Rock your world – Guatape & El Penol

21 Mar

A favourite weekend retreat for Medellin’s wealthy, Guatape makes an easy day trip from the city or is a beautiful place to spend a couple of days. A 90 minute bus ride takes you from the heart of bustling Medellin to tranquil Antoquian countryside. The year round climate is mild and sunny adding to the area’s laid back holiday feel. Mid-week the town remains relaxed and sleepy but at the weekends Colombians come to let their hair down so it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds.


Despite its touristy appeal, Guatape retains an old world charm. The conquistadors visited the area in the 1550’s but the town wasn’t founded until 1811 when Spaniard Don Francisco Giraldo y Jimenez settled here. Its cobbled streets, flower filled plaza and brightly painted buildings are very well preserved, and looked after by proud residents. At weekends, the waterfront promenade fills up with local vendors selling beautiful Paisa crafts and food. The local speciality is freshly caught trout and it’s possible to sample it prepared in many inventive ways.


The centre’s traditional two story stone cottages are painted vivid reds, yellows and purples and feature cute wooden balconies. Detailed frescos and painted tiles appear around the base of many houses and tell the history of the regions people, animals and industry.


Amoung the many images there are horses ploughing fields, farmers carrying forks, blacksmiths forging iron and old people in rocking chairs. One of our favourite images was plastered on the outside wall of the billiard hall. We looked at the fresco and it was a perfect reflection of what was happening inside – a few men propping up the bar whilst several heated games of cards and dominos took place between age old friends.


We stayed 5 minutes out of town at El Encuentro. It was a really beautiful place to stay with nature all around and incredible lake views.


They have double rooms with lake views (65,000 pesos – $30 USD), four-person dorms (25,000 pesos – $12 USD) and space for camping (20,000 pesos – $10 USD). It was a great base to explore the area and to recharge our batteries.


The name Guatape comes from the Quechua language and translates as place of stone and water. The Quechuans really were masters at naming what they saw. Guatape sits at the edge of one of the country’s largest lakes, created by the Colombian government in the late 60’s to power a hydro-electric plant. Many tourist boats take passengers to see the dam, to visit islands or even to see La Manuela, infamous Pablo Escobar´s now bombed-out lakeside mansion. It’s also possible to take part in a host of water sports. For those not so at home on the water, the rural landscape and sparkling lake Embalsa Guatape make for beautiful hiking opportunities.


Perched on the edge of the lake, a meteoric sized slab of stone can be seen from everywhere in the surrounding countryside. Piedra del Penol, or The Rock, was formed along the Antioquia Rock Base around 70 million years ago and it’s sheer vertical face is over 200 metres high. The Tahamies Indians, former inhabitants of this region, worshipped the rock and held many sacred ceremonies here.

The rock was first climbed officially in July 1954 but nowadays there are 649 steps built from concrete and bricks into the side. At its highest part, on the southeast side, the rock has an elevation of 2,135 metres. The stairs criss-cross upwards in a tight formation and make the rock look as if it is wearing a corset. We shielded our eyes from the sun as we peered up to the summit. It looked similar to Rio’s Sugar Loaf mountain but without the crowds. It certainly was a long way up. We were reassured by a sign at the entrance telling us that the view was the ‘best in the world’!

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In true South American style, the stairs looked like they’d been stuck to the side of the rock with a few slops of cement and didn’t feel the safest! We strode up them with purpose and reached the summit in around 15 minutes. At the top there were two platforms – one large space with a small cafe and gift shop and one smaller but higher space accessed by more stairs inside an unstable looking turret. “You’re not getting me up there” was Dan’s initial reaction but after some gentle persuasion and reassurance we were up there.


The 360 degree views were simply sensational. Blue skies with dramatic white clouds seemed to go on forever.


Green woodland and small coffee farms were punctuated with cottages and holiday homes.


The lake was split into smaller inlets – still, serene and only interrupted by boats cruising the waterways.


Travelling is full of strange co-incidences and standing on top of the rock, away from it all, was just one of them. At that precise moment a young man climbed the stairs and said “Hello Kate and Dan!” We’d met Mark from America 6 months earlier whilst exploring Chiloe, Chile’s largest island and shared a beer together one evening. In our time apart, our South American journey had taken us to some identical places and included similar activities but we hadn’t been destined to meet again until that point. It really is a small world!


We sat soaking in the sunshine and filling our camera with photographs. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in Latin America, something else comes along to leave you speechless. If this had been Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro, we would have been joined by hoards of tourists tramping up the stairs and jostling for position at the top. However, here, like in many parts of Colombia, there were just a handful of people and we felt relaxed and able to appreciate all that nature had to offer in our own time.

2 Responses to “Rock your world – Guatape & El Penol”


  1. Welcome To the colours of Guatapé | Cool Sapien - October 2, 2015

    […] Cover image: Latinchattin […]

  2. The colours of Guatapé, Columbia | Cool Sapien - October 2, 2015

    […] Gallery images courtesy 500px, cover image courtesy Latinchattin. […]

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