Guatapé is located in the outskirts of Medellín, bordering a reservoir created by the Colombian government for a hydro-electric dam, built in the late 1970s. This quaint town is the gathering place for “Las Vegas”, or the small farms of the area. It is also a growing area of recreation for citizens of Medellín, and aims to be a tourist destination for foreign travellers.
The picturesque town of Guatapé is known as the Pueblo de Zócalos, named for the beautifully sculpted and painted depictions of village life that adorn the lower half of most buildings in the town center. Each building has the tiles along the facade’s lower walls in bright colors and dimension images. Many of the tiles are tied to the products sold by the shops, or the beliefs of the residents. Others are cultural images of the farming heritage of the community.
On weekends, the waterfront malecón (boardwalk) fills up with local vendors selling beautiful Paisa art, food, and souvenirs, and the adventurous can take a ride on the Cable Vuelo, a canopy zipline over the lake. Popular boat tours visit the former site of Viejo Peñol, a town which was submerged by the creation of the reservoir, which is now marked by a giant memorial cross. We offer this trip for free to students enrolled in our courses.
Guatapé has undergone changes throughout its history. It was predominately a farming town that relied on livestock, agriculture and mining. Empresas Públicas de Medellín built a large hydroelectric complex here in the 1960s. This mega-project had a large impact on social, economic, political, environmental and cultural development in the area. With the construction of this dam, Guatapé became one of the most important electric production centers in the country.
Fun Fact: The name “Guatapé”, comes from the Quechua language, related to “stones and water”.