It claims to have the best view in the world and once you’ve climbed the 600 plus steps you’ll realise why. With a panoramic view to rival the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro (or so I am told), Guatape in Colombia will literally take your breath away.
As you gaze at the view, at the mass of water that snakes its way through lush green islands, it’s easy to forget that these aren’t even islands at all.
Created by a hydroelectric dam which provides 30% of the electricity to Colombia, over 5000 acres of land was purposely flooded back in the 1970’s with the hilly landscapes creating an island view.
The best view is on top of the Rock Guatape or La Piedra del Penol, a rock which itself has caused a divide. The town Penol claim it's theirs and the people from Guatape claim the same. So much in fact that they went to the extremes of painting the name of their town all over it but only got so far as ‘G' and half of the ‘U' and then fell off died (or so rumours say). Now the letters ‘GI' stand tall on one edge.
It only takes an hour max to climb up and although it looks steep, it’s a pretty easy climb with chances to stop on the way and admire the tiny houses and lush hilltops, and once you get to the top, there’s a wide viewpoint with souvenirs and refreshments.
The town of Guatape is so colourful with buildings covered in ‘zócalos,’ 3D decorative wall art which depicts village life and is on nearly every building in the historic part of the city centre. Even the poorer neighbourhood has been transformed and is painted in vibrant colours.
Visit on the weekend and you’ll be surrounded by street stalls selling art and souvenirs and people zip lining along the lake as numerous boats make the trips around the hilly islands.
Not far down the road is the former town of Old Penol, a town with an even more exciting history. Not that you can see it, as it was flooded 35 years ago to make way for the dam. Just a giant memorial cross sits in the lake marking the spot where the old church lay under its murky waters.
But not all is lost as nearby is a replica of the town of how it was before its watery days…
How to get to Guatape
I got to Guatape by car which took 2 hours from the city of Medellin. Buses leave the north terminal and pass through El Penol and the entrance to the rock, costing approx $12,000 pesos.
If you visit on a day trip, make sure you buy your ticket beforehand as the last bus back to Medellin leaves at 6.30pm or 7.45pm on Sundays. There is accommodation in the area if you’re looking to stay for longer and the area is really safe for a solo female traveler.