Guatape and El Peñol – hidden treasures of the Colombian countryside
Even at the stage of drawing up the itinerary for the Colombian department of Antioquia, I knew right away that it would be interesting to explore not only the capital Medellín, but also its surroundings. There are a lot of picturesque places and places worth seeing around the city. Of all the variety of Colombian countryside we chose two places – Santa Fe and Guatap (emphasis on the last word), where we made radial excursions. These are probably the two most popular day trips for tourists from Medellín. Both places are interesting and both deserve attention, but if we simply liked Santa Fe, then Guatapé made an absolutely stunning impression. That’s what we’re going to talk about here. That’s how it happens, you go somewhere and seem to have a very concrete idea of what you will see there, but when reality surpasses all your expectations, then you are delighted with the whole program. And then you’re blessed. That day, we did just that, not only the town (or rather the village) Guatape itself was extremely bright and picturesque, but in addition to it is a rock El Peñol or Piedra de Guatape, where you can enjoy totally dizzying panoramic views. This is where we began our exploration of the hidden corners of Antioquia.
And it’s very good, because it’s easier to climb the rock early in the morning and there are fewer people there. From the foot of El Peñol there are quite good views of the islands and isthmuses of the reservoir.
Therefore, if someone does not want to strain himself overcoming the 740 steps to the very top, you can walk below, although, of course, such panoramic views as above below you will not see.
You can also do what Mario did – go to the middle of the cliff, and there are almost panoramic views in different directions. Also an option.
But of course all the most beautiful, picturesque and delicious hidden at the very top, where I personally got as much as half an hour. I will not say that the climb is very hard, but you still have to sweat. By the way, it helps a lot that every 50 steps are numbered, psychologically it definitely works.
And here I have finally reached the top, now I have to stand on the observation deck, look around, breathe. This is where you involuntarily gasp, because whichever way you look, it is unusually beautiful.
Roof-raising views of 360 degrees, it seems, this is the most objective way to describe these landscapes. And it’s a completely artificial landscape, remade, but no less beautiful!
In fact, this whole huge reservoir, once created to supply the region with electricity, is now turned into a giant recreation area. True, in order to do this in the seventies, quite a few settlements had to be flooded. And this is the other side of the coin.
Today the islets and isthmuses of the artificial lake are filled with hotels, guest houses, sports bases and water sports centers.
But still there are still completely pristine natural areas.
All this creates an unforgettable panorama, worthy to rank with Guanabara Bay in Rio.
This is my personal verdict to these panoramas, which for some reason few people know about, unlike the much publicized Rio.
At the observation deck, everyone is aghast and running around with cameras from one side to the other like crazy people,
God forbid, they don’t miss an inch of the fabulous views below – the reservoir itself, its many arms, lakes, islands and the green jungle covering them.
These delightful images stretching down below simply take your breath away,
which is probably why the rock itself is left in the shadows. Very undeserved in my opinion.
Not very tall, only 220 meters in height, with characteristic rounded sides, the rock has many different names, El Peñón de Guatape, Piedra de Guatape or Piedra del Peñol, and is a free-standing monolith of very unusual shape, which is located between the towns of Guatape and El Peñol.
The two towns have been competing for years for the right to call the rock the landmark of their town, hence its many names. That’s where the confusion over its name comes from. But the essence does not change. The rock has long been an ornament and a natural landmark not only in the province of Antioquia, but in the whole of Colombia. Its age (about 70 million years), its mineral composition (quartz, feldspar and mica), and especially the zigzag staircase that encircles it from bottom to top impresses.
In the forties the rock was declared a National Monument of Colombia. And today, the rock is recognized as one of the largest rocks on Earth. The Tahamis, a tribe of Indians who live in the region, have long worshipped the rock. They gave it a name, muhara or mojarra, which in their language means rock, stone. There is a beautiful legend about the stone. A long time ago a tribe of Indian fishermen who lived in these lands worshipped a large fish called Batolito. Because of this, the gods were angry at the pagans and put a curse on them: they ordered the heavens to fall on them. The Indians then cried out to the Batolito fish to save them. The fish jumped out of the water and jammed its spine right into the rapidly falling sky. She managed to stop it, and the sky returned to its place, but for Batolito it was not in vain: she petrified and fell down, turning into a huge rock. And so the rock of El Peñol appeared. Fairy tales of course, but how beautifully it was invented!
An interesting fact of real life is that the land under the rock belongs to a private person, not the state! A local family once bought this piece of land at a very low price, since the land was considered unusable. Lucky for the guys, their business is booming, and the stone has become truly priceless.
To get to the top of the rock you have to buy a ticket. The ticket is expensive by Colombian standards, 18,000 pesos, more than five dollars, and it is clear that the Colombians exploit their natural attraction to the fullest. All in all, it is well deserved, I would have paid more for such magnificent views. And it costs money to maintain the stairs, too.
I will touch a little bit on the transportation logistics. From Medellín we went to Guatapa as follows. First, we took the subway to the Caribe station, where the Terminal Norte is located. And there we got our bearings and bought bus tickets for 13,500 pesos. In Guatapa there are only two bus companies, Sotrapenol and Sotraicente & Guatapé, and they go often, about once every half hour. We drove about two hours, asked the driver to drop us off at the turn to the rock, not far to Guatapé. The bus stops not right at the rock, but a few kilometers away, it’s a good business for tuk-tuk drivers. For the short trip to Peñol I had to pay another 8 thousand pesos, and they don’t lower their prices in any way. Of course, you can walk, it’s probably about twenty minutes, but then there is still a hard climb to the top, so the tuk-tuk in this case is the best option. Going down from the rock, I had to take a tuk-tuk to Guatape again, this time for 12000 pesos. That’s how they organize the logistics in that area. They take advantage of the fact that tourists come just for one day and want to have enough time on that day to climb the rock and see the town. However, at our request, the tuk-tuk driver stopped on the way in different places that offer wonderful views of the rock and the surrounding area.
So I was still satisfied, despite the rip-offs.
Well, now get ready, here comes Guatape itself in all its colorful splendor. For me, this village was a true discovery, though, nowhere else have I seen such a variety of colors, such a colorful range of colors and intricate design. Just imagine – the whole town is built up with neat little houses, painted in the brightest colors.
And its main feature – in the skillful artistic tsokolas.
These painted tsokaly- borders decorate almost every house. And what motifs you can’t see here – animals, scenes from the typical life of Colombia, and plant ornaments, and professional themes.
What does this rock remind you of? For some reason it reminded me of a rugby ball: the shape, the lacing, all of it!
Now we all know and see what it really is. This giant monolith, one of the largest rocks in the world, is located in Colombia, just one kilometer from the city of Guatape. Standing on the shores of the lake, the giant has been awe-inspiring to humans since ancient times. Scientists say that the block, which is more than 200 meters high (and 2/3 of it is hidden underground), appeared even 70 million years ago. You can see the Penon de Guatape monolith from all around, for tens of kilometers. The estimated weight of the block is 10 million tons.
At the top of the cliff leads intricate winding staircase of 644 steps. After the ascent a simply stunning view awaits you at the top, which you can enjoy sipping a strong hot coffee sitting at a table located at the top of an open restaurant, or the locals are happy to pour there the national drink tequila with salt.
It is called “Mojarra” in the language of the local aborigines, who have worshipped this rock all their lives. Many thousands of years ago, when spirits and demons walked the earth, a tribe of Tahamis lived here. And this tribe was all about fishing and worshipping the Batolito, the huge fish that lives in these waters. They worshipped it more than anyone else. If times were hard and there was no catch for a long time, they even sacrificed infants to the terrible god.
And one day, because the tribe worshipped only one Batolito, the other gods became enraged and visited misfortune on them. But they endured it all. The angry gods decided to destroy the tribe: they decided to drop heaven on the people. And when the people saw that the sky was rapidly falling on them, threatening to crush them, they began to cry, begging for mercy, mothers tried to save their children, but all in vain… And then Batolito jumped out of the sea. The fish flew straight up to the falling sky and with its spine rested against the menace looming over them. And after a long battle between the deity and the air elemental, the sky nevertheless retreated and returned to its place. But Batolito was not spared: the fish god turned to stone and collapsed on the ground, where it lies to this day. To this day, people make offerings to him in gratitude for saving their ancestors.
In 1954, a group of friends, at the insistence of a local priest, climbed to the top of the rock using a series of supports inserted in the crevices. They were the first people who managed to make the ascent to the top of El Peñón de Guatape (it is still not known if the Tahamis had ways to climb the rock). The ascent took 5 days, but the top of the cliff revealed magnificent views, as well as a new plant species Pitcairma heterophila
The slopes of the rock are almost entirely smooth, there is only one long crack, which was used by climbers to climb. Later they built a stone staircase with 649 steps, the only way to get to the top of Piedra de Penol In the 1970s a dam was built here and the surrounding landscape has changed dramatically. Now the top of the cliff overlooks many lakes and islets
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The rock is a local landmark and national monument. You can climb to the top for a modest fee of $2.00, the money goes to keep the stairs in good condition. At the top are several religious relics and a three-story observation tower.
Let’s read how Tamara Kontsevaya visited the place:
In Medellín, I got to see the unexplainable – the miracle stone. There is almost no information about it, once came across a photo with its image, apparently a long time ago and with the name “Peñol Rock”. Where was this rock remained a mystery. By chance, when I was in San Agustín Archaeopark, I met three Colombians from Medellín and one of them mentioned the name. That’s how I found out about the location of the stone.
The concepts of rock and stone are completely different. A rock is a part of a mountain, and a stone is something that simply lies on top. In this case, you should say rock, otherwise the local population does not understand what we are talking about, and if you say rock, you can not add its name. If you just ask how to get to the rock, everyone will understand. I arrived in Medellín at 7 a.m. and went to Terminal Norte, and from there to Peñón, and from Peñón I took a jeep to a place called Guatapé. You can already see the rock on the way up. The sight is amazing. It stands alone on the top of the mountain and cannot be confused with anything else.
It is completely black with white stripes and rounded sides.
It has been raining and blowing in the winds for a million years, and man has always puzzled over the eternal riddle of nature – how did it get there?
You have to go up to the rock on foot on a wide road, or you can take a cab. Walking uphill, I left my things at the bottom of some store and got off at the start. Oh, those mountains!
The view was spectacular, I was not prepared to see anything like that.
It was a hundred times more incredible than what I had seen in the pictures. A huge rock on a flat top of the mountain, 400m high!
It was of completely different structure, color and consistency to the touch than the mountain on which it lay, and it was absolutely clear that its origin was different, as I want to say – not terrestrial. On one side of it there was a ladder for climbing and from a distance it looked like lacing,
And on top, at the top of the stone – an observation deck, which, as it seemed to me, spoils the emotional perception of this miracle. ( In the old photo on the Internet, the stairs were rope. ) It costs 8 pesos to climb the rock, but even if I had been paid, I would not have gone up. It was too steep and high. All the walls of the rock are steep, from all sides I tucked a nail file, sticks, twigs under it and indeed someone had put it here, it was lying on its own.
Here on the top and on the slopes there are also houses of locals who see the stone always and are as surprised by it as tourists, but the legends each have their own. Tourists come from everywhere and everyone explains to locals the origin of their stone, because they are smart, and came from respected countries, and the locals here in this “cockroach darkness” – are not very intelligent. Therefore, the locals are not very – are not in contact with tourists, believing that the Creator has created the earth and all that on it. And he put this stone here too, so that people know that on Earth there is a master. And from above there is an amazing view of the river flowing in the valley with islands, flower beds on the slope, and colorful houses.
The land under the stone belongs to a private person whose family lives nearby. They bought the land long ago for cheap, as it was not fit for use, and now the business is flourishing and the stone has become priceless. I was deeply impressed when I came down from there and kept looking back at the stone.
There is no second such miracle in nature. Down below, under the mountain, they made me nakatamal. It was a dish of maize flour, rice, pork, and spices. All this mixture is wrapped in appropriate proportions in a palm leaf, tied with string, and boiled in boiling water. After that, the roll is placed on a plate and the leaves are unwrapped. Juicy pork in big chunks, fragrant garnish, and peppers “poke your eye out.” One of my favorite dishes! From here I returned safely to Medellín and left for Bogotá in the evening. I spent the night on the road, it’s convenient, comfortable, less expensive for the hotel and I always try to do that.