A few days ago, I arrived in Colombia for the first time since I spent 22 days here in January, 2015. During that introductory trip, I got to know a few of the country's most popular cities, including; Bogotá, Medellín, Santa Marta, and Cartagena, and decided that Medellín was my favorite. Needless to say, when I booked my two-week trip back to the area, I was very excited to return. After just three days since my return, however, I might have a new favorite- Guatapé!
Okay- comparing Guatapé to Medellín might be like comparing lulo and maracuya (those are Colombian fruits), but this little town definitely left an impression, and if you're flying into MDE, you'd be a fool to miss it!
How I Found It
By the grace of my dear friends, I've been staying with their family in a town called San Antonio de Pereira, which is just a short drive from Medellín Airport (MDE). It's a nice town in the countryside with a lot of history- The Constitution of 1863 for the country's independence was actually written here!
My friends have been looking into a potential move here, so this trip has been mostly about seeing what the options are, and exploring the land where they might want to live. They prefer their peace and quiet, and have many friends in the area, so I've been seeing a lot of it by tagging along for the search. Yesterday, our good friend, Diego, brought us to see some nearby farmland, which was more than impressive. I can't get over how green everything is in Colombia, and I've been reminded during these three days why they Medellín has been dubbed "The City of Eternal Spring."
Yesterday, Diego invited us to see his home in Guatapé, which he said would be a 45 minute drive east of San Antonio, which is in the opposite the direction that one would drive to get to the city of Medellín. So today, he picked us up at 8:00 a.m. in his pickup truck, and we embarked on one of the most beautiful drives I've ever taken.
If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Colombia, driving through the rolling hills of Antioquia is something that you simply must convince yourself to do. The vegetation, the views, and the humble people of the region will leave an impression in your memory that you'll take with you to the grave. The food probably will too!
Diego knows seemingly every back road, delicious restaurant, and person in the entire state of Antioquia, so about halfway through the awe-inspiring secret journey, he introduced us to a hillside restaurant where the local working people of the region eat. An empty rustic table welcomed us, and a glance around revealed chorizo (spiced sausage) hanging from rails, no doubt freshly made by the nearby farmers.
After few minutes, we were brought farm fresh eggs, arepas (a flat, somewhat thick bread made from corn), queso fresco (a very fresh and mild cheese), chorizo, and buñuelos (something like a fried cornbread), along with giant cups of milo (hot chocolate). Accept no substitutes- the real deal cannot be imitated! Stuffed to the brim, we carried on with our beautiful journey.
The Rock & The Reservoir
As we entered Guatapé, a giant monolith entered into view, known locally as "El Peñon." It's a towering feature seen from almost any location in the region, and one can climb the 740 steps if they wish for breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, the latter of which are submerged in giant reservoir (which they call a lake) that was created in the 1960s. This has had a profound affect on the community by introducing water sports, hotels, and dreamlike views.
Diego's home was situated beautifully on this reservoir in peninsula-like fashion with breathtaking views of El Peñon and the surrounding region. Beautiful plants, trees, and flowers highlighted all of the houses in the area, and I couldn't help but feel contempt for the media and the picture it has painted about this beautiful country. Thinsg have changed since the times of Pablo Escobar, and the mainstream media has a lot of catching up to do.
After a coffee and a tour of the lake on his boat, our friend Diego brought us into the charming little town of Guatapé, which is one of the most unique and colorful cities I've ever seen in my life. In fact, they are known to be one of the 30 Most Colorful Cities in the world!
Brilliant, contrasting colors highlight every detail in the maze of the shops and houses. It looks something like the "La Candelaria" region of Bogotá, with an ornately painted church and picturesque cobblestone streets that are fun to get lost in. Every building's facade is uniquely decorated with three-dimensional designs, carved into (or out of?) the stone and represents either the things that the shops sell, or the storied history of the family or region. How cool!
It was relatively quiet today, being that it was a Wednesday, and very enjoyable to walk around and have a beer in. I hear it gets pretty wild on the weekend though, so plan your visits accordingly! Artisanal shops and restaurants line the streets and most everybody was very friendly. This is one of those towns you could spend several days in without getting tired of it. And if you do- there are just so many great things to do and see nearby!
I'm excited to see the city of Medellín again, but this is a very different experience. If you're into quaint, artsy villages and the scenic, charming unknown, then you simply can't miss Guatapé.