Headed to Guatape and planning to make the semi-strenuous climb up La Piedra del Peñol? Here’s everything you need to know (and more) about the Guatape rock! When to go, what to wear, and most importantly, what to eat at the top!
If you’re headed to Guatape, there’s a good chance you’re planning to hike Piedra del Peñol. And for good reason – it’s easily the most iconic thing to do in this colorful lakeside pueblo! It practically towers over Antioquia, Colombia, with spectacular, sweeping views from the top. I mean, just look at that photo! Views for days!
And before we get into it, let’s start off with this, because it can be quite confusing. La Piedra del Peñol, the Guatape rock, The Stone of El Peñol, Piedra de Guatape, and El Penon de Guatape are all referring to the same exact massive monolith towering over the town. It’s also simply known as La Piedra (The Rock). It’s got plenty of names, but don’t let that fool you. There’s only one 220-meter rock jutting out of the landscape. Phew – and yes, that means only one rock to climb.
Psst, in spanish, the rough translations are:
- Piedra = rock or stone
- Penon = mass of rock
Guatape and Penol are neighboring towns, so with those 4 words, you’ve got a lot of combinations for the Rock of Guatape. I’ll be using these names interchangeably throughout the post, because well, there’s not one specific name for it.
But whatever you wanna call it, there’s no doubt it’s one of the main tourist attractions in town. Piedra del Peñol is visible pretty much anywhere you go, and as you approach it (by walking or tuk-tuk), you’ll really see just how massive this granite rock is. (Okay, so it’s also composed of quartz and feldspar and mica… I think.)
A few interesting FAQS about Piedra del Peñol (The Rock of Guatape)
- The first person who climbed La Piedra del Peñol did so in 1954. They didn’t have the safe smooth stairs (and handrails) like we do – they scaled the side of the rock in its crevice and then repelled down. What a massive feat that must have been! Isn’t it wild when you think about how things were accomplished way back when?!
- Piedra de Guatape is one of the largest monoliths in the world at 220 meters tall. The Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro (where Christ the redeemer stands), Uluru in Australia, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (California) also make it on this list.
- Only ⅓ of the rock’s height is visible. This means, beneath the surface and that glistening lake, there’s still another ⅔ of rock! Wild!
- The monolith completely stands out in its landscape! Typically, when there’s massive rocks, there’s other massive rocks nearby. Not the case with Gautape rock. It is surrounded by grassy plains, lakes, and other flat surfaces.
- The rock is almost entirely smooth! The stairs are wedged into the one long crack in Piedra de Guatape – and that’s what you and thousands of other annual visitors will climb to the tippy top!
- Guatape Rock is a natural formation, but the lake is man-made. Yup, half and half! We’ll get into this a bit below.
History of El Penol
Guatape rock has quite a long and fascinating local history. Experts believe the rock was formed over 70 million years ago, and worshiped by the Tahami people, indigenous to the region at the time. Nowadays, the original village of El Peñol lies underneath the famous stone. Yup – an entire village submerged under the lake! Wait, what?! How wild and crazy is that?!
Let me explain….
Guatape was once a farming community dedicated to livestock, mining, and agriculture. It was founded in 1714, and then became a municipality in 1867. All very typical up until then for those times.
But then, in 1970, the Colombian government decided, hey, let’s switch things up! They flooded all the surrounding hills and valleys and even the original village of El Penol (yes, where people lived!). Why do such a thing?! To create a network of freshwater lakes.
ON PURPOSE. Like, what?! Super bizarre! You can even see the cross where the old church once stood when the water falls below a certain level.
Yes, people were displaced and lost their homes, and were thankfully given compensation and new homes on higher ground. But they had to give up their old lives, their entire village, their homes, and their memories. Super sad when you think about it.
Why? To construct a huge hydroelectric complex and the current Peñol-Guatapé reservoir.
This 5500-acre reservoir and dam currently generates a third of the energy in all of Colombia, so I guess you can say it’s kinda important. But those poor people – so sad. And this just happened about 50 years ago!
El Penol Today
Since then, the two nearby towns, Guatape and El Penol, have fought over who the rock belongs to. And more likely, who gets the tourism money it collects. I get it – it’s a huge tourist attraction bringing in a whole lot of pesos.
Guatape decided they won (I have no clue how, haha), and decided to claim it once and for all by starting to write the town’s name on the side. You can still see the two huge G U in bold, yellow letters on one side of the rock. El Penol stepped in before they could finish.
This is why there’s so many names for the rock! Both towns claim it as their own! But thankfully, there’s only ONE massive rock to climb!
Logistics of Climbing Piedra del Peñol
When to Visit The Famous Guatape Rock
There’s never a horrible time to climb up La Piedra del Peñol, but like most tourist attractions, some days are better than others. Here’s when to visit!
Time of year: Since the temperature doesn’t change too much during the year, there’s not really a best time to visit Guatape. It tends to rain a lot no matter the season (which is why you’ll see more cloudy photos than those with intense sunshine), with the rainiest season from May to November. However, we encountered a massive thunderstorm in late March, so…. you really never know what you’re gonna get!
Crowds: In terms of crowds, Guatape will be at its busiest during the Christmas and Easter holidays. You’ll find it way busier on the weekends than during the week, as locals head from Medellin to Guatape to spend relaxing weekends at the lake.
With that being said, if you’ve got flexibility in your Colombia itinerary, aim to visit Guatape during the week – it’ll be far less crowded.
Time of day: Head to Guatape rock as early as possible! Entrance to Piedra de Guatape opens at 8am, and if you can, I highly recommend arriving as soon as you can buy a ticket. As the day goes on, the rock and its stairs get increasingly more crowded.
I think we can all agree that being squished between hordes of tourists ALSO walking up 740+ steps at varying speeds isn’t the most fun.
Plus, the air’s typically cooler in the morning which will make the climb more refreshing and less hot and sticky.
How to Get to La Piedra del Peñol
Getting to Guatape
First things first, you’ll need to get yourself over to Guatape, as that’s where Piedra de Penol is located! The town is crazy colorful, and you’ll wanna explore before/after climbing up the giant Guatape rock!
Coming from Medellin it’s super easy; there’s essentially three ways to get to Guatape:
- Public Bus
- Guided Day Trips
A little about each:
1. Public buses run from Terminal Norte in northern Medellin each and every day from 6am to 7pm. They take about 2 hours, and are pretty comfortable! No bad things to say about the bus! Tickets cost 17,000COP per person each way, which comes out to roughly $4.25. Talk about an absolute steal! Buy them from Counter 14 downstairs, which is where you’ll find the Sotrasanvicente & Guatape La Piedra company who serve Guatape.
Psst: If you’re only in Guatape for a day and taking the bus from Medellin, you can ask the driver to stop at Piedra del Peñol before ending its journey in town. It’s actually a tad bit cheaper than bussing all the way to Guatape Town, so you can tell the ticket attendant at Sotrasanvicente & Guatape La Piedra and you’ll pay a slightly cheaper fare.
2. Taxi/Uber: Want zero hassle at all? Consider taking a taxi all the way from Medellin to Guatape! The ride should cost about $35USD, and take roughly 2 hours. Not terrible if you’ve got a few friends to split the bill with, or had a few too many aguardiente shots the night before and don’t think you’ll make it on the bus.
Plan to take the bus back to Medellin though, since you’ll have a hard time finding a taxi to take you all the way back to the city.
3. Guided day trips are super popular to get from Medellin to Guatape. If you’ve only got time for one day in Guatape, and want the day to go super smoothly, sign yourself up for a day trip! Being 2 hours away each way, if you don’t leave super early, you’ll waste half the day on the bus anyways.
Make the most of your day and sign up for a day tour! These Guatape tours show you the best of the best of town (with time for climbing up El Penon, wandering the colorful town, and even lunch and a boat trip), and are super inexpensive. And they’re a really good value, at just around $35 a person! Take the easy way out – there’s no shame in doing so!
For way more specifics on how to get from Medellin to Guatape, read this post about everything you need to know for your upcoming trip to Guatape! Besides describing in detail how to get there, it’s got all my favorite things to do, whether I think a day trip or overnight trip is best, and what/where to eat!
How to Get from Guatape Town to El Peñón de Guatapé
Thankfully, it’s quite simple to get to the rock of Guatape once you’re in Guatape town. There’s essentially 4 ways to reach the massive monolith:
1. Tuk-Tuk from Guatape Town: We chose to take a tuk-tuk from Guatape town right from the bus station (where we got dropped off that morning). You can also find plenty of tuk-tuks hanging around waiting for passengers near the massive fountain across from Our Lady of Carmen – the town’s ‘iglesia’ (church).
The rides are short at just around 10-15 minutes, and cost 12k pesos for 2 people. Thankfully, the price is controlled so no need to haggle and you don’t need to worry about unfortunately getting overcharged. You’ll need cash for the tuk-tuk so make sure you have enough for both ways.
And lemme tell ya – riding in a tuk-tuk is an experience in and of itself! It’s basically a 3-wheeled colorful clown car, and tons of fun! Highly recommended if you’ve never ridden in one before (I had previously in Guatemala and Thailand, but will never give up a chance for another fun ride!).
2. Bus from Guatape Town: I don’t have tons of information on this as we chose to tuk-tuk it over to El Peñón de Guatapé. I know the bus departs from the Guatapé main station and takes about 15 minutes to reach the rock of guatape. The bus ticket shouldn’t cost more than $2USD.
3. Walking! Wanna stretch your legs before climbing up El Penol?! You can make the 45 minute walk from town to the base of the rock. I heard there’s a cool swinging bridge, so that’d be neat to check out. While the views are pretty spectacular, plan for heat and humidity (yes, typically year around) and the walk is completely uphill. So… be prepared! Walking is free though!
4. Driving and Parking at El Penol: If you’re visiting Guatape yourself by car or motorbike, you can easily park your vehicle at the base of the rock for about $.50 USD. I don’t know if I’ll be braving those windy Colombian roads myself anytime soon though!
The Guatape Rock “Hike“
Climbing La Piedra del Peñol
Climbing up La Piedra del Peñol is one of the most classic things to do in Guatape. And for good reason! It boasts some of the best views in the entire world (I don’t lie). The view is absolutely spectacular – there’s a reason it’s become pretty insta-famous over the last few years!
But it’s not for the faint of heart – La Piedra Del Penol is over 700 feet high with a whopping 740 concrete steps.
And boy is it a semi-strenuous climb! I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath and let my tired legs rest. I call them “photo stops”, haha. My marathon-running husband was just fine, so it really depends on your fitness level.
The staircase literally zig-zags straight up the side of La Piedra de Guatape. Did you hear me – STRAIGHT UP. Climbing Guatape rock is definitely pretty challenging, but hardly unmanageable. If I can do it, you can do it.
The stairs are numbered every 25 steps or so, which is awesome and frustrating all at once. On one hand, you get to see just how many steps you’ve already climbed. But if you’re just getting started, it’s kinda a slap in the face when you realize you’re hot and tired and you still have 500+ more. But keep on trekking – the views are worth it in the end, promise!
Psst: The steps up felt pretty safe, but will be quite slippery if it’s rained recently. Be extra careful! Also, there’s lots of traffic on the steps at peak times, so if you’re going on the slower side, let people pass you.
If you can’t make it to the very top for any reason, don’t fret. There’s an observation deck right around the halfway mark. And honestly, the views are spectacular along the entire climb. But I’d focus on making it up. Once we got to the top?! Those stunning views of the lake were more than worth the tough climb.
At the Top
Views, views, and more views! Once you reach the top, you’ll get an absolutely spectacular 360-degree bird’s eye view of the lake and nearby towns. This is the highest point in all of Guatape, and I promise you, all the huffing and puffing is well worth the effort. After seeing plenty of photos on IG and online, I promise you the views are even better in person.
You’ll get panoramic views of Guatape Lake, all the little islands, and the deep blue-green water. Absolutely mesmerizing. Reminded me a tiny bit of the fjords in Norway on our Preikestolen hike (ok, fine, maybe just in the slightest). But this is NOT what I pictured Colombia to look like! Did you?!
We even witnessed a marriage proposal at the very top! Whether the girl said yes is another story, haha. I think she eventually decided, but boy was the crowd worried for a few moments there.
Unfortunately it started downpouring a few moments after we made it to the top, but the rain quickly subsided and we got to witness the views we came up for. Take all the photos you want – I doubt you’ll be climbing up Piedra del Penol again on this trip.
Relax and Indulge! Once you make it up and have gotten all your pictures, it’s time to relax and soak up the views! At the top, you’ll see a few restaurants, souvenir gift shops, and picnic tables and chairs.
Treat yourself to whatever you damn well please – you just walked up 700+ steps! Salty mango micheladas (a speciality over here), fresh fruit, ice cream, and obleas (yummy Colombian wafers slathered with caramel) await!
At the sake of sounding like my mother, pace yourself with the (alcoholic) drinks! Sure, you just climbed up a few hundred steps (for which you should be damn proud of), but… you still gotta make it back down! You don’t wanna be tipsy walking down 740 steps – that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Be safe and smart and your body will thank you. If it’s hot out, definitely hydrate at the top, with some water!
Head back down!
You’ll be glad to know there’s separate sets of staircases for those going up the rock and those coming down. If not, everyone would be running into each other and the whole thing would be absolute madness!
My legs felt like complete jello after about 100 steps down, but it was honestly not that terrible. And way less excruciating than climbing up. Again, take breaks when you need to, and hold on to the handrail (I was holding on for dear life most of the way down).
This is actually when that massive thunderstorm I was talking about started. We had about 75 steps left to go, and essentially got stuck on the flooded stairs! It was wild I tell ya, and something we’ll never, ever forget.
What to Wear and Bring
Remember, you’re walking up 740+ steps (and then back down) – BE COMFORTABLE! Depending on the day, you may wanna bring/wear a rain jacket and/or sweater. The weather changes super frequently over here!
I wore the farthest thing from workout clothes – a short dress and sandals, haha. It wasn’t the most practical on the way down (since we ended up getting stuck in a wild thunderstorm), but I managed! I’ll say this – know your comfort level.
Most people wore work out pants/shorts or jeans, and I can’t imagine wearing something so constricting up all 700+ steps! I was perfectly fine in my dress.
A few additional tips:
Bring (and use!!!) lots of sunscreen: Guatape gets hot and the sun is crazy strong over here. It’s near the equator AND at a higher elevation; what do you expect?! You don’t wanna get a nasty burn! Slather on that sunscreen; yes, even if it’s cloudy! Sun rays can peek through no matter what.
Wear practical shoes: If you’re a dress and sandals kinda girl – do it! Plenty of people wear them (myself included). I’d just make sure to choose a sandal that’s securely strapped to your foot – meaning no flimsy flip flops! Sneakers will always be your best bet, but since it’s hot and humid here, just know carefully chosen sandals will be fine.
Bring enough cash: You’ll need enough pesos for the ride over, the Guatape rock entrance fee, snacks/drinks at the top, and eventually, a ride back to town. 100k COP (~$25USD) will be plenty per person. 20k for entrance fee, 12k for a ride over (for two people), 12-15k for a ride back to town (for 2 people), and the rest for snacks/drinks at the top. You can bring a bit less if you only need a tuk-tuk for one.
Don’t bring too much: Remember, whatever you have with you on your body, you’ll be hauling up 740 steps. Don’t make the climb even more strenuous than it has to be by bringing unnecessary things. If you’re just in Guatape for the day, be extra mindful of this. We stayed the night so we were able to put whatever we didn’t need in the hotel room, but you may not have this luxury.
Wear a hands-free purse or backpack: As you climb up the rock, you’ll want to be able to hold on to the railing or steady yourself on the steps. Don’t make this difficult with a bag you need to hold on to. A crossbody works wonders here.
Don’t worry about bringing snacks. I say this because I’m that lady who always has granola bars and pretzels in her purse, especially when I’m doing any kind of physical activity. You’ll see plenty of snack stalls and cafes at both the base of the rock and at the very top, so you can treat yourself before/after.
Are you looking forward to climbing up Piedra de Penol?! The saturated blues and greens are definitely worth the hype – there’s truly nothing like it in the world!