There is a little town in Colombia called Guatape. Found just a couple of hours from downtown Medellin, it’s famous for La Piedra, a huge, 200 metre rock that’s over 70 million years old. You can climb to the top, climb all 740 steps to take you to the very highest point in the land; from there, you get the best view, the Colombian landscape stretched out in every direction.
My travel partner Kerri and I only heard of Guatape a few days before we visited – it’s how it is with most places I see when I travel. Perhaps we read about them in a guidebook or hear about them in passing, but for the most part the little towns I visit in my travels are ones that other tourists tell me about when we’re sharing beers in a hostel bar. “Go to Guatape,” someone told us. “You won’t regret it.”
We stayed in a hostel by one of the the lakes – most of the water around Guatape is a result of intentional flooding, and the large hydroelectric dam nearby provides nearly 30% of Colombia’s electricity. From the hostel, it was a short walk into the town sometimes called the Pueblo de Zocalos. Zocalo means “main square” in Spanish, and Guatape earned this name because of the scenes depicting village life painted on the bottom half of many of its colourful houses and shops. Always a sucker for a brightly painted town, it was a beautiful place to spend a day taking photos, fuelled by strong Colombian coffee and fresh lake trout.
While there are plenty of activities to keep one entertained in the area, we only spent one night there, eager to move south to Cali and Popayan. But we climbed that rock with gusto, and we saw what we could see in just over 24 hours. Sometimes the most memorable places in our travels are places we didn’t even know existed until we’re actually on the road, or places that are mentioned to us casually by another traveller. Until I was in Medellin, I hadn’t heard of Guatape, but it ended up being one of my favourite little stops in South America.