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644 Steps to the Top: Colombia Vacation Day 1
After a great night’s sleep in their Colombian hotel, Denise Howell and her son were ready to begin their day filled with adventure and culture. Read along to see how their first day in Colombia went, you may find yourself booking your next vacation to Colombia right afterwards!
After about six hours of sleep in Hotel San Lorenzo de Aná, in Medellin, it was time to stop reading over the itinerary and get out and experience Colombia. It was hard to believe the time had finally come, but we were here, and extremely excited. Our hotel was small, basic, clean, had a TV in the room and a really pretty garden outside.
When my son and I left our room to get some breakfast we ran into my friend Lorri and her son Ryan. We all had enough time to grab some arepas, eggs, and some excellent coffee before we met our guide Stephanie in the lobby at 8:30am. A tiny car was waiting for all of us in the driveway, and before we knew it, we were on our way to the bus station to check out the surrounding mountains of Medellin and see El Peñol de Guatapé.
When we arrived at the Terminal del Norte bus station, it was busy but not packed. I could tell the boys were impressed by the place, mainly because there was no shortage of candy or sweets. We all
boarded the bus. Ryan and Tyler were able to sit together, while Lorrie and I sat behind them. The boys were both equipped with iPads and were itching to plug them in. Even though I would have rather had my son look out the window and appreciate the view, I felt it was wise to pick my battles and just enjoy the peaceful ride.
As we headed out of town, we followed the River Medellin and passed many elaborate Christmas displays, farmers markets and even the Central Mayorista. Once out of Medellin, the bus would stop every 15 to 20 minutes to let people on and off. At these stops, food vendors climbed aboard and traversed trough the aisle to sell their sweet snacks, things like chocolates or coconut filled bread. Once they were done selling, they stepped off and boarded new buses with new customers.
The drive was fascinating. There were farms with skinny horses, nurseries, and even small roadside cafes. Many of the structures we saw were made entirely from bamboo and it was neat to see how they used this natural resource. The roads were in excellent shape, except in the places where mudslides occurred. Throughout the trip, we had excellent cellphone reception, so I was able to pull up El Peñol de Guatapé on the application Stuck On Earth, and give Lorri a preview of our final destination.
When we reached El Peñón de Guatapé, we saw a gigantic rock rising out of the landscape. Words can’t sum up just how vast the rock is – you have to see it for yourself. The boys asked Stephanie what the rock is made from and Stephanie replied, “Some locals think it’s a meteorite, but no one is really sure.” Before ascending, we made sure to stop at the bathroom because the climb looked really daunting. The stairs went up about 2,000km or 7,000ft to reach the summit and they dip in and out of the sunlight, but the higher you get, the better the view . You know you’re halfway when you reach the shrine of Mary, where you can take a rest and snap some really great pictures.
When we finally reached the top, we were rewarded with ice cream, a little rain and some of the most amazing views I have seen in my life. We chatted with Stephanie about the hydroelectric dam that formed the reservoir in the 1960’s, as well as the farms, buildings and churches that are now underwater. After some time up top, we began our descent, and Tyler counted almost every step! He got 606, but that number didn’t include the steps at the topmost observation tower of the summit.
With El Peñón de Guatapé under our belts, it was time to think about lunch. We hopped into a cab and headed into the town of Guatapé and found an amazing restaurant called La Fogata. It had a lakeside patio and we had some yummy trucha (trout) and other local cuisines. We were happy that we arrived when we did, because five minutes after, a tour bus full of Colombians arrived, taking advantage of all the empty tables that were there. For dessert, we snagged some more ice cream from the spot next door and I even succeeded in getting the boys to successfully take their malaria pills (which we were taking in anticipation for the jungle portion of the trip).
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon touring the Guatape Reservoir in a tiny boat. We were really impressed with the glassy water, as well as the impeccable beach shores that were forested, green and dotted with fincas (vacation home estates). We even saw one of Pablo Escobar’s homes that still stands today, but is charred and graffitied. Stephanie told us that there are several of Escobar’s former homes in similar condition throughout the country, left as reminders of his ill-fated end.
Continuing on with the boat ride, we stopped near Puerto de la Cruz, a once colonial style home of a doctor, but now a cafe and a museum. The photos and exhibits here told us about the people, the dam and the reservoir flooding their land. We took time to learn about the past and afterwards we enjoyed some cervezas, cappuccino, hot cocoa and breathtaking views. Although we could have spent more time here, it was time to head back to Guatapé, then take the bus back to Medellin. Guatapé is full of dazzling colored buildings and beautiful churches (packed on Tuesday afternoons for mass), and even some local wine bars. There was also a canopy ride over the lake that we were tempted to do, but I felt the kids were too young for that particular adventure (I think the minimum age is 15).
We finally boarded the bus and headed back to our hotel to freshen up quickly before meeting our Viventura host Matt Dickhaus for dinner at the T-Bar Restaurant, which included a Tex-Mex cuisine and of course Aguardiente (the national drink). The next day we left for Nuqui to enjoy three nights on the Pacific Coast.
All in all, we had an amazing day. If I were to improve anything, I would recommend taking private transportation to El Peñón de Guatapé and I would save time for the canopy ride.
Next up: Our adventure to Nuqui and the boat ride to El Cantil Ecolodge.
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