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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Daniel, my host in Medellin, told me I had to make a day trip to Guatapé. Despite having limited time remaining before heading home, I adjusted my schedule accordingly and listened to Daniel’s advice. I’m glad I did because Guatapé ended up being my favorite place in Colombia.

Guatapé is less than 2 hours away by bus from Medellin’s north terminal. I was advised to get off of the bus 10 minutes before arriving in Guatapé to climb Piedra del Peñol, the iconic rock that dominates the landscape. The driver will know where to drop you off and you can either walk 15 minutes, take a taxi, or ride a mule to the rock. A small admission fee and 700 steps later, you reach the highest point for as far as the eye can see. The view overlooking a deep blue lake dotted with green islands is among the best I’ve seen anywhere.

From the rock, my traveling companion Majka and I took a ride to town in a funky little green convertible. After some negotiating and waiting, we went on a 90 minute boat tour of the lake with 8 others for $5 each. The lake attracts many weekend and holiday visitors from Medellin and the houses built on its islands show they are quite well-off. You even get to cruise by Pablo Escobar’s now-destroyed sprawling compound.

Guatapé lake is human-made and powers a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity to a third of Colombia. The town of Peñol once existed where the water now stands and its only remaining building has been turned into a museum. We stopped and docked the boat there, where we learned the history of the house that would become the museum as well as that of Peñol itself. It was informative and interesting.

Following the tour, we explored the town of Guatapé. A tremendous amount of consideration went into every aspect of this charming little town. Buildings are painted bright, bold colors and there are murals on the front of houses depicting village life. Streets in the center are made of small stones and even the streetlights have a historic, very aesthetically pleasing design.

It’s difficult to believe that Guatapé is not a top tourist attraction for Colombia. I have no doubt that it will eventually gain that recognition and can see UNESCO designating the place as a World Heritage Site; it’s that special. Guatapé earned my highest possible endorsement and I would love to go back and spend more time.

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