When planning a trip to Colombia, one of the first places I wanted to visit was Guatapé in Antioquia. This colorful pueblo outside of Medellín is famous for the surrounding turquoise lake and beautiful scenery. Since it is such an easy day trip from Medellín, I had the chance to spend a full day exploring.
After spending a day taking in the beautiful views, I only wished I had another day to soak it all in. It’s very peaceful out in the small towns in the countryside (especially after the city chaos). I will share about the day tour we took as well as other options for being able to go on your own.
Visiting South America, I learned there is such a diversity of experiences available. Guatapé is one of those postcard-perfect places you can’t miss when visiting Colombia.
A Guide to Visiting Guatapé, Colombia
Taking a Guatapé Tour
If you’re short on time and would love a guided trip, a day tour is the best way to see Guatapé. I opted to book this tour on Viator for $30 USD a person and it came with both breakfast and lunch (both amazing!), a stop in a small town before Guatapé, time to climb El Peñol, and free time in the town of Guatapé.
The transportation was on a bus with air conditioning and we had a driver who took us everywhere. Along the way, our guide shared insight into the area and history. I’m not a huge fan of guided group tour however this was a good option for what we could do.
If I had more time, I would have opted to go on my own but really would have needed a night or so to do it all properly.
Getting to Guatapé from Medellín
Getting to Guatape from Medellín is quite easy. If you plan to spend the night and not do a tour, you can easily hop on public transportation. It is highly recommended to travel only during light hours (not at night).
Simply head to Terminal del Norte that connects to the Caribe Metro Station, line blue A. You can take a bus from Medellín to Guatapé, which averages from 1.5 to 2 hours pending traffic. When purchasing your ticket be sure to clarify your stop as there are two, one in the town of Guatapé or at El Peñol (for visiting the rock). If you’re staying overnight, you’ll want to drop your bags off first at your accommodations.
Transportation within Guatapé without a car is easy as there are local tuk-tuks who can take you around as well as taxis to the sights. Within the small town of Guatapé, everything is available in walking distance.
The weather in Guatapé can change quickly similarily to Medellín, Colombia. Even in the beginning months of the year, the afternoon was rather hot but it cools down quickly at night. When visiting, I highly recommend a strong sunscreen and hat — it may not feel like the sun is on you when it’s cloudy out, but it finds a way! I definitely had a good sunburn afterward even though I “never burn.”
What to do in Guatapé
If you’re taking a guided day tour, then you will have the chance to do most of these things. The amount of time will be limited so if you enjoy a bit more flexibility, then going on your own is best.
- Explore the colorful zocalos in Guatapé: The small town is famous for the zocalos or the painted panels on the houses that portray their trade or history. I spent a couple of hours just walking around, snapping away photos, and soaking in the cheer of the town.
- Head out on Laguna Guatapé: If you have an afternoon to explore, heading out on the lake is an awesome opportunity to relax. You can rent kayaks locally at different vendors on the lake, go explore and soak in the views.
- Climb El Peńol: The best lake view is certainly at the top of the rock and is worth the 740 steep steps. You’ll need to pay about $6USD to enter and climb (bring cash). At the top the views are beautiful, there are vendors selling drinks and some small bites as well. It can feel a little touristy but the views were pretty amazing.
- Try the food in Guatapé town: This place is packed with a ton of restaurants and street food. Arepas were my favorite bite along the way, especially with the fresh cheese.
- Day trip to San Rafael: If you’re looking for another nearby town to visit, San Rafael came as the second most recommended place to visit in the area.
About El Peñol
Meaning “the stone”, El Peńol has a bit of story behind it. Essentially the area around it had massive flooding after the build of the hydroelectric dam in the 1970s. From it came the lake or laguna you see today, where now it has become a tourism destination. The rock of Guatapé has become an iconic landmark for the area, however, the nearby townships of Guatapé and El Peñol have both claimed ownership of the rock. There is a “G” and a partly written “U” on the rock that was attempted to spell out the town of Guatapé to take ownership. They did not get far after a local mob saw the attempt and put an end to it. Since that day, no one has tried to finish the word.
Based on research and recommendations from other trusted travelers, here are a few of the local hotels and hostels to consider (note I did not stay overnight due to timing):
(Photos via Booking.com)