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  • Writer's pictureCullen Heater

Adventure Tourism in Guatapé, Colombia

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Domus Glamping: The Adventure Begins...

At dawn, the geodesic dome glows with a warm white light. "Am I in heaven?" I ask myself, half asleep. "No," the other half answers. "You're in Colombia. And you have a full day ahead of you."

By 7:30 AM, we are on the water. The Embalse del Peñol, an artificial reservoir about an hour and half outside of Medellín, was flooded in two stages in the 1970s and now provides 4% of Colombia's electricity (in total, hydroelectric power accounts for 70% of Colombia's energy needs.)

The original town of Viejo Peñol lies at the bottom of the lake. A metal cross rises out of the water above the location of the sunken church. The community was relocated to its current location–Nuevo Peñol–in the hills above the water line. La Piedra del Peñol–sometimes called El Peñol, El Peñon, or simply, La Piedra–is a 65 million year old granite monolith that dominates the landscape, rising 200 meters (654 feet) out of the ground. Not too far away is Domus Glamping.

The peninsulas stick out into the lake like fingers, creating winding passageways of water. The dock at Domus is fully stocked–kayaks, paddleboards, a jetski, and a fishing boat–for all of your aquatic adventures. My kayak glides across the glassy surface effortlessly; next to me, Vicmar balances on her paddleboard. A heron skims past us, it's wingtips brushing the cold water. Vicmar reaches out to a silver eucalyptus tree and breaks off an overhanging branch for good luck.

"Should we head back?" I say as a jet ski speeds past us towards the open water.

"A lot to do today," Vicmar responds. "And breakfast should be ready soon."

"Alright, let's get back and make a plan. Race you to the dock?"

Quick Tips for Guatapé:

  • There are so many activities in GTP, so plan ahead and make sure you have enough time.

  • I highly recommend Domus Glamping for a romantic adventure.

  • The "motochivas" make it easy to get around, and they know where everything is. Make sure to have cash-on-hand to pay them (approximately COP $15,000 per ride, which is about USD $4).

  • The airport currency exchange is not the most favorable rate ($3,500 Colombian Pesos to $1 USD.) Exchange just enough USD to get through the first day, and then ask around for someone willing to give you a better deal on dollars.

  • Must-do:

    • ✅ Go Paragliding.

    • ✅ Take the ATV tour.

    • ✅ Get a Massage.

    • ✅ Explore the town of Guatapé.

    • ✅ Eat a Bandeja Paisa.

    • ✅ Climb La Piedra del Peñol.

  • For Next Time:

    • Helicopter tour.

    • Cave Tour.

    • Coffee or Cacao Tour.

    • Waterfall hiking.

    • Rock climbing.

    • More relaxation time at Domus.

We arrive back to our tent to find breakfast ready and waiting for us: avocado eggs benedict, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee. The incredible service at Domus keeps exceeding our expectations, and breakfast on our private deck overlooking the lake is no exception. Vicmar places a slice of papaya on the railing of our deck as an offering to the birds.

After a luxurious, warm shower in the bathroom on the deck below, we begin to plan out and prepare for the day's activities. As we are packing our bags, a surprise visitor lands on the railing looking for fruit. A Motmot, one of Vicmar's favorite birds, says hello, takes a bite of papaya and retreats to a nearby tree as we scramble to get the camera ready. A good sign for our next adventure.

Taking Flight: Paragliding Past Waterfalls in Cocorná

When we arrive at Parapente Cocorná after a two-hour drive through the mountains, it seems like our luck is about to run out. The view from the lookout is a wall of white. Our tour guide, Jhon from Ecoventure Tour Agency, urges us to be patient and wait for the wind to blow the clouds away. Some groups have recently had to wait 2 to 3 hours for the conditions to clear up. We begin to feel increasingly nervous about whether or not we are going to be able to fly at all.

Historically, the seasons in the province of Antioquia have followed a predictable pattern of 3-month, alternating rainy and dry seasons. July is supposed to be the middle of the second dry season. However, the paragliders told us, climate change has been blurring the edges of these once reliable seasons, leading to unpredictable weather. As paragliders with hundreds of hours of flight experience, it is their job to watch the skies and notice any changes. And what they notice makes them concerned for the future, especially how fast the seasons have been shifting over the last decade.

Vicmar and I look at each other nervously. We are starting to get hungry, and tired. But Jhon warns us not to eat before paragliding, which is very solid advice. A tour group from New York who came through recently made the mistake of eating Colombia's famous (and heavy) Bandeja Paisa while waiting for their flight. Paragliding is not a good activity for those with weak stomachs, or full stomachs.

So we wait patiently, drinking a hot chocolate and listening while Jhon tells us a long and winding story about the time he and a friend got lost while hiking in the Darien jungle along the Colombia-Panama border. The moral of the story is to be patient and never give up hope, but I think the purpose of the story is just to kill time until the clouds clear.

"Watch the birds," Jhon says, pointing to a vulture stretching its wings on the nearby roof. "They will let you know when it is time to fly." Things begin to change, slowly at first. The wind blows the wisps of cloud up the mountain, and the sun begins to break through the clouds in small patches. On the deck below the restaurant, a hive of honeybees comes to life, buzzing in and out of their home, taking flight to find nectar.

The vulture is joined by more, taking the sun and testing the air. The paragliding team watches them closely. They know what the weather radar says, they have the most up to date meteorological information available. But the final proof is with the birds. The vultures start taking short test flights, around the restaurant and back. Not enough lift, the air currents rising up the side of the mountain still aren't warm enough.

Finally, after 2 hours of waiting, the sun bursts through the clouds, warming up the ground below and all signs point to flying. The clouds clear, revealing the landscape and waterfalls cascading down the mountain. The paragliders get to work, laying the parachute out on a tarp on the still-wet grass. I can feel the adrenaline rushing through me as the reality of the situation sets in. For the first time in my life, I'm about to fly.

"Ready to go?" Says my pilot, Santiago, as he straps me into my harness. How can I be ready? I have no idea what to expect. My palms are starting to sweat, and my stomach is already doing somersaults.

"Hell yeah!" I reply. I'm ready for anything.

But first, it's Vicmar's turn. After a few short steps, the parachute is up off the ground, pulling her backwards. The pilot urges her to run forward towards the edge of the cliff, and she lifts off, flying gracefully up over the trees and toward the waterfalls.

My experience is a little bit different, and not nearly as graceful. We head off towards the town of Cocorná and get caught in a rising thermal, swirling around with the vultures and enjoying some spectacular views of the Cocorná valley.

See what it's like to fly in the video below:

Even More Adrenaline than Flying: ATV tour of Guatapé

We've had a full day, but somehow there's still time for one more adventure. There is so much to do in Guatapé that our biggest regret is not staying longer. We get back from our paragliding trip exhausted, a little queasy, and close to throwing in the towel. But, we dig deep and find the strength to finish what we started. We began our day on the water, spent the afternoon flying through the air, and now we are ready to take on the mountain.

The adrenaline rush of driving the ATV feels even more intense than paragliding, and I think I have found my new favorite toy. The engine growls as we bounce along the dusty trail, climbing up the mountain and into the clouds.

Check out our ATV tour in the video below:

Back to Base Glamp

We return to Domus after dark. It gets chilly at night, but fortunately they are preparing the campfire when we arrive. After a glass of wine on the deck, we head over to the now-blazing campfire to roast marshmallows under the stars.

"I wish we could do this every night," says Vicmar.

"Me too, but tomorrow's adventure will be even more exciting!"

La Piedra del Peñol is waiting for us tomorrow, 708 steps to the most beautiful views in Colombia. After that, we'll spend the day exploring Guatapé before heading to our next destination. We'll eat some incredible food, drink unbelievable coffee, and get to know my new favorite city, Medellín.

After so much adventure, it's important to make time for relaxation. Domus offers a 60-minute couple's massage on your own private deck for about USD $100, and there's no way that we can resist. So we schedule ours for the next morning, right before check-out.

The masseuses arrive and efficiently set up their tables on the deck. With the calm breeze coming in over the lake, and the birds chirping, I feel instantly relaxed. Almost too relaxed; I nearly fall asleep on the massage table. But, all of a sudden, I feel the rain begin to fall on my back. The masseuse, calmly asks if we would prefer to move into our tent. Honestly, I'm too relaxed to care and perfectly willing to get a massage in the rain. But we move inside for the second half of the massage. The rain begins to fall harder now, and the sound of the drops falling on the tent puts me right back into a state of complete relaxation.

What a perfect way to end an adventure.


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