You don’t have to step far outside of Medellín before you encounter the most magical place.
Just 86 kilometers outside of the city is the stunning town of El Peñol, known for its gigantic rock. But, this rock is not any old rock, and once you’ve climbed its 600-plus steps, you’ll soon realize why.
With a view to rival that of the Harbor of Rio, El Peñol Monolith offers something I have never seen before: an archipelago of green islands as far as the eye can see. Simply stunning!
Jet skiers zoom through them, boats take people on trips on around them, and people even zipline along the top of them, and the ironic thing is that they are not even islands.
Forty years ago, this quiet mountainous landscape was dotted with colorful houses until plans for a hydroelectric dam to supply 30 percent of the electricity to the whole of Colombia were put into place.
Over 5,000 acres of land were purposely flooded, creating the lush, green island effect of today.
El Peñol Monolith is 650 feet tall, and although it looks like a challenge to climb, it’s relatively easy.
Steps snake their way to their top and allow for several stops with great viewing points as you climb. Then once you get to the top, there’s an even larger platform to see the spectacular sight in all its stunning glory.
There’s a visitors center near the summit and if you fancy buying a souvenir, just climb a few more steps to the gift shop or choose one of the many stalls at the base of the rock.
So where can you find this giant rock?
In El Peñol, although locals from the colorful town of Guatape believe it sits on Guatape soil, and even went as far as trying to paint the name of their town on the rock to claim ownership until the painting was brought to a halt by the protesting residents of El Peñol.
Rumor has it that the painters perished before they could finish the name, but whichever explanation you choose to take, the giant rock is a sight to behold and the unfinished letters stand tall against its backdrop.
The cost to climb the rock is 10,000 pesos ($5), and you pay at the entrance at the bottom of the steps.
Once you’ve conquered the rock, pay a visit to Old Peñol, a pueblo that sits in a watery grave.
This former pueblo was also flooded to make way for the new water flow, and only the memorial cross of the church is visible to onlookers as it protrudes out of the lake.
Apparently you can dive below but the visibility is meant to be quite poor, and observing the steeple from afar leaves a more mysterious impression.
You can also see a replica of the town as it was before it was flooded, forcing the residents to move.
The whole area of El Peñol gets busy on weekends with locals and families, and you’ll be surrounded by street stalls selling art and souvenirs and people ziplining along the lake as many boats make the trips around the hilly islands.
How to Get There
If you’re coming by bus from Medellín, take the bus from the north terminal (Caribe metro station).
Two bus companies, Sotrasanvicente and Sotrapeñol run regular buses from 6 a.m. which take you through El Peñol and the entrance to the El Peñol Monolith (also known as La Piedra).
The bus then goes onto the charming town of Guatapé, known as the Pueblo de Zócalos and famous for its colorful facades of wall art. If you decide to go onto Guatapé, you can buy your return bus ticket from the Sotrasanviente office in the square.
If you’re just staying for just a day, buy your return ticket before you board. Each way costs about 12,000 pesos ($6.40). The last bus returning to Medellín at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7:45 p.m. on Sunday and holidays.
Special Reader Discount
Use discount code MLTOURS when booking your tour to Guatape and El Peñol online with Medellín City Services and save 20 percent! If booking by phone or email, you can mention it as well.