Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Santa Marta to Guatapé nearly 24 hours later
From Santa Marta, we decided to go to Guatapé through Medellin. The original plan was to go to San Gil and into a little town called Barichara but we were told a landslide had collapsed a critical bridge on the road and we would need to divert through Medellin. This would add time and money to back track, so we decided on going straight to Guatapé. To get to Guatapé, we needed to take an overnight bus to Medellin. Wow this was an experience. It cost US$45ea (90,000 pesos) just to get to Medellin. We got on a bus leaving at 2.30pm and didn’t arrive into Medellin until around 10.30am. We then needed another bus to get to Guatapé ($6ea / 12,000 pesos / 1.5hr). It isn’t meant to take this long, but there were a lot of stops including one stop at what we think was a closed toll booth for several hours. A tip for overnight buses is making sure you bring on all your warmest winter clothes as the air conditioning is freezing. We have read that this is to stop the drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. The strangest part of this trip was there were less than 10 passengers in total at any point on the bus. So we basically had the bus to ourselves. On the way we did get to sample a traditional Colombian breakfast of sausage, beans, rice, arepa (corn tortilla) and cheese.
We made it to Guatapé
Finally we were at our destination. There was a guy at the bus station instantly asking if we needed a hostel. It was already the place we were considering and was a couple of minutes’ walk away so we decided to check it out. We think they made a mistake on the maths for two people when they offered us a private room for $15 – bargain! So we instantly took it. The hostel is called “Tomate Café” and is right on the central park in a great location though a little noisy at times such as church bells very early in the morning. As its quiet season and not a weekend (always busy), there aren’t many guests or even very many tourists to speak of.
After we were settled in it was time to find lunch. We usually ask for advice and then look around town for the cheapest “menu del dia”; menu of the day. Again due to quiet season there were a few places to choose from and many were reducing their prices from normal to get our business. The best deal we came across was soup with fish filet, rice, fried plantain, French fries and salad for $3 (6,000 pesos).
Time to explore town – Ready for the colour
After lunch we casually walked around town. The town is an absolutely beautiful colonial village, with countless photo opportunities. It is well known for having zocalos, little squares of art on the bottom of the outside wall of the house. If it is a business it usually depicts the type of business such as flowers for a florist.
As we walked around we found what we call the colour explosion square, which is a delightful array of multiple colours and looks as though someone set off a bomb with full of paint. There was first this street that caught our eye, just behind the big church on the main square.
We walked along this street a short distance and stumbled into the colour square.
The Big Rock – La Piedra
The next day we went to another landmark Guatapé is known for – the big rock (La Piedra). We took a jeep (1500pesos / $0.75ea), the vehicle most commonly used as a taxi in this town from the town square. It’s only a short ride of about 10 minutes until you reach the Zeuss gas station next to the rock. Another 10 minute walk up this access road has you at the entrance. Along this road near the top is a rather ambitious sign proclaiming it to be “The best view in the world”. The view is absolutely spectacular but we suspect there are better views had in other places of the world.
We were lucky to be the first people there at 9am as they hadn’t even unlocked the gate yet. When you look at the side of the rock and see the staircase your heart skips a beat or two at the thought of the climb.
We paid our 10,000 peso ($5ea) entrance fee and started our climb. There are markings on every 25th step to remind you of your progress. After a tiring climb up the staircase we made it to the balcony (which we originally thought was the top). This consisted of a cafeteria/restaurant with a beautiful view below. However, Rodora noticed there was a tower and wondered if we could go further up the tower. We found an access door had now been opened when we first got there it was closed. We walked through a small giftshop on the way which had a small window overlooking the valley below and a sneak peak of the view to come.
We then came out on top of the tower which provided a 360 panoramic view of the beautiful mountains, valley and man-made lake below, justifying the exhausting climb. The top pedestal announced we had climbed 740 steps.
What to explore next
We then took a Jeep back into town to figure out what to do with the rest of our day.
Toby had read and heard about Pablo Escobar’s mansion on the lake, but a visit was only possible by boat which had a set fee of 90,000 pesos ($45). We walked along the harbour front to try and negotiate a deal with not much luck. We then continued out to Hostel El Encuentro on the side of town to see if there were other guests interested in going. The view from this hostel is amazing and the owner was extremely helpful with our questions. We then took a short 30 minute hike out of town to see a Monestary on which we were randomly joined by the Hostel’s dogs.
Getting a boat to La Maneula – Pablo Escobar’s house
We then walked back along the harbour front to try and get a cheaper boat tour. We got a little lucky as we found a pair of Colorado tourists just getting off the bus from Medellin who were on a day trip to explore town. We convinced them quickly to join our tour and split the cost (80,000 pesos / $40 total), perfect. Our boat driver spoke only Spanish, so we helped to translate what he was saying to the other couple along with the information we already knew about the area.
The boat trip took us to Fantasy Island but we didn’t stop off to look. The next stop is what Toby was so interested in visiting which was the bombed out mansion of La Manuela. A quick bit of background, Pablo Escobar was the leader of the Medellin Cartel that was partly responsible for the huge influx of Cocaine coming from South America out to the rest of the world. This started in the 1970’s and boomed in the 1980’s where at one point Pablo Escobar was listed as the 8th richest man in the world. Law and order was nearly impossible with the government under funded and virtually powerless to impose change.
The property is called La Manuela after Pablo Escobar’s daughter. It was built in the early 1990’s and was only used by Pablo Escobar for approximately 9 months before his death in 1993, as told by our tour guide. The property had 3 houses, a nightclub, a rancho for his friends and staff and the main house.
When you first look at the entrance to the mansion you wonder what you’re doing there. There’s a very distinct concrete shell, but it’s in a very clear state of disrepair with trees and plants seemingly overtaking the structure. The story is that after Pablo’s death, the guerilla’s came through the area and destroyed the house using explosives.
At the entrance, the guide tells us the living quarters of the security (50 at a time) are the left and Pablo Escobar was on the right. We walked upstairs to Pablo’s bedroom and his magnificent view of the lake.
We then walked through the bathroom and looked at the other rooms nearby. Health and safety is a non event on this tour which makes it all that little bit more exciting.
We think the best shot of the tour was with the very badly maintained pool and the house in the background.
We then further explored the property as we went up to the Rancho where another 50 security personnel were based. Our guide was saying his Amigo’s (friends) stayed in this house, but it looked cramped as they slept on bunk beds in close quarters, so this might be a loosely used term for loyal acquaintances.
The night club has been recently renovated and apparently in use again by its new owners. They have on a display a motor cross bike that was apparently used by Pablo Escobar on the property.
The lake itself was created in the 1970’s by a hydroelectric project. Due the sheer size of this lake, it flooded a low lying town near El Penol where our boat trip had its final tour stop of the giant cross in the water marking the spot of this town.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/