El Peñon de Guatapé (The Guatapé Rock) is a 200m high granite monolithic formation rising from the banks of a man-made lake. Declared a national monument in the 1940s, this giant rock is well worth a visit. Buses from Medellín run frequently taking about two hours. Ask the driver to drop you off at a gas station. Then you have to walk up the hill to the base of the rock, a parking lot with numerous stands with local handicrafts, and restaurants offering grilled meat and fish from the lake (mojarra and trucha). There is also a bronze statue of the first man that climbed the rock.
The entrance to climb the rock is 7.000 COP (December 2009). It has 649 steps to get up and the views over the lake and beyond are breathtaking. Half way you can take a short rest at a little viewing platform with a statue of Mary. At the top are a few bars/restaurants and souvenir shops. Make sure you climb to the roof of the three-storey tower for the spectacular 360° view. You will be delighted by the panorama of numerous islands and small bays in front of you as far as your eyes can see.
This was certainly one of the most interesting day trips I took around Medellín. It's a place where natural and man-made wonders came together to create spectacular surroundings and harmony.
I wanted to go paragliding for a long time. Medellín is an excellent place due to beautiful green landscape and prevailing northerly winds so I decided to do my first tandem flight here. I booked it in hostal Tamarindo and Natalie explained me how to get there. In the morning I took the metro to Caribe station and walked over to Terminal Norte. There are frequent buses to San Felix and the company is Expre-Belmira. I bought a ticket for a 9:15am bus which was just about to live. It was 2.800 COP (December 2009). Over the next 45 minutes the bus slowly winded its way out of the valley. I asked the driver to drop me off at Estadero Voladero. There is a restaurant and two paragliding offices.
It was easy to find Aeroclub. There were already four other girls, three of them for tandem flight and one for a practical class, and my instructor António. It did not take long until other instructors also arrived. They told us to walk up the hill. There was a wide open green space which served as the take off. The day was nice, though a little hazy. One girl was the first to fly and then it was my turn. I received instructions from António to run and and there we went! Down below beautiful green landscape unfolded, there was Bello, northern suburb of Medellín, and further to the south Medellín. We landed in Bello from where I took a bus back to Medellín.
The flight was 80.000 COP (December 2009). It lasted a little more than 15 minutes (it was supposed at least 20 minutes) and I wasn't very lucky with the instructor. But still, it was an unforgettable experience! The flight gives incredible sensation of freedom and would do it again if the opportunity occurs.
Guatapé is a pretty lakeside town with brightly coloured colonial houses and a pleasant plaza with a white and red parish church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen. A quiet town during the week, Guatapé receives more visitors at weekend when it is sometimes packed with Colombian tourists, especially from Medellín. A pleasant promenade along the lake shore fills up with boats that can take you out onto the lake. There is also a canopy across a section of the lake. Several restaurants and small hotels along the lake are available to tourists.
Guatapé is also known for its zócalos, the brightly painted boards along the façade's lower walls that adorn many of the houses. The residents decorated them with intricate sculptures, tied to the family and believes. Calle de los Recuerdos has the best examples of these fascinating public works of art.
There are hourly buses from Medellín to Guatapé. I stopped at El Peñon de Guatapé first. From there you can take a mini chiva to the town. They leave when there are enough people unless you are prepared to pay the price for the whole chiva. Since there were no other passengers I walked to the main road. It did not take long until a beautifully restored oldtimer jeep stopped and drove me to the town.
Santa Fe de Antioquia is the oldest settlement in the region, founded in 1541 by Jorge Robledo. It was the capital of Antioquia from 1813 until 1826 when the government moved to Medellín. A visit to this sleepy colonial town is a step back in time through quaint cobblestone streets. Many houses and churches are over 250 years old, making it the most well preserved colonial town in Antioquia. In 1960 Santa Fe de Antioquia was declared a national monument.
The town's historic centre looks very much the same as it looked in colonial times. Its narrow streets are lined with white-washed and pastel-coloured houses, and many have gorgeous courtyards decorated with plants and flowers. Strolling the old streets you come across some lovely plazas and there is impressive Iglesia de Santa Bárbara.
Santa Fe de Antioquia makes a great day trip for visitors of Medellín and it it's a popular weekend destination for Paisas. The completion of the tunnel in 2006 has cut travelling time to less than 1,5 hours.
All the fruit and vegetable coming into Medellín goes to Central Mayorista in Itaguí. It's an enormous area where you find huge market, supermarkets and restaurants serving the freshest and most delicious juices and fruit salads in Medelín. To get there you have to take the metro and get off at Ayurá station. From here it's about a 10 minutes walk. Take the bridge over the Rio Medellín and go straight. The Cantral Mayorista is on the left side after the gas station.
Once in Central Mayorista ask for Las Malvinas farmer's market. It's a huge warehouse type place with all the freshest fruits and vegetables in Medellín, and also the cheapest. The diverse offer of fruits is immense and many have probably not been tried or seen by most of the foreigners. You can get everything from mango, papaya, maracujá, pineapple, banana, orange, mandarin, melon and watermelon to lesser known but very delicious lulo, guanábana, curuba, feijoa, granadilla, tomate de árbol, mamoncillo, uchuva, guayaba and chirimoya. There are heaps of potatoes of all kinds, plantains, avocado and yuca. And don't forget to try delicious arepa de choclo con queso, the place that sells them is right at the market (see restaurant tip).
Not many people know about Las Malvinas so you will likely not see any foreigners. But if you like markets, especially fruits, then at Las Malvinas you'll be in paradise :) I bought two plastic bags full of tropical fruits, so much, that I hardly ate them all before I left Medellín :)
more pics in the travelogue
My first intension was to stay one night in Santa Fe de Antioquia, but as I heard most people visited the town on a daytrip from Medellín I thought I would do the same. Since the tunnel between Medellín and Santa Fe de Antioquia was completed in 2006 it only takes a little bit more than 1 hour between the two cities. And as I already had visited several small Colombian towns with colonial architecture I felt a daytrip would be enough for me.
Santa Fe de Antioquia was the first colonial settlement in the area and it was founded by Jorge Robledo in 1541. Santa Fe de Antioquia was the capital during Antioquia’s few years of independence, 1813 - 1826, but after that the capital moved to Medellín. Because of this, and as Santa Fe de Antioquia has not been along a main road and also because the town was declared a National Monument in 1960 the colonial architecture in the centre has been well preserved.
The town is lovely with its coloured one story colonial houses, cobbled streets and small plazas. There are at least four old churches and a couple of museums. The atmosphere is relaxed and there is not much traffic around the historical centre. The population in the town is about 12 500 inhabitants. As Santa Fe de Antioquia is only situated at an elevation of 550 metres the average temperature is 27 degrees C. That’s warmer than Medellín.
Nearly all courtyards of houses, restaurants and hotels do have lovely stone fountains. Usually they sit in courtyard gardens, and usually they are surrounded by a lush vegetation.
It's really fun to walk off the streets, and peak in the yards of the restaurants to find them (provided it's allowed). But well, a smile helps as always – the owners are mostly more than happy to show you their gardens and the fountains, at least this was my experience.
And again, if you want to see some more of these courtyards and fountains, check my photos, I have posted for Villa de Leiva.
Take the chance to feel the warm wind of Medellin.
Rent a bike a convertible or just walk. Feel the air.