Located just outside of Medellin this rock is a must-see when visiting Colombia. This guide will help you explore the Colombian monolith on your own and the nearby pueblo of Guatape.
What is The Rock?
El Peñón de Guatapé (The Rock of Guatape) is an isolated rock located an hour and a half outside of Medellin that raises 656 feet above the ground. The base is surrounded by tourist shops and restaurants and visitors can climb the 649 stairs up the rock to the top viewing platform.
The view from the top looks out to the man-made lake of Embalse Del Peñol. It’s a turquoise-colored lake that filled the valleys of the nearby land when a hydroelectric dam was created in the 1970s. The lake takes on a unique shape due to the hilly terrain in the area.
When did it form?
Geologist say the rock is about 65 million years old and is the creation of a stable mostly unsplit piece of bedrock that held up against erosion better than the more fractured bedrock surrounding the monolith.
How do you get there?
The easiest way to get to El Peñón de Guatapé is from Medellin. You can book as a day-trip tour from Medellin or travel there on your own. If travelling on your own I would recommend staying a night in Guatape, a beautiful lakeside pueblo (town) known for its colorful streets.
From Medellin to Guatape:
Head to Medellin’s northern bus terminal (Terminal del Norte) and take the Sotrasanvicente bus direct to Terminal de Guatape.
Cost: 16,000 COP (One way)
Time: 2 Hours
Frequency: Hourly to every other hour
Capacity: 10 Seats
Book Ahead: Red Bus Colombia
From Guatape to El Peñón de Guatapé:
Option 1: Tuk-Tuk
Guatape has plenty of colorful Tuk-Tuk vehicles that roam the streets and transportation can be picked up easily from Parque Principal de Guatapé.
Option 2: Taxi
Same as option 1 but in normal style.
Option 3: Walk
This is my preferred option because unless you are touring elsewhere in the area you won’t really get a great view of Guatape from afar. The walk is mostly along sidewalks and paths and is a straightforward route providing great views of Embalse Del Peñol and El Piedra.
For this option simply walk out of town towards El Piedra on the main road called El Peñol – Guatape. After crossing the bridge Puente La Culebra follow the signs up to El Piedra. The walk should take about 45 minutes.
What are the hours?
Approximately 8am to 5pm daily. I showed up to the gate at the base of the stairs around 730am and they were already letting people up so don’t restrict yourself to 8am as the earliest.
Guatape is the perfect little pueblo to self-explore for a day or an afternoon. Without needing much of a plan or itinerary you’ll come across the right experiences that you are looking for. Certain areas to keep on your radar though would be:
Calle 32: This street lines the water with restaurants and boats and is quite lively. This is a great place to get the popular Medellin dish La Bandeja Paisa.
Parque Principal de Guatape: It’s the main town square with a beautiful red and white church as well as many tour and restaurant offerings.
Plazoleta de Los Zócalos: This is a more tourist centric town square that is a must-see, it’s colorful and eccentric!
Most common stay for backpackers is Lake View Hostel. It’s a great choice if you're not sure already where to stay and it has a top-rated Thai restaurant on the third floor if you’re craving something other than Colombian Cuisine.
What to bring?
Travel Sunscreen – The area is mostly exposed to the sun and at 7,000 feet elevation the sun is stronger here than at sea level so having sun protection is highly encouraged.
Proper Footwear – Plan to have good footwear for walking up 650 steps.
Bug Spray – When I was standing on top of the rock there were swarms of insects, bug spray or better yet treating clothes and gear with Permethrin can make a huge difference.
The El Peñol and Guatape Town Feud
El Peñol is the town to the west of the rock while Guatape is the town to the east of the rock. Both towns have historically claimed the rights to the rock which is why you may see many different names for this rock. El Peñón de Guatapé, La Piedra del Peñol, La Piedra, or El Peñol.
On the drive in to Guatape you can see the letters “G I” painted in white paint on the rock which is from an attempt of Guatape to paint “Guatape” onto the rock. The graffiti plans were heard by the residents of El Peñol and a mob rushed over to stop the painting midway through leaving a G and unfinished U on the side of the rock.
While this is a heavily tourist attraction, it’s also one of the most unique places in the world to visit and a definite visit if you’re making a stop in Medellin. The best of Colombia is hidden in small pueblos like Guatape and a visit will create a memorable experience on your travels.
Above & Beyond Cercle Performance
A favorite DJ trio of mine performed a special performance on top of El Peñón de Guatapé the month after I visited. It’s an awesome set put on by Cercle who produces musical sets by famous artists at the world’s most beautiful destinations.
You can take a look at it on Facebook here!
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