GNF - Lake Tota Colombia

Lake Tota – Colombia


7 March 2017

Lake Tota in Colombia has won 3rd place among the 2018 Sustainable Destinations Top 100 “Best of the Americas” Series.

27 September 2017

Lake Tota, the largest freshwater lake in the Colombian Andes, was selected for the 2017 Top-100 Sustainable Destinations of the World, an award managed by Green Destinations from Holland.


Background Lake Tota

200 km northeast of the capital Bogotá, lies Colombia’s third biggest freshwater body Lake Tota, which is one of just three tropical highland lakes in the country. The 12 km long and 58 m deep lake is at an altitude of 3,000 m and covers a total area of 56.2 km2.


The lake is of vital regional and national importance as it is the largest potable water reservoir in Colombia and an important water source for the Orinoco and Magdalena river basins. Over 350,000 local residents receive water from Lake Tota. The water flowing into the lake mainly originates in the surrounding Páramo ecosystem, a unique type of biome which is globally restricted to only 6 countries. The Páramo ecosystem also plays an important role in supporting high biodiversity and fertile soil and as a tourist attraction.


Due to the large amounts of fertile soil, the main land use activity around the lake is the cultivation of onions, with 90 % of the Colombian onion production concentrated in this region. This agricultural development, however, has its price as formerly rich green areas were transformed into pastures, and forests were replaced with plantations. The nutrient rich, agricultural runoff from the land has led to increased algal growth within the lake. The introduction of a few alien species, such as rainbow trout, into the lake has put a strain on indigenous species and has led to the extinction of the endemic species Rhizomichthys totae.


Further issues for the lake ecosystem and fauna within arise from fishing and fish farming.

The surrounding area contains around 145 different bird species, some of which are endemic or threatened, e.g. the apolinar’s wren and the Bogotá rail. The Colombian grebe and the Niceforo’s pintail, which were endemic to Colombia and occurred around the lake, are now extinct. In 2012, the World Wetland Network distinguished Lake Tota with the Grey Globe Award as a threatened lake of international importance. Despite the importance of the surrounding area to birds and the award, the lake still remains without any protection measures.


The human activities mentioned above, lead to pollution and a significant decrease in the quality of the lake. Four local communities and some industrial facilities contribute to pollution by dumping waste water into the lake. Additionally, the lake is one of Colombia’s main tourist attractions due to the Playa Blanca beach and opportunities for boat trips and watersports.

 Die Ufer sind von landwirtschaftlichen Flächen geprägt.
 Naturbelassene Uferabschnitte am Totasee.
 Der Anbau von Zwiebeln ist eine der wichtigsten Einkommensquellen der Bevölkerung.
 Die Fischzucht in Aquakulturen hat neben den hohen Fischerträgen auch negative Folgen für das Ökosystem.

Project measures Lake Tota

The lack in governmental protection legislation is a major reason for this overexploitation and the ignorance towards sustainable use of the lake. Another key factor is the insufficient education, as well as a lack of knowledge and awareness of the importance of the lake and threats posed by human activities.


Our local partner organization Fundación Montecito is a non-governmental organization founded in 2010, which works to protect wetland regions in the Andes, specifically Lake Tota and the surrounding area. Through environmental education at schools and information about environmentally friendly tourism at the lake, our partner organization is raising awareness about the importance of the lake and threats to the unique environment. The local population is actively involved in these activities. In addition to the social involvement, the Fundación Montecito advocates the protection of the lake on a political level. A publicly available collection of information contributes to research in the area and also serves as an additional educational facility to anyone interested. The online portal ABC Tota provides a wide range of information about local flora and fauna and the lake in general. A visitor centre which is currently under construction will also be an important information source. (auf Spanisch) (auf Spanisch)

 Die Ergebnisse der Umweltbildungsmaßnehmen werden an Ort und Stelle präsentiert.
 Geführte Touren in die Hochebenen um den See bringen Wanderern die Besonderheiten der Natur näher.
 Umweltbildungsmaßnahmen am Ufer des Totasees.


Partner Organisation Lake Tota


Fundación Montecito

Contact: Felipe A. Velasco

Calle 12 # 10-48, Of. 108-A

Sogamosom, Colombia

Phone: +57 8 773-1118



 Fundación Montecito