After a wonderful overnight bus from Bogotá (meaning we actually got sleep and got in at a normal hour) we arrived in the magical and wonderful town of Guatape. Being so close to Medellin, this area hasn’t always been safe enough for tourists, but we are happy to report that it felt perfectly safe. Now Guatape is a happening weekend destination for those living in Medellin.
Guatape and the land around it was transformed in the early 70’s when the valley was flooded to run a hydroelectric station, which now provides Colombia with about thirty percent of their power. Now the lake flows beautifully through the landscape, and it is difficult to imagine these islands once being simply hilltops.
Not to be outdone by the lake, the region also has a large rock similar to Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro. We were lucky that our hostel was positioned in such a way to take advantage of the beautiful lake, amazing rock, and colorful town, and that may have been what convinced us to stay a few extra days.
The town of Guatape would be just another typical Colombian pueblo, but they “kick it up a notch” with the colorful buildings and unique reliefs found throughout the town. It was entertaining enough just to wander through town and admire the picturesque streets.
Normally Joe gets mad when I make comparisons to Disneyland, but being a Southern California girl, it seems to always be my normal point of reference. (C’mon, the drive to Estes Park totally looks like Thunder Mountain!) Well, this town was so picture perfect with its colorful houses, cobblestone streets, lanterns, and hanging flower baskets, that I really couldn’t resist making the comparison, and this time Joe totally agreed.
Not to be outdone by the structures, most of their moto-chivas (tuk-tuks) were intricately painted as well. I swear, the paint store owner in this town must be loaded.
We were told that the reliefs and paintings started in the town to help indicate what the person specialized in or what the store sold.
Everyday on the walk in to town, we saw quite a few people hard at work painting. With the outstanding amount of painting to be done in the town, we are assuming it is like the saying about the Golden Gate Bridge, and once they finish the whole town, it’s time to start again on the other side.
The sight of La Piedra or El Penol, the Sugarloaf-like rock, teased us from afar so one day we set off to ascend it. The concrete stairs are stitched into a crack, they even have one set for up and one for down. We climbed the 644 stairs to reach the top (at just over 7000 feet elevation) and enjoy the view.
It was amazing to see how the lake formed into the valleys and created such an amazing landscape. We sat enjoying the view for a couple hours and we day dreamed about owning one of the beautiful homes on the lake.
My favorite story regarding this rock is about its disputed ownership. This monument is between Guatape and El Penol, and they have long fought over which town can really claim the rock as their own. Guatape set out to settle the matter like a first-grader: by painting their name on it. However, they were only able to finish the G and part of the U, before El Penol put a stop to it. So now the rock has what looks like a huge GI on it.
Whenever we’re near water, Joe starts itching for an opportunity to take a boat out. After some serious discussion with Kristen, we decided that Joe might be able to handle the challenges of a paddle boat. With our broken Spanish, we negotiated a deal and off we went for a one hour tour of the lake near Guatape.
This type of water craft was taxing on Joe’s skills, but we made it back to dry land safely. The view of the town humming with tourists from Medellin and La Piedra in the background, made the trip extra enjoyable.
Guatape turned out to be a great place to relax and talk to fellow travelers, which is also part of the reason why we spent a few extra days there. We spent many nights sitting on the hostel’s patio trading stories and discovering more places to visit. The patio had such an amazing view that just sitting and taking it all in seemed like a good use of a day.
Thanks to our new friends, Dave from Chicago, and Tatiana from Medellin, we have changed our course and are headed for Tatiana’s hometown. She promises that we won’t regret it! We’re excited to see Colombia through the eyes of a local.