If you’re visiting Medellin, Colombia, you’ll definitely want to spend a day in Guatapé. Or maybe stay a night. Or two. Or three.
Guatapé is a festive lakeside town in Antioquia with brightly colored buildings, bustling shops and restaurants. Grab a cup of fresh Colombian coffee at Black Cafe coffee in the main square by the church, then meander through the artisan shops of Plazoleta de Los Zócalos. The blue skies and colorful traditional buildings surrounded by lake on two sides of town make Guatapé a photographer’s dream come true.
For kids of all ages there is Comfama, which is basically an inflatable playground on a lake. Guatapé is in a lakes region where you can boat, windsurf or peddle boat. There’s also mountain biking, hang-gliding, paragliding and flyboarding. But the main reason tourists flock to this area of Colombia is to conquer El Peñon de Guatapé.
El Peñon de Guatapé is also called Piedra Del Penol, El Peñol, La Piedra or the Rock of Guatapé. But I’m going to call it Peñon De Guatapé because that’s what is says on the souvenirs I bought.
It is an impressive geological feat at 285 metres (935 ft) tall by 110 metres (360 ft) wide, sitting at an elevation of 2,135 metres (7,005 ft) above sea level. It is enhanced by the fact that it stands tall in the middle of nowhere, perched on the side of a lake, with no other freakishly massive rocks around to keep it company. So naturally when mankind stumbles upon such an inspiring gift from the heavens, man’s first thought is “How do I climb it?”
To compare it to other tourist attractions, it is taller than the Washington Monument in DC, taller than the Statue of Unity in India, 3 times taller than NYC’s Statue of Liberty, taller than Auckland Sky Tower (New Zealand’s tallest building), and a few feet shy of being as tall as the Eiffel Tower. I mean, it is one gigantic rock.
One side of the massive rock has “GI” painted on it. As the story goes, the town of Guatapé wanted to write their name on it, but the citizens of El Peñol, a neighboring town, got wind of it and stopped them right in the middle of painting the U.
This lonely giant lakeside rock in a sea of rolling hills isn’t lonely anymore because now thousands of people a year come and climb the 700+ steps to get to the top. With an extra 40 steps at the tower on top in case you feel the need to get just a little higher off the ground.
Concerned about the climb? It only takes about 30-40 minutes to get to the top, much easier that it was in 1954, when it took 5 days for Luis Villegas, Pedro Nel Ramirez, and Ramón Díaz to climb the rock using sticks.
Even if you have an aversion to heights, this rock is still doable. You can still rock the rock. You can put your pie to the Piedra. (Spanglish humor.)
Looking at the rock from the bottom, the stairs seem daunting as they appear haphazardly placed on the outside of a 79 story rock. Even if you have vertigo, it’s fine as long as you DON’T LOOK DOWN! Look out or look at the stairs that are marked with numbers every 50 or so steps.
It’s worth the trek to the top (no there isn’t an elevator, I asked) because the view is incredible. You are literally on top of the world looking down on creation. It is wonderfully inpspiring.
After you’ve made it to the top, you can celebrate with beer or ice-cream from the venders and lots of photos. Or maybe you’ll discover a new plant, like a German scientist did with Pitcairnia heterophylla.
On the way back down, it’s easier to avoid looking down because the down staircase is inside the up staircase, so you have that outside staircase as a buffer between you and the miniature looking world way down below.
I highly recommend visiting Guatapé. It’s like the cherry on top of a Medellín vacation sundae.
TIP: To climb the Peñon de Guatapé it is a cash only business and there are no ATMs nearby. So have cash on hand when you go.
TIP: Climb Peñon de Guatapé in the morning so it won’t be as hot, and also because the day I climbed it, the staff closed it in the afternoon because it was too crowded.
TIP: Luxe by The Charlee has a hotel in this area that is amazing.