Guatapé & El Peñón: Go for the Zocalos (Not the Rock)

We did a day trip from Medellín to Guatapé Colombia (not very creative, I know), taking the bus that runs every 20 minutes out of Medellin’s north terminal. Turns out, this bus was the most bumpy of the entire trip, so bad people started throwing up in bags and tossing them out the windows. Naturally, our seats were in the back row and I almost threw up, too.

El Peñón de Guatapé

Also called Piedra del Peñal or simply El Peñón, it’s the tall rock with a zig-zag staircase running up the side which has become well-recognized among travelers and an assumed part of the itinerary on any trip to Guatapé. We stumbled off the bus feeling ill and glimpsed the piedra from below, the harsh sun beating down on us. While it looks so cool from afar and in photos, viewing it up close is another matter. The base of the rock is lined with tourist shop after tourist shop selling variations on the same overpriced popsicle. We immediately determined El Peñón looked idiotic in real life and we hated it, and seriously debated skipping the climb altogether. However, after the terrible 2-hour bus journey we decided to see it through and forked over the money for the overpriced tickets.

The ascent took all of 10 minutes, most of which were spent walking slowly behind obnoxious tourists. On some steps, people sang and hoped for tips. At the top we were greeted with more overpriced fruit and popsicle stands. The view of the winding lake below was beautiful, but did not make up for the overall disappointment and regret for climbing the rock. After seeing hundreds of tall, beautiful rocks throughout our travels, we failed to see what made this one so special. I will say whoever had the idea to build the stairs up was very smart, and is now undoubtedly very wealthy.

Guatapé Colombia: Around the Town

Since our walk up the rock wasn’t really a hike, we decided to walk the 30+ minutes into town rather than taking the bus. Of course, it took longer than expected. But a view of beautiful zocalos lining the road leading into town made the walk worth it, and we paused to take in the wooden cutouts, bright colors and beautiful buildings. Arriving in the town we were greeted with even more colors and zocalos. We spent the day wandering around each and every side street and alley, visiting the Plaza de zocalo, and waiting for the food carts lining the main square to open. Unfortunately the malecon on the water was closed for construction, but we were repeatedly harassed about taking a boat cruise nonetheless.

As I was still feeling quite ill from the awful bus ride, the day wasn’t quite as enjoyable as expected. My recommendation is to skip the climb (you can snap a photo from afar) and spend your time in town. Spending a night in Guatapé Colombia might be fun, too, so you can fully enjoy the town’s charm, colors and culinary offerings.

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