If you've chosen to travel to Medellin, Colombia, you're obviously an adventurous soul. I have a very good sense that after having spent a day or two in the overwhelmingly crazy and chaotic city, you may want to escape the sprawling city and find a bit of calm and charm in the holiday town of Guatape.
Guatape is a very beautiful, colorful small town east of Medellin that you can get to in just 2 hours by public bus or car.
We chose to arrange for a private driver through our hotel (The Charlee Hotel) and we're so glad we did. Our driver was Carlos, a local of Medellin, took us to several extra stops along the way that we would't have experienced by taking public transportation.
Our first pit stop was to a road side fruit stand where Carlos introduced us to a mind-boggling selection of fruits that we had never seen or heard of before. We sampled the likes of zapote, guava and took away a bag of mangostinos for the ride ahead of us.
After driving through lush coffee plantations, our second quick stop was in the quaint town of El Penol which is on the way to their nationally known tourist attraction, La Piedra (the stone) or also known as El Penol.
The bus from Medellin will stop at El Penon de Guatape and of course Carlos included this must see attraction into our itinerary. Once off the bus, for a few dollars, you can hire a tuk tuk or horse to take you up to the base of this 10 million-ton monolith or you can hike up. Carlos took us straight to the base where we found ourselves staring up the back side of the largest laced up wedding gown in the world. It's actually a set of zipper stairs that will have you climbing 740 steps if you hike all the way to the highest view point.
The entrance ticket is less than $5 USD. It's a legitimate little hike up to the view point. I was surprised to see that there were actually some medical staff members at the half way point waiting to help people who underestimated the climb.
Once you've had several rest breaks and have passed through several gift shops and a snack bar, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding country side and it's spectacular lakes.
Carlos told us that no hike to the top was complete with out a Michelada. It's a mexican beer with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices and peppers. I think it helps with getting rid of the burning sensation in your lungs once you've reached the very top view point. Or maybe that was all in my head.
Back into the car after spending about an hour at "The Stone", we reached the vibrant town of Guatape. The area around this town is the so called Hamptons of Medellin and it's obvious why this is a vacation getaway for many city residents. It's slow paced, bright and charming. Here you'll see the homes and stores vibrantly painted and detailed with frescos depicting daily life of the town and surrounding area. Stop into the many shops selling Wayuu Mochica Bags. These are made by local tribal women and take about a month to make so don't expect to get them for cheap. You'll find them selling for around $35 USD as compared to $100 USD if you wait to buy one online at home.
Your afternoon should be spent slowly strolling the cobble stone streets, photographing one of the most colorful towns in the world, cruising up and down the waterfront promenade and eating the local fare.
Carlos recommend we eat at La Fogata. The smells from their barbecues and being situated right across the street from the lake, have people lined up to order the grilled trout and the traditional bandeja paisa. A protein overload of pork cracklings, ground beef, sausage, beans, avocado, fried egg and an arepa. Often times washed down with sangria and beer.
If interested in hiring a private driver, we can highly recommend Carlos. His knowledge of the area was impressive, his english is great and he was incredibly friendly and professional.