From last Friday until Monday, the little town of Guatape, two hours outside Medellin, in Antioquia Department, hosted the 13th Annual Encuentro Nacional de Caminantes, or National Hikers Meeting. Every year, hiking enthusiasts from all over Colombia (plus a couple of token Brits…hello!) get together to explore hiking trails in different regions of Colombia. This year was the turn of Guatape and it’s surrounding countryside, and Jess and I were lucky enough to be invited along to enjoy the fun.
Guatape is a gorgeous, colourful little town on the banks of Colombia’s largest reservoir, and near to El Penol Rock, a monolithic giant overlooking the nearby countryside. Guatape is famous for it’s zocalos, which translates roughly as ‘skirting boards’ or ‘plinths,’ Every building in town is decorated with a colourful zocalo, most of which tell the story of the town and it’s inhabitants. There will be a more thorough post on Guatape, the reservoir and El Penol Rock next week; this post is all about the hikers!
The hikers had a choice between around 12 hiking routes through the rolling green countryside of Antioquia. The routes were of varying difficulty, from 15km slogs up and down hills, to gentle 6km strolls along the edges of the reservoir, there was a route to cater for every level of fitness and enthusiasm. I enjoy a hike myself, so I was slightly disappointed when us journalists were sent along on the 6km route. However, I wasn’t disappointed for long: to put it simply, I had a lovely time! My fellow hikers were a fun, slightly rowdy bunch, all shouting and singing their way along the trail. It was pretty much the opposite of what I’ve come to expect from British hikers: no serious faces and discussions about real ale here! The demographic of our hike was a little older, but there were some kids (and a dog) along for the ride, and the atmosphere was jovial and friendly (just like most of Colombia to be fair…).
The path took us around El Penol Rock, giving lovely views from every conceivable angle of the big rock, and, as the sun was shining, the lakes around us were a given a glimmering azure hue. It was one of the most enjoyable (if slightly easy) hikes I’ve ever been on, and the fact that there are some 11 more to explore around Guatape has me itching to go back for a longer weekend (with some proper boots).
At the end of it all, we were met at the banks of the lake by an almost unnecessarily large boat (with a bar and loud salsa music) and sailed back into town. Again, in a refreshing change from British hiking conventions, the return boat was all dancing, drinking and laughter. I got chatting to a number of participants, and everyone was just happy to be out in nature, enjoying the gorgeous countryside that their country is full of.
That evening, the main square in Guatape played host to the inauguration parade. All the different regional hiking groups donned the traditional dress from their department and put on a rousing, joyous celebration all through the town. My personal favourites were from Pereira – I mean, they brought 2 giant gold men, for Pete’s sake!
I must thanks the Antioquia Tourism Department for inviting us, and the hikers for making us feel so welcome and part of their group. I was especially happy to discover the wealth of hiking opportunities available in the Guatape countryside, and can’t wait to go back and explore some more of it.
And, just to finish off…enjoy this photo of a hiker with a big knife!