Sometimes when you’re in a big city some of the best things to do actually entail getting the hell out of said city, even if you love it there. About two hours by bus from Medellin is the hidden gem of Guatapé, population: who-the-heck-knows. Its most famous tourist attraction is the ginormous monolithic formation La Piedra Del Peñol or El Peñol for short. People come in droves to climb this amazing rock and delight in the breathtaking views of the area; however, the nearby town of Guatapé is also worth a visit.
The trip from Medellin is pretty simple and a perfect day trip. The bus departs from the north bus terminal in Medellin and costs a peazily 6$ CAN. It lets you off in front of this gas station in the even smaller town of El Peñol, where you have about a 200-meter uphill climb before you get to the rock itself. You can take a tuk-tuk or a horse up, perhaps to conserve your energy, but I thought if I can’t even take my arse up this hill to get to the real thing, I’m in a whole lotta trouble. So I walked and panted and walked and panted….I guess to prove a point to…myself?
I must say that the rock is quite impressive. It was first climbed in the 1950s, and has been a disputed area between the towns of Guatapé and El Peñol ever since the stairs were built and it became a tourist attraction. However, residents of Guatapé decided to put an end to that dispute by painting ‘Guatapé’ on the side of the rock, a mark in territory of sorts. Having seen and climbed that sucker I can see how that would be a pretty difficult task, so it’s no surprise that all they manged to finish was the ‘G’ and half of the ‘U’. As a result, on the north side of the rock you literally see ‘GI’. lol. Way to go, Guatapeans…
The rock is said to be roughly 2100 m (7000 ft) high and is 650 excruciating steps up to a view that would make you climb double (okay, not double…but perhaps another dozen or so). It’s funny because everyone is super gung-ho the first 25 steps but then it all goes down hill, or rather up hill, after that.
Everyone was huffing and puffing and likely thinking the same as I was… “this better be worth it”. And if you’re wondering when the fun stops, not to worry! You have reminders painted on the steps every 25 or 50, just so you know exactly how much hell you will endure before you get to the top.
And just as your legs feel like they are going to burn off, you’re there. Just like that. It probably took 30 minutes (with a few breaks to check your pulse and drink some water) and you’re done. And yes, it is worth it. You can see a ton of little islands and mountains and towns and what seems like all of Antioquia.
And the facilities at the top are surprisingly great with a bunch of little food stands and souvenir shops and places to relax, which got me thinking…there are people that actually climb this bad boy EVERY DAY for work. Needless to say, I tipped more for my water than the water itself.
While the experience of climbing El Peñol and seeing the valley below is worth the trip, once you crawl down, you can take a 10-minute, 2$ ride in George Clinton’s tuk-tuk to the city of Guatapé, which you will probably love even more.
It’s cute and quaint and definitely the most colourful town I’ve ever seen. It felt like I was Alice in Wonderland or having the world’s best acid trip. The place was unreal. I remember thinking that there must be some kind of city by-law which stipulates that you have to paint your house to look like an Easter egg. With the million pictures I took, it still doesn’t do it justice.
Aside from its aesthetic beauty, you could tell that this town was for people to escape city life because the whole place was off the hook. Souvenir and drink stands, food stalls, boat rides, zip lining tours, kid parks and a whole lotta music and dancing – pure happiness everywhere. The street dogs were fat and contented, the tourists were all thinking they had struck gold and the locals were lapping it all up.
So after a full day there, and my quota of ooohs and ahhhs filled to the brim, it was time to go. Thankfully, I purchased my return ticket when I arrived because the small bus station was beyond chaotic with people trying to get back to Medellin. A definite must if you go. So as easy as I had arrived, I was back on the bus, sleeping off the day and headed back to the big gritty city. Beauty of a much different variety.