At 220 meters El Peñol is not quite Rio de Janerio’s Sugar Loaf mountain. But its 649 steps to the top make it a heart stopper nonetheless.
The dark grey-brown monolith, a mix of quartz, feldspar and mica, is plopped on the edge of a 64 square kilometer artificial lake. It was created by the Colombian government in the 70s when they flooded the area to feed a hydro-electric dam. This reservoir looks like someone poured the world’s largest glass of water over fertile farmland. Rolling green hills now bathe in hazy blue water.
At the base of El Peñol are the usual assortment of tourist stalls and restaurants filled with noisy families. Pause a moment to take in the view of the the lake or head straight to the entrance of the stairs and start climbing.
The steps are steep and set into a crack in the rock’s otherwise smooth surface. Along the way are lookout points and religious statues – perhaps placed there to restore panting tourists’ faith in ever reaching the top.
Surprisingly it only takes ten to fifteen minutes to reach the top, depending on your fitness and shoe choice. More than one glamorous Colombiana is doing the climb in high heels.
Reaching the first level you can stop for a drink and to gaze down over the the landscape below, or climb the spiral stone staircase that leads to a viewing platform with a 360 degree vista.
Up there it’s like being on top of the world. A network of blue puddles dotted with green ridges and smudges of land stretch out in all directions. The air is bright and fresh and infinite. Sweaty, red faced tourists linger a long while, gulping down water and gazing out to the horizon before beginning the long descent down.
Back down the bottom it’s time for a bumpy ride down the road to the nearby town of Guatape for a freshly caught trout and a nice cold beer.