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On Top of the World

Part Three: Day Trip to El Penol

Though this part of our trip was smack dab in the middle of three days in Medellin, I wanted to devote a whole post to it. To start, I would absolutely recommend taking this day trip through You can find them on TripAdvisor or go through their website. While their website is cheaper (and was our preferred method) there are some bonuses to using a third party website, including travel insurance.

The three of us woke up early, packed our bags and set out on a new adventure. Because we had decided to move hostels for the night, we had to bring our backpacks along for the adventure. Luckily they remained safely stowed underneath the carriage of the bus and we didn’t have to climb up El Penol with our luggage. We stopped for a pastallito and café con leche before the bus picked us up.

As we climbed up the rural mountain side in the coach bus it was hard to believe that just fifteen minutes below was the dense city of Medellin. Our first stop was for breakfast where we were served a classic Colombian breakfast: aerepa with cheese and pico. It was here we also got to taste the unique, sweet mountain tea. It was made from pure sugar cane and was absolutely delicious... I have been unable to find it (even on google) so I guess I'll just have to go back someday.

We continued to drive further down winding roads and farmlands, learning a little about the history of Maranilla, our first stop of the tour. This travel blog refers to Maranilla as the "Sparta of Colombia" if that peaks your interest. We were led through the narrow streets and learned some of the history of their quest for independence and the role Simon Bolivar played.

We continued deeper into the town and had the opportunity to try Physalis. It was tart but sweet, and resembled a kumquat, I think? We tried juices native to Colombia: Granadilla, Lulo, and Tomate de Arbol to name a few. Josh also got his carrot cake, so we all won the morning.

Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption

We were also able to go into Parroquia La Asuncion, where you are asked to enter with your right foot and leave with your left.

We stood on these steps, drank our juice and wondered if we had missed the bus or if it was just late.

As we drove, our guide pointed out this statue to us which represented the woman of the community who refused to be moved by the government.

Along the ride to El Penol, the tour played a video about our future climb up the rock. It warned, in translated English, that this hike would be tough on the meniscus. As a future physical therapist, I was both tickled and fearful of the warning.

Our guide also mentioned the letters you can see on the side of the rock. Apparently, the plan was to write "GUATAPE" on it, however the government decided they didn't need this attraction to be the next Hollywood sign, and ceased the plan. (More or less a direct quote).

Stop two brought us the lure of the trip: El Penol. As we stood at the base of the rock, we were happy to know that the stairs (all 740 of them) had been recently renovated. We sauntered up the first 300 steps with ease, and quickly realized this pace would be hard to maintain. Stopping for a few pictures along the way, we eventually made it to the top.

The view was unlike anything I could have imagined. The air was chilly and the sun was hot. Islands of green were met by seas of turquoise waters as far as we could see.

The triumph of the view was enough to make me forget my legs were used to taking the elevator in Plumer every day. The descent was tougher than the climb, and with every step I heard the meniscus warning replay.

Luckily, our menisci were in tact by the bottom of the stairs and it was time for lunch! We headed into Guatape, the city where El Penol is located, and sat for another classic Colombian meal.

We had Bandeja Paisa (explained in this post) and listened to a band play as we discussed our plan for the rest of the day in Guatape.

We followed our wonderful Tour guide through the city, where he explained the different meanings of the zocalos (colorful decorations) on the houses.

Flower zocalos may mean that the person who lives inside is a florist, or it may be a store that sells flowers

There are several different kinds: some represent occupation, family lineage, classic Colombian heritage or just sit as pretty geometric figures. Tour guides name showed us all of the different variations, and gave us a unique inside look into the town’s history.

The colorful nature of Guatape attracts many visitors, and this was definitely the most touristy part of the trip. In search of classic Colombian coffee and something sweet, we ended up trying an Oblea, the classic being arequipe between two waffles.

This day trip concluded with a long snooze back to the city. If you find yourself in Medellin, I would highly recommend taking this tour.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about my trip, tweet me at @SPTKlee or send me an email

Previous posts on Medellin and Barranquilla can be found on the Travel tab.

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