Guatapé is a town situated in the North West of Colombia, in the Antioquia region, only 90 minutes outside of Medellín. It is bordered by the Peñol – Guatapé reservoir, one of the largest dams in South America. The dam was built by the Colombian government in the 1970s for a hydro-electric dam. In order to create the reservoir, over 6000 hectares of land were flooded, completely submerging the town of Peñol. The edges of the lake are characterized by clusters of small islands, including the central “Fantasy Island” where you can book a stay in a quaint cabin and spend a few days relaxing on the lake. The reservoir is also very popular for water sports – many people visit for the awesome fishing, jet ski and sailing opportunities.
Pablo Escobar’s ‘La Manuela’ estate is also located on the shores of the Guatapé lake. The notorious drug lord, also known as “the king of cocaine” due to his cartel being responsible for 80% of all drug smuggles into the US at the height of his career, built the house as a holiday mansion and named it after his daughter. He used it for years as a base for his drug-transporting planes and during this time the peaceful town became too dangerous for visitors. The estate was left in ruins after a rival cartel planted explosives inside in 1993. Nowadays you can take a fascinating tour around the dilapidated estate which is now crumbling and covered in overgrown vegetation. You can still see the shells of the double walls built to hide cocaine and drug money, old tennis courts, the swimming pool, disco and the rooms where the 120 members of his security staff slept. There’s also a collection of abstract graffiti to enjoy.
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For those lovers of the outdoors, Guatapé’s beautiful natural surroundings make it the perfect place for a refreshing hike. Local guides can lead you deep into the dense surrounding forests along a stream that will eventually give way to a stunning waterfall, where you can cool off by leaping into the swimming hole down below.
The main attraction in this area however is the majestic “Piedra del Peñol”. It is a rock that stands at over 700 feet tall which formed millions of years ago. It used to be worshipped by the ancient native indian tribes of the region and has been the subject of a long dispute between the communities of Peñol and Guatape, who can’t agree on ownership. The people of Guatapé took it upon themselves to claim the rock by painting the name of their town upon its northern face in giant white letters. However their rivals soon caught on and intervened, leaving just the “G” and half the “U” complete.
A view point tower was built on top of the rock for people to admire its magnificent view over the lake and surrounding towns and forests. A steep stair case was created in the rock’s only vertical crevice, with a total of 640 steps zig zagging to the top. The idea came after the first people to climb the rock did so with just a wooden plank. The rock is still popular among rock climbers with about 50 different routes to choose between, all suitable for different abilities ranging from beginner to advanced. The more dare-devil amongst tourists can attempt one of the challenging climbs with overhangs, crags and fewer footholds. Whatever your ability, though, there are expert guides to show you the ropes (literally!)
After your long day of exploring you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants where you can put your feet up – you can even grab a beer on top of the rock! It’s an all-around must-vis
it for an epic day trip.
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