If you find yourself in Medellin you can miss anything but not La Piedra del Penol. Translated as The Penol rock, the massive giant has an enigmatic history dating 70 million years back. A rock that was believed to have felt from the sky, worshiped by the indigenous tribs which have populated the area before the arrival of the Spaniards and transformed in a touristic hotspot in the present.
Road trip outside Medellin
After 3 days of narco tourism and cultural tours inside Medellin, we decided to book a road trip to the fascinating town of Penol, located just one hour and a half away from our hotel.
Trying to satisfy my interest in the local gastronomy, Carlos, our tour guide makes a short stop to an open market in Penol, encouraging us to taste a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are native to Colombia. A refreshing breakfast and a great way to regain energy for the day ahead, as we are about to climb the 705 stairs of the giant rock.
The story of the old town
The town of Penol itself has a fascinating history, being submerged under water and then rebuilt from the scratch in order to create the biggest reservoir and power supply of the country. People were forced to leave their homes behind and watch with pain how their beloved town is sinking little by little, until everything was gone… all except one thing; the tower of the church.
Considered a divine sign, the locals decided to keep alive the beautiful memory of the place by building a miniature replica of the old town, together with a metal cross in the very same place of the old church.
Boat ride and narcos stories
The charming town of Penol is the perfect getaway from the busy life of Medellin and unfortunately narcos were not exempted from the visit. The kingpin of the cocaine himself, Pablo Escobar has invested a fortune in a lavish estate, Manuela (called after his daughter), an eight hectares land covered by trees and plants brought from all around the world. Nowdays the villa it’s in a poor shape, not because of the Cali cartel who have bombed it in a failed attempt of killing their rival but because of the treasure hunters, burning it to the ground looking for hidden money.
We are boarding a private speed boat, sailing alongside the fertile lands which were once occupied by the notorious narco lords but now we are more interested in the unidentified meteorite that starts contouring in the horizon.
Climbing the giant
Although the modern scientists have concluded that the misterious stone doesnt have alien origins and it’s in fact an Earthy formation, the shiny gem located in the middle of the farming area of Penol is attracting more and more tourists to Colombia than any other landmark in the region.
The courageous visitors who dare to climb the 200 meters stone all the way to the top are rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view over the surrounding area, knowing to be “the best view in the world”.
I was lucky to visit Penol on a cloudy day but even though the weather was on my side, it didn’t make the climb any easier. Narrow passages, slippery stairs and tourists trying to regain their breath. I am taking often breaks looking with admiration at the others…in the end we are driven by the same goal and we wont stop half way.
Luis had a dream..
The first one to climb the giant using just a rope and a hook was Luis, the youngest son of a family who owned the land around the rock. His obsession started in the childhood years, spending hours and even days staring at the unexplicable formation in front of him, and it continued throughout his adult life when he decided that it’s time to conquer his dream. Teased by his siblings for his weird fascination, Luis managed to prove them wrong and it was just a matter of time from his first successful climb until the stone became the most important landmark of the town.
Up there, closer to heaven the 360° view is absolutely spectacular; an ocean of beauty hard to describe in words. I do not know with certainty if that’s the best view in the world but I can say for sure that it’s worth the effort.