Guatape is a small town where every South American stereotype comes together in a bright splash of Latin American energy. Situated in Colombia, Guatape is not quite a secret, not yet a big player in the tourism stakes but still a tourist town, just without the international visitors.
Camera in hand, I strolled the whimsically coloured lanes. Already a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colouring, made even more blinding by the gaudy Christmas lights strung across the slender alleyways. Like kindergarten for adults.
Down side streets I came upon little fan-cooled shops selling the usual tourist baubles: magnets, postcards, hats. Oven mitts? Okay, not so typical.
We rode awkward rusty bicycles in the warm and drowsy sun around the lake into town. The streets were peaceful and hushed with that pre-Christmas glow that puts everyone at ease.
In the mornings Jack and I would talk and watch the slow pace daily life. We ate grilled corn from street stalls in the evenings, lazing around petting the stray dogs.
We visited in December – what should have been the busy season of this tropical country on the Caribbean, yet each restaurant was empty, a single lonely Santa Claus fixed in the centre of the lake while nearby vacant boats sat patiently.
On one day we mustered the energy to climb the 659 steps up the El Peñon granite monolith with a handful of others, the lingering drizzle cooling us on the long winding ascent.
We needed Guatape. The near constant daily buses across the south of Colombia had worn us down. Unable to travel at night due to dicey bandit activity, we crossed the border from Ecuador and made our way up north. We holed up in the small towns of Pasto and Popayan before catching another eleven hour bus to Medellin, only to find the large city sapped us further. So the morning we arrived in Guatape, we felt released from travel. Here was our next temporary and goofy home. How charming.
Where we stayed:
Rock a Town Hostel for $9 a dorm bed. Beds are a little on the firm side but we found we had our dorm to ourselves for the week so it was like having our own private room. They have a well equipped kitchen, bicycles for rent and a flat roof to sip beers and watch the sunset over the lakes.
Where we ate:
We chose to cook our own food most of the time. The one place we ate lunch everyday was the tiny bus station restaurant, where for $3 we relished a thick bean soup, a plate of rice, chicken and salad with a fresh pressed juice.
How to get there:
Buses leave from Medellin on the hour every day but usually hang around until full before departing. The two hour trip costs $6 per person.
Climbing El Peñon will cost $5 for a taxi to the entrance, or alternatively catch the local bus for $1 but expect a moderate hike up to the base of the rock.