The Legend of El Dorado for Kids

Imagine you’re on an adventure through a dense jungle. You walk carefully, your senses alert to every rustle and chirp around you. Ancient ruins emerge from the undergrowth, their moss-covered stones telling tales of an ancient civilization. 

You decipher the cryptic symbols and follow the clues left behind, each step taking you closer to the hidden treasure you seek. As you journey deeper, the sunlight filters through the canopy, casting a magical glow on the path ahead. 

And then, as if by some stroke of luck, you stumble upon a clearing bathed in golden light. Before your eyes lies a sight straight out of a dream—a magnificent city with towering temples dressed with dazzling jewels and vibrant golden pillars stretching toward the heavens. 

The cobblestone pathways shine with gold, illuminating each step you take. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires create a mesmerizing display of colors atop each building.You can hardly contain your amazement almost in disbelief. This is it. This is the lost city, the legendary El Dorado.” 

Have you ever heard of the legend of the City of El Dorado? It’s a tale that has captured the imagination of people for centuries and has even made its way into popular culture, including the animated Dreamworks movie called “The Road to El Dorado.”

This city of gold has become a symbol of adventure and riches, inspiring many stories, books, and movies.

But what is the true story behind the legend of the Golden City? Is it really out there? El Dorado was a mythical city that people believed was hidden deep within the unexplored lands. 

Imagine a place with streets made of pure gold, temples that glimmered like the sun, and mines filled with sparkling gold and silver. People couldn’t resist the thought of this unimaginably rich city, and adventurers from all over Europe set out on daring expeditions to find it.

From the 1530s to around 1650, brave explorers ventured into the dense jungles, vast plains, towering mountains, and winding rivers of South America, all in search of the mystical El Dorado. They were determined to discover its hidden secrets and claim the incredible treasures for themselves. But the journey was perilous, and many explorers even lost their lives in the pursuit of this legendary city.

Some believe El Dorado was nothing more than a product of people’s wild imaginations! The city has never been found, making El Dorado one of history’s greatest mysteries.

The roots of the El Dorado myth can be traced back to the gold discovered in Mexico and Peru during the 16th century. The Spanish conquistadors played a role in the creation of this tale. 

Do you know what a conquistador is? Spanish conquistadors were explorers and soldiers from Spain who lived a long time ago. They embarked on daring adventures to discover new lands and find treasures in the Americas, across the ocean from their home. When these conquistadors arrived in the Americas, they encountered different civilizations, such as the Incas and the Aztec Indians.

In 1519, a Spanish conquistador named Hernán Cortés led an expedition to Mexico where he captured Emperor Montezuma who was the King of the mighty Aztec Empire, after he captured Montezuma he stole all of his gold! The conquerors gained large amounts of gold and silver, becoming very wealthy when they returned to their homes in Spain. Their successes inspired others to dream of riches in the Americas.

In 1533, Francisco Pizarro embarked on a journey that led him to the Inca Empire in the Andes of South America. Following in Cortés’ footsteps, Pizarro captured the Inca Emperor Atahualpa, holding him for ransom. Holding someone for ransom is when a person is captured or taken against their will, and the captors demand something in exchange for their release. Usually, they ask for something valuable, like money or treasures. They wanted something valuable, like gold or silver, to be given to them in exchange for the release of the captured Atahualpa. Through this cruel act, Pizarro became very wealthy.

Other civilizations in the New World, such as the Maya also had treasures that the Spanish Conquistadors wanted. The tales of these conquests gave birth to the legend of El Dorado. 

As a result, many European adventurers traveled to the New World eager to discover gold. Although they were very poor, these daring individuals possessed immense ambition. However, many of them were men driven by violence, greed, and ruthlessness, with nothing to lose; their ultimate goal was to gain riches through the discovery of gold in the New World, even if it meant risking their lives. 

These hopeful conquerors flooded to the Americas and followed even the smallest rumors about where it might be hidden.

Like any legend, there is often some kernel of truth in the wild stories. In present-day Colombia, there was a group of people called the Muisca. Their kings had a special tradition. They would cover themselves in a sticky sap and then sprinkle golden powder all over their bodies. 

The king would then get into a canoe and go to the middle of Lake Guatavitá. Thousands of people would watch from the shore as the king jumped into the lake and came out completely clean. Afterward, everyone would celebrate with a big festival.

When the Spanish explorers arrived in 1537, the Muisca had stopped practicing this tradition. But rumors about it had already spread among the greedy explorers in cities all across the continent. 

The Spanish explorers started calling this king “El Dorado,” which means “the gilded one” in Spanish. It was because he covered himself in gold. 

Once the land of the Muisca was taken over by the Spanish, they became very interested in finding the legendary gold of El Dorado. They thought they would discover huge amounts of gold when they looked in the Lake Guatavitá. While they did find some gold, it wasn’t as much as they had hoped for. So, they thought maybe the Muisca people weren’t the true kingdom of El Dorado. They believed that somewhere out there, the real El Dorado was waiting to be found.

So did explorers ever find El Dorado? Well, the answer isn’t very straightforward. The conquistadors followed stories about El Dorado to a place called Cundinamarca, but they didn’t believe they had found the legendary city, so they kept searching. What they didn’t know was that the Muisca civilization was the last major native culture with riches. The legendary El Dorado they were looking for after 1537 turned out to not exist. But they didn’t give up easily. Many expeditions continued to explore South America and while they didn’t find gold, they did uncover many ruins and we now realize that the Maya and many of these civilizations were huge, complex, and very powerful. At some point, they did probably have large amounts of gold, but as the cities turned to ruin, the riches disappeared.

The legend of El Dorado has remained a popular folktake. People love the idea of lost cities of treasure, just like they seek out lost pirate treasure and sunken ships.

Archeologists still hunt for these places today, although the goal is to learn more about ancient people and how they lived, not in search of gold!