El Peñol, A Very Big Rock Indeed

by Stephanie Walsh on March 5, 2012 · 14 comments

in Colombia, South America, Travels

There is one way to describe climbing El Peñol, the gigantic 10,000,000 ton rock, also known as la Piedra del Peñol or Peñon de Guatapé in the Antioquia Department of Colombia; exhausting. It is definitely worth it though. The views from the top are incredible and the smug feeling that goes with conquering the steep climb is not bad either.

All 659 steps on the side of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

All 659 steps on the side of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

One Step at a Time

I guess the fact that we decided to walk to the rock didn’t help with our exhaustion by the time we had scaled all 659 steps of Piedra del Peñol. It was a decision fuelled by our recent motivation to do exercise daily. However when constantly traveling and arriving to new locations every few days, you are often in locations not necessarily suited to morning exercise, so we took off by foot in the direction of the giant chunk of rock projecting towards the sky in the far distance. I don’t think we ever considered the fact that once we reached El Peñol, we still had to scale it.

Me in front of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Me in front of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Despite that, the walk was pleasant, with beautiful views of the surrounding lake valleys and mountains and for most of the journey, we could see the great rock getting closer and closer, and in turn getting more daunting. The walk even included crossing a very wobbly wooden bridge suspended high above the road (we felt very Indiana Jones!). It took us about an hour to walk there, including stopping for pictures and taking one 5-minute rest on the very steep final hill.

Views on the way up at El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Views on the way up at El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Once we looked around the tourist area below the rock, full of expensive restaurants and souvenirs, we paid the $10,000COP entrance fee for Peñon de Guatapé (about $5 USD/€4) and began the ascent. Thankfully, the stairs have been improved in recent years from wooden (yes, wooden) to stone, and they have also added a separate smaller stairs for those descending.

1. Enthusiastically on step 1 of 659; 2. Collapsed at step 12; 3. So close and so exhausted; 4. I made it!

1. Enthusiastically on step 1 of 659; 2. Collapsed at step 12; 3. So close and so exhausted; 4. I made it!

The top of the rock consists of a small-ish fenced in area with a small hut for buying souvenirs, or a much-needed beer and another tall circular building built as a viewing point, where you can also climb to its roof. The top of the building, adds another few meters to the 2,135 height of El Peñol to allow for uninterrupted 360-degree views of the surrounding land for miles. I advise taking a nap while up there and enjoy the breeze!

View from the top of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

View from the top of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Andres on the roof of the viewing point of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Andres on the roof of the viewing point of El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Pride Rock; El Peñol vs. Guatapé

My favourite thing about Piedra del Peñol is the funny story behind the two giant letters painted onto the side of the rock (don’t ask me how they managed that!). The letters ‘G’ and the start of an incomplete ‘U’, were begun by the residents of Guatapé, who have claimed ownership of the rock for years despite the protests of the residents of El Peñol (also the name of the other nearby town) who also claim that the rock is theirs. Once the residents of El Peñol heard about the attempts of Guatapé to claim the rock, by painting their towns name onto it, they immediately created a huge mob to stop it. Typical feisty spirit of the Paisa´s in action (a nickname for Colombians from the Antioquia region)! 

Letters G and half of a U painted onto El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Letters G and half of a U painted onto El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Guatapé, Guatapé, Guatapé!

I loved Guatapé. The streets are so colourful, clean and another descriptive word beginning with C? But really it is one of the nicest towns I’ve been to in Colombia (I know I say that about almost every town) but it is also very different than any of the other places I’ve been. Every single building is covered in vibrant wall art known as ‘zócalos’. The zócalos are a tradition unique to Guatapé and found on every building in various styles, ranging from geometric shapes to historical depictions and often the downright hilarious. All the ‘zócalos’ were re-painted in 2011 in an initiative to encourage tourism, as Guatapé turned 100 years old and hosted the 2011 Guatapé ITU Triathlon Pan American Cup and Caribbean Championships.

Typical street in the very colourful Guatapé pueblito, Colombia

Typical street in the very colourful Guatapé pueblito, Colombia

Guatapé is a beautiful small town and I would recommend spending more than a day so you can enjoy the town as well as la Piedra del Peñol. On weekends, particularly Sundays, you will find the town a hive of activity especially down by the lake with visiting Colombian families, locals, tourists and backpackers enjoying the lakeside restaurants, the many water sports on offer and the temporarily constructed fairground attractions for kids.

Funny zócalos of Guatapé, Colombia

Funny zócalos of Guatapé, Colombia

Where to stay in Guatapé

We stayed at Hospedaje Guatapé, a hostel owned and ran by the community of Guatapé, with profits going back into the maintenance of the town. Rooms are very basic but super cheap ($25,000 COP/$14 USD/€10 per night for private double room with your own bathroom) and the staff are very friendly and helpful. However we made the mistake of taking a room at the front of the hostel, which had a small missing windowpane that let all of the noise of the outside street into our room. You never realize how noisy motorbikes or people are until you try and sleep with them passing right by your head.

Church in the main square of Guatapé, Colombia

Church in the main square of Guatapé, Colombia

How to get to Guatapé

Guatapé is about two hours from Medellin and can be easily reached by bus for $12,000 COP ($6.75 USD/€5) from the North Terminal in Medellin. Views of the countryside, on the way to Guatapé, are beautiful, with steep lush green hills covered in farm cultivations and small farmhouses dotted along the way. Vast lakes cut into the mountainsides, creating a series of valleys on the outskirts of the famous small town as you travel the winding roads through the mountainous region, typical terrain in a lot of Colombia.

More views from the top at El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

More views from the top at El Peñol, Guatapé, Colombia

Campesinos, local farmers in Guatapé, Colombia

Campesinos, local farmers in Guatapé, Colombia

The colours of Guatapé, Colombia

The colours of Guatapé, Colombia

Next Stop…Cali (via Medellin, again)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John G March 7, 2012 at 7:30 am

Looks amazing Stephanie. Great travel blog. Keep em coming!

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2 Stephanie March 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Thanks! Will do, have lots more posts to still put up!

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3 Liz April 17, 2012 at 3:02 am

You guys are giving me Columbia fever. Incredible pictures!

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4 Steph April 19, 2012 at 2:31 am

Thanks so much Liz!

We’ll keep trying to convince you until you come! :P

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5 Hannah May 18, 2012 at 8:14 am

The more I read your blog, the more I fall in love with Colombia! Your photos are so beautiful – I will have to bookmark every post and make sure I visit all of these places on my RTW trip :)

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6 Steph May 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

Aww thank you Hannah, what a compliment! Yes you definitely have to visit Colombia! It’s just gorgeous and so diverse! Come quick before the world finds out! ;)

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7 Shahbaz June 28, 2012 at 12:58 am

It’s awesome Stephanie, love to travel across the globe…… I hope one day my dream will come true….

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8 Steph July 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Thank you Shahbaz! I’m sure you will be able to travel some day too, you just need to make it a priority in your life! It takes some sacrifices too but it’s all worth it! :) Thanks for commenting

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9 Andrés M. January 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Great post Stephanie. However, I invite everyone to also visit other towns that have all the potential but are a bit off-the-beaten path and portray very authentic traits of Antioquian Colonial Architecture such as Concepción and Sonsón. Still, Jardín in Antioquia’s Southwest is still my favorite as it has a very special charm that you won’t find in any other town in Antioquia, or anywhere else in Colombia.

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10 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for commenting Andrés! I have heard a lot of amazing things about Jardín. We are currently located in Cali, so we would love to travel there soon to see it for ourselves! :)

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11 Allen Kirchhoff January 27, 2013 at 10:36 am

Hi Stephanie, My wife Sandra (Colombian), and I really enjoyed your pics and article on Guatape. we were in Guatape last year. when I first saw Guatape I felt that I was home. we plan on returning later this year and plan on buying a home on the lake! We live in Atlanta, Ga. And would like to spend Atlanta’s winter months in Guatape. hank you for writing positive articles about Colombia as to often they get a bad rap in the press. Keep up the good work.

Allen and Sandra Kirchhoff

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12 Stephanie Walsh January 30, 2013 at 11:33 am

Hi Allen, wow thanks! I’m really glad you and Sandra enjoyed my posts. Guatapé is stunning and it is still one of my favourite places I’ve visited in Colombia. Wow, having a home on the lake would be incredible…you can be one of those people that jet-ski around to get to the mainland! So cool! :) Good luck with the house hunting! Hope to see you back on the blog soon! :)

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13 nick August 27, 2013 at 5:41 am

hi there if you are interested in buying some property in guatape allen we have a webpage with a ton of stuff on ithttp://www.guatapeinvestements.com and would be willing to help you. we are owners of a hostel in guatape and have lived here for 3 years…if we dont here from you good luck.

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14 nick August 27, 2013 at 5:40 am

very nice description stephanie with some really nice photos but just one thing about guatape …..it turned 200 years old in 2011 and not 100,just thought id add this because it is very proud of of its history.
really nice piece on el pueblo del zocalos thank you

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