtube videos. They looked a lot like advertisements to me. But as I was looking, I found the Hotel Del Salto.

Many websites and videos claim the hotel is haunted. Many people, including reality tv show “ghost hunters,” constantly attempt to break in and film these “ghosts.” There has been no substantiated evidence of the hotel being haunted, but we can talk about that later because it’s actually not the most interesting part of this historical landmark. The Tequendama waterfall that sits right across from the building is not just breathtakingly beautiful but is also a well-known place for suicides, dating back a hundred years – some even say thousands of years, during the salad days of the conquistadors.

Before we continue, do me a favor and google image Hotel Del Salto Colombia, and Tequendama Falls. It would take all day to really describe it and do it justice. It’s that impressive.

Hotel Del Salto in Tequendama, Colombia, sits 30 kilometers or 18 ½ miles outside of the capital city of Bogota, across from the waterfall, hence the name Salto, meaning “falls.”

The hotel, previously called The Castle of Bochica, was built by order of the President of Colombia at the time (between 1923 and 1927) by the architect Paolo de La Cruz with some design elements by Carlos Arturo Tapias. Now, Wikipedia and a lot of articles online call it the Mansion of Tequendama. There are a lot of inconsistencies in the timeline of the hotel, but I assure you, many of them are wrong. Check out the tour of the Casa Museo Tequendama from the Fundación Porvenir.

The hotel was built upon an existing train station because the Tequendama Falls was a popular tourist destination. How could it not be – it’s beautiful and grandiose. Just to give you an idea on how tall this waterfall is, Niagara Falls is 170 feet high while El Salto Falls is 515 feet high. If you were to jump, it would take six seconds.

The Castle of Bochica operated as a hotel until the 1950s, when the administration sold it with the rail station that operated to and from Bogota and it was turned into a restaurant. The structure was finally abandoned by the 1986 and was, of course, vandalized by kids, drugs addicts, and drifters. But that all changed in 2009, when they renovated the whole structure and released it as the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture.

So that is the history of the hotel. As I said before, the waterfall is famous for an unusually high amount of suicides. Why? Probably because it’s picturesque and romantic. And maybe it could help their mourning families to not have pay a costly burial bill if they didn’t want to search for the bodies. We can only speculate, because each individual’s story to the Falls is entirely unique.

What became somewhat of a suicide trend began with a taxi driver. In 1943, Eduardo Umaña jumped from the waterfall and very soon after, his coworkers volunteered to searched for his body. After nine attempts, they were able to recover the body and give him a proper burial. The news of the suicide and the search party got a lot of attention throughout the country.

I read in an article that while Eduardo’s coworkers were recovering his dead body, a young blond man with a scar on his cheek walked up to the Virgin of Suicides statue that sits near a rock that reads “Your problems have a solution. Jesus Christ says: I am the way and the truth and the life.” The young man opened a book and started reading to the statue. According to witnesses, some bus passengers nearby saw the man and started shouting to him. He looked up from his book and noticed they were getting off the bus and running over to him. He jumped into the abyss instantly.

There was one incident in January of 1941, where a policeman, Jose Suarez, and his girlfriend were visiting the waterfall. He gave her a kiss, took off his hat, gave her a piece of paper and jumped off the cliff. The girlfriend, Isabel, was shocked at first and tried to jump herself but was held back by a security guard.

According to El Tiempo, another incident happened in July of 1946 with a man and a woman. They jumped together after being married for only four days. They left suicide notes; one read, “I would like to live, but my destiny is to terminate my life as it’s beginning. Love forces me to say goodbye to this thankless world.” That note was written by Gloria Osorio Rocha, who was twenty-four years old at the time.

The other suicide note was from Roberto Bunch, a twenty-five-year-old army corporal who was already married to another woman. His wife, Concha Rodriguez de Bunch, had already borne him two children and was pregnant with the third at the time of the suicides.

His suicide note read, (loosely translated) “Señores of the press and the police: You reap what you sow. I have now done it and therefore I must pay. I must confront the Beyond to avoid society’s judgement on me. Those who suffer from my death, a thousand apologies. What can a man do when all the paths are closed? To the señores of the press, I beg you not to be too harsh in your criticism.”

But they were! As days went by, the search party couldn’t find the bodies and the press was starting to speculate if the newly married couple actually didn’t jump – that maybe they had staged their deaths and run away to Venezuela, Panama or even Miami. The press was relentless until, ten days after the disappearance, Roberto and Gloria were caught and detained. Roberto was charged with desertion and bigamy and I do believe they stayed married and had a son afterwards. Then broke up and Roberto moved in with another woman, who had a daughter with him.

This next story starts with a public rivalry between two big newspapers back in 1963: El Tiempo and El Espectador, which were and are today the number one and number two newspapers in the country, respectively. Both newspapers had noticed a rise in suicides at the waterfall and dispatched someone to stay at the Tequendama in case a new suicide happened so that they could to take the story to Bogota to be printed first.

Adolfo Neuta, a photographer for El Tiempo, was their Tequendama correspondent while Carlina Garibello reported to El Espectador. Carlina was actually not a journalist but rather a fritanguera, a woman who cooked and served fried foods like papas criollas (fried potato), bocados de carne de cerdo (fried pork bites) and more. The two knew of each other but didn’t really acknowledge one another.

Then one day, a sad looking man walked up to them. He asked if they had seen some friends of his he was meeting with. They said they hadn’t, so he bought a couple of papas criollas and walked up to the waterfalls. Ever since he walked in, the two knew something was up and kept following him with their eyes. The stranger dropped an envelope in the grass and jumped off the waterfall without hesitation.

Carlina and Adolfo raced to get the envelope and snatched it at the same time. They wrestled for the letter until they both tumbled and fell to their deaths. If you want to read more about it, please read Felipe González Toledo’s book 20 Crónicas Policíacas. He was an amazing journalist and true crime writer who had worked for both El Tiempo and El Espectador.

Now some people claim that the souls of the dead who had jumped or fallen are haunting the hotel. Tourists have said they have heard disembodied voices and whispers of regret. Some have seen silhouettes of people falling off the cliff in the fog. There’s no real evidence of that, of course. But some blogs have hilarious fake photos that are photoshopped or – my personal favorite – a photo of a guy standing in the window with a mask on.

The foundation that restored the hotel into the museum that it is today denies any kind of ghost activity. They have clearly stated over and over again they are not interested in paranormal tourism but rather focus on environmental awareness. The Bogota River had been so badly polluted in the last few decades that the hotel and then restaurant had to shut down and left it abandoned until the foundation took over. The Tequendama Falls may have had a dark past, but now with all the efforts of the foundation, the future's looking bright.