Known simply as La Piedra, La Piedra Peñol (8am-6pm daily, COP$10,000) is a giant rock monolith that soars 200 meters (650 feet) into the sky from the scenic and meandering Embalse Peñol-Guatape, an important reservoir covering some 64 square kilometers (25 square miles) that is an important producer of hydro-electric energy for the country. There’s been quite a rivalry between the towns of El Peñol and Guatape over the years, over which town can claim La Piedra for their own. It is located between the two, a tad closer to the Guatape side. Things digressed to a point where folks from Guatape began to paint their town’s name in large letters on one prominent side of the rock. People from El Peñol were not amused, and this giant marking of territory was halted by authorities. Today all that remains of that brouhaha is what appear to be the letters “GI.”
The 360-degree views from the top of La Piedra over the Guatape reservoir and Antioqiuan countryside are worth the toil of climbing up over 600 steps, in a ramshackle brick and concrete stairwell that is stuck to the rock, to the top. To celebrate your feat, you can have a drink at one of the snack bars there.
In front of La Piedra, there is a statue of the man who first climbed the monolith in 1954. Inspired by a priest, Luis Villegas López and two friends took five days to slowly climb up cracks in the rock. They had to deal with a beehive and a rainstorm along the way, adding to the challenge. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in Antioquia. From the bottom of the rock, look up and notice the hundreds of bromeliads growing along the sides of it.
La Piedra can be visited several ways. You can walk from Guatape, which takes 45 minutes. (Sunscreen and water are essential.) You can bike it, although the road that winds its way up to the rock entrance is quite steep. You can take a mototaxi from your hotel (COP$10,000), or you can hop on a Jeep from the Parque Principal (between Cras. 28-29 and Clls. 31-32) in Guatape. It’s best to make your visit during the early morning hours or late in the afternoon due to potent sun rays.
The town is surrounded by a large reservoir operated by EPM, the Medellín utility company. The reservoir was built in phases during the 1970s and was not without controversy, as the flooding of the area began without the full consent of the inhabitants. Finally all families were resettled by EPM by 1979, and the town of El Peñol gradually became covered with rising waters, with only a church steeple remaining as a reminder of the town’s past.
A popular excursion is to take a boat tour with brothers Luis and Rodolfo Londoño (cell tel. 312/794-7150 or 312/236-5783, COP$50,000-100,000 per boat) to some of the islands of the reservoir. A standard stop on the tour is to (or rather, above) the submerged town of Viejo Peñol. It was flooded on purpose during the construction of the reservoir and nearby dam in 1978. The only real remnant of the town is a large cross rising out of the water. A small historical museum displays old photos and historical memorabilia from the old town on the waterside. These tours typically last 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.