When you stand on the impressive El Penol rock near Guatape, and see the lake with dozens of islands and peninsulas around you, it’s almost too good to be true. It is at least to good to be natural, because these views were created by humans.
(there are more photos of the trip to Guatape)
The rock itself is of course real AND created by nature. Geologists suspect that 60 million years ago two tectonic plates collided. These massive forces pushed a small land mass up: Piedra del Penol, the Penol rock, by now one of the biggest tourist attractions of Colombia. A steep rock, that can only be conquered by climbing the more than 650 steps of the concrete stairs, constructed almost 90 degrees vertically.
It is an amazing adventure though, well worth the two hour bus ride from Medellin. All of a sudden, right after the small town of El Penol, the hillside opens up to reveal lakes and a little bit later the massive black rock.
The bus driver will unleash you at the Zeuss fuel station. Behind it are the first flight of stairs, up to the parking lot, and that first ascent does not count for the other 650 steps…
It has become very touristy at the site. Souvenir shops and restaurants are being expanded, helicopters destroy the peace by making short private flights around the area. Normal souls can only enjoy the aerial views when they pay an entrance fee and climb the stairs.
That means a ten to fifteen minute non-stop ascent, when you are fit enough. The stairs for going up and down have been neatly divided. Halfway there is a lookout (mirador) as well to have a rest.
Up at the platform, and ten metres higher on the lookout tower, is a more than sufficient reward for all the effort. In 360 degrees is a sprawling landscape, with a lake permeating all corners, and dozens of islands and peninsulas. Some of them with luxury villas: This is truly one of the loveliest places in Colombia to live.
The sight is almost surreal, a scene from a movie. It is hard to imagine, but in the eighties this was still a normal hillside region. But in 1984 and 1987 the two parts of the Punchina Dam were built. It is the biggest electrical facility in the country, and was responsible for the creation of the Punchina reservoir.
So this entire region looked different four decades ago. But what a dreamlike view it now is, with small bridges connecting all the different parts.
Up at the rock you can eat and drink as well. Be careful with alcohol though, you still have more than 650 steps down as well. After that… cheers!
Good to know
- Sotrasanvicente buses leave from the Medellin North terminal (close to Caribe metro station) on average every thirty minutes and makes a stop at El Penol before reaching Guatape. Return buses leave from the Sotrasanvicente terminal at the Malecon (boulevard) in Guatape, every 15 to 30 minutes in the afternoon until around 7pm
- there are many other things to do in the area, mainly watersports. Lanchas (small boats) travel around the lakes, speedboats and jetskis are readily available, ziplining is another adrenaline option. Opposite the rock is the Los Recuerdos hotel, which is also the harbour for the Yate Majestic, a catamaran restaurant that goes on two hour tours on the lakes. A bit closer to Guatape is the Luxe, a hotel by the famous (and expensive) Charlee group
- Guatape is a thirty minute walk, or take a rikshaw. It’s a beautiful, colorful town with a classic central square as well. Flooded by tourists during the day, but in the evening it finds its peace again, which might justify a night in a hotel
- people often refer to the rock as ‘Guatape’, but it is the Piedra del Penol. It is named after the other nearby town, El Penol. Both pueblos have laid claims on the rock
- weather: you are at around 1’900 metres here. Which means it is on average five degrees colder than Medellin, but still in the 20-23 degrees region every day so very pleasant. Come on a clear day for the best views, but be prepared for the strong sun