Guatapé, a small town in the Antioquia department is located less than two hours from Medellin, making it a perfect day trip. Read my tips on what to see in Guatapé and how to visit the huge Piedra del Peñol monolith.
A visit to the colorful pueblo of Guatapé and Peñol stone it is an easy day trip from Medellin which are both only 90 minutes drive away and are 2 of the most popular destinations in Colombia.
What is striking about Guatapé is its architecture with extravagant painted houses and stunning views which you can only find here.
Known as the most colorful Colombian city, Guatapé is delightfully situated on the edge of a lake and is close to the famous The Rock of Guatapé (also called Piedra del Peñol) which is undoubtedly one of the things not to be missed on a trip to Colombia.
- How to get to Guatapé from Medellin
- How to get there by public bus
- How to get there with an organized tour (and 6 reasons why I chose this option)
- Peñol Lagoon
- Replica Old Peñol
- The Peñol Stone
- What to see in Guatapé
- Where sleeping in Guatapé
How to get to Guatapé from Medellin
There are basically two ways to get to Guatapé and alla Piedra del Peñol da Medellin: as I did with an organized tour or with the bus independently.
In reality you can also take a taxi or an Uber but it could cost you much more (one way with Uber costs the equivalent of about 20 euros one way).
How to get to Guatapé and Piedra del Peñol by yourself
If you want to go there on your own, it's very easy to do: buses leave from North Terminal of Medellin. To get to the station, you can use the blue line subway and get off at Caribe station.
There are several companies that operate the Medellin - Guatapé route. All the ticket offices at Medellin North Bus Terminal are downstairs and are numbers 9, 12 and 14. The companies that run the bus from Medellin to Guatapé are Sotrapenol, Sootransvincente and Transporte Guatape la Piedra.
The bus leaves approximately every half hour, so don't worry you won't have to wait long.
If you want to go back to Medellin on the same day, buy your return ticket immediately after your arrival in Guatapé. The girl from the hostel where I was staying in Medellin told me that sometimes, especially in high season and on weekends, you risk not finding the return ticket!
The cost of a one-way ticket is 15.000 COP (in 2019). If you want to stop first at the Piedra del Peñol, just tell the driver who will stop to let you off at about 1 km from the entrance to the staircase: you can walk along it or take one of the numerous tuk tuks.
From Piedra to get to Guatapé just take another tuk tuk or wait for the next bus (and pay again).
How to get there with an organized tour (and 6 reasons why I chose this option)
I made a different choice by taking part to THIS organized TOUR of Civitatis and also includes a boat ride on the Laguna del Peñol and visit to the Replica Old Peñol, a small pueblo which, flooded by water when the dam and the artificial lake was created, was dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere.
Here are 6 reasons why I chose a tour instead of going alone:
1 - in light of the "actual costs" by going alone I wouldn't have saved that much (I also included typical Colombian breakfast and lunch in the tour). So the expense / hassle / time optimization ratio between going solo and the organized tour was heavily in favor of the second option.
2 - the tour is very well organized (having participated I can guarantee it): they were very punctual and we had enough time to see the various things without wasting time and without running.
3 - our guide, Carolina, was very good: the bus trip with her was really interesting because she told us a lot about the region of Antioquia, starting from its history, then passing through the food and to get to the traditions. The more I travel, the more I realize how much a good guide is essential to better understand the country I am visiting.
4 - in addition to the guide in Spanish we also had a guide in English (Maurizio) who translated word for word.
5 - it turn include, in addition to the visit of Guatapé and the Piedra del Peñol, also the boat ride on the artificial lake (called Laguna del Peñol), one stop at village of El Peñol to observe the rock temple (Templo de la Piedra) and one visit to the Replica Old Peñol. Three things that going alone by public transport I would never have had time to visit.
6 - the tour includes typical breakfast and lunch (another great way to immerse yourself in the local reality immediately)
In light of this I can affirm that the tour is very good value for money (you can read the reviews among which you will also find mine: D).
State offre altri beautiful tours in Medellin:
FIND THEM ALL BY CLICKING HERE
(I also did with them the coffee tour - another great tour, Civitatis for me is becoming one certainty)
We left our hostel in Medellin quite early.
Since it was my first day in the city and I still didn't quite understand how to get around, I chose the pick-up option directly at the hostel, otherwise there are meeting points where to go to meet the guide and the group. One of these is the Park of the Town, very close to the hostel Medellin Vibes Hostel where I stayed (Poblado is also one of the best areas to sleep in Medellin).
After a couple of hours by bus (with a stop to try a rich typical breakfast) we arrived at our first destination: the country of Peñol and immediately after the Peñol Lagoon, where the departure by boat was scheduled for the tour on the artificial lake.
The boat ride takes approximately 45 minutes. The views are very beautiful and you can see some "famous" villas such as those of politicians and footballers and the famous farm "La Manuela”Pablo Escobar's abandoned residence and now almost in total ruin after it was bombed by the Cali cartel in one of the attempts to take out“ the Patròn ”.
Small parenthesis: regarding the talk of Escobar I immediately noticed that Colombians do not do it willingly. I took the liberty of asking our guide and I was told that the sentiment towards Escobar is still very contradictory today.
I also apologized for asking (it seems almost taboo) but Carolina smiled at me saying that she talks about it with tourists quietly because it is part of the history of Colombia anyway and she, as a guide, he cannot pretend that it never existed (another reason why I recommend the tour with the guide is just that: you can also ask some questions on "uncomfortable" topics without worrying about hurting someone's sensitivity).
If you go alone and still want to take the boat ride on the lake or rent a kayak, you can ask the boat rental agency you find in Calle 32 a Guatapé.
Please note: that if you travel during the weekend or during the Colombian holidays, you may not find availability so the advice is to book in advance.
Guatapé and the lake are in fact the destinations where the inhabitants of Medellin generally go to spend the weekend!
We didn't spend much time here, but enough to have a look and, for those who wanted, buy some souvenirs.
La Replica of the Old Peñol it is a typical pueblo of Antioquia, rebuilt after being flooded by the water of the artificial lake, in a different point from where it was originally. A part of the pueblo was destroyed by the flood and has been faithfully reproduced, but the church is that original.
The Replica is certainly not one of the unmissable things in Colombia, but it is interesting to see how the puebli were in ancient times and the original photographs on display are very beautiful.
Just before lunchtime we finally arrive at the highlight of the tour: the Peñol stone, a gigantic monolith (one of the largest in the world) and one of Colombia's most unusual attractions.
El Peñol is made up of granite, a hard rock, which has allowed it to resist erosion, which is why it is still standing. The indigenous Tahamies (former inhabitants of the region) worshiped the rock as a sacred place and, in 1940, the government labeled it as national monument.
From its top you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views in the whole country: As it is the only high point for miles, El Peñol offers 360 degree views of the surrounding lakes and islands.
Also seen from below, the Piedra is quite impressive: the stairway to get to the top that has been carved into the rock looks almost like a "suture".
The monolith was first climbed in 1954 using only wooden planks; today getting to the top is much easier, just go up 750 steps.
Climbing it is still tiring, especially if the day is hot, but at the top you will find refreshment points where you can have a nice mango beer, a popsicle or just a cold drink.
A gem that Carolina told us: the white letters on the side of El Peñol (and which you cannot help but notice) were a failed attempt by the inhabitants of Guatapé to claim the monolith as themselves, but the inhabitants of El Peñol they stopped them before they could complete the U.
The entrance fee is COP 18000. Compared to the costs in Colombia it is a bit expensive, but Colombians think that from up there you have the most beautiful panorama in the world.
While it may not really be the most beautiful view in the world, it is still exceptional and worth every single penny paid.
After a quick lunch we arrive at our last destination: the small, colorful one country of Guatapé, famous for its "zocalos".
A zócalo is the term used to indicate a layer of decorated concrete that is placed at the base of the walls of the houses whose primary function was to defend them from erosion and which at the same time were decorated with colorful bas-reliefs.
The decorations are of the most varied and generally represent the cultural heritage of the family who lives in that house, their occupation or their history.
Nobody knows exactly why and when the local people of Guatapé started beautifying their homes with zocalos. This custom was probably imported into Colombia from Spain.
Walking through the streets you will notice that everyone takes their decorations very seriously: all the buildings are well cared for and I, a little maliciously, thought there must be an unspoken rivalry between the residents of Guatapé vying for who has the house with the most beautiful zocalo.
In addition to the colorful houses, the main square is certainly worth seeing in Guatapé Guatape Park with the red and white church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and another small square, la Plazoleta De Los Zocalos, known for its beautifully painted steps and busy restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops.
Guatapé is exactly that kind of place where you can stroll the streets with your camera in hand, sit in bars and watch life go by around you.
Where sleeping in Guatapé
In case you don't find the return bus ticket to Medellin or if you want to stop for a night to enjoy the most Guatapé has to offer, there are good hotels and hostels to sleep in.
Among these, the 3 that I would most like to recommend are:
Lake View Hostel: this hostel is simply a guarantee. If you are looking for a place to sleep without spending a lot, it is probably the best choice you can make. The hostel also offers a kayak rental service.
If spending a little more is not a problem, Hostal La Dicha Guatapé it offers a private beach, swimming pool, vegetarian breakfast and beautiful views over the Piedra and the lake.
Mama's House Hostel: two of my friends slept here and recommended it to me before leaving. On the hills but only a 15 minute walk from town, this small hostel run by Gloria is a great place to relax and practice your Spanish (most of the staff don't speak English).