Guatape is a 2 hour bus ride from Medellin which makes it a popular place for Paisas to visit. On the weekends there can be quite a party atmosphere but through the week it’s quiet, with beautiful streets to explore. As soon as we drove into town it reminded us of of “cottage country” back home. The Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada is filled with lakes of all sizes and in Guatape the large man-made lake of El Embalse del Peñol with hundreds of islets is similarily beautiful!
There are a number of reasons tourists from around the world flock here. The main attraction is probably La Piedra de El Peñol, a rock that unnaturally sticks straight out of the earth reaching 60 storeys in height (approx 200m). Our first morning in Guatape we took a short bus to see this sight. We climbed the 659 steps and took in the stunning 360 degree view from the top.
Since El Peñon (the rock) is only a few kilometers out of town we decided to walk back. The first half was just walking along the shoulder of the highway. Thankfully the drivers were sparse and respectful of pedestrians (not a typical characteristic of Latin American drivers). About halfway back we found a sidewalk to follow. It took us a bit away from the road and up to a really pretty viewpoint giving us yet another angle of the spectacular and strange rock. The sidewalk then continued along the highway, took us over a bridge and all the way back to town.
While taking your eyes off the surrounding scenery can be very difficult, the town itself and most importantly the arcitecture is equally as splendid. Guatape is famous for it’s “zocalos”, colourfully painted bas reliefs on the outer walls of the homes. The majority of these pieces of art are kept up faithfully.
It was easy spending a couple of days wandering around this small city. Another little hike we took was towards a hill south-east from the center of town. Walking along the river (east) you will come to a small roundabout, just before the bridge. Take the road that heads towards larger homes on the hillside and go through this gated community all the way up. Eventually the neighbourhood and the road ends where a trail begins. This trail takes you up to another beautiful view point, providing yet another perspective of the unique Guatape landscape.
Getting to and from Guatape: Super easy (and frequent) 2 hour buses run from the north bus terminal in Medellin. In reverse, hourly buses run from the small terminal/cafe in Guatape.
Accommodation: There are plenty! We stayed at a simple family-run homestay, but there are lots of options from hostel to hotel. With only a few roads in the center of town it’s easy to walk around asking about prices, but if you prefer booking in advance (which might be best for weekends) most accommodations are found online.
Eating and Drinking: The central square and the lakeside are both loaded with restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, the ?random colourful square? and Calle 31 have lots of options outisde those more populated sections. So obviously, lots of food to choose from. We recommend checking out “Hacer con Amor” which is just off Calle 31 close to the soccer stadium. They serve up awesome vegetarian meals that offer an alternative to the typical Colombian cuisine plus excellent coffee and desserts (don’t miss the passion fruit cheesecake if it’s on the menu). However, if you’re up for typical Colombian fast food the Panaderia Florida on the square serves a serious Perro Especial (a hot dog loaded with everything you could ever want, including bacon and a quail egg) salchipapas, and more. As for drinks, you can buy anything from the super markets or enjoy a beverage at one of the restaurants on the square or take in the night life at one of the bars (also mostly around the square).
Things to do: Any bus heading to Medellin or El Penol will drop you off at La Piedra, cost is $2,000COP. Walking is a great option whether you do it both ways or one – keep in mind all the stairs to and from the top. We really enjoyed our little wander out of town to the hill just beyond the “mansions” and would suggest you give it a whirl. It’s only a 15 minute walk outside of the main square and you’re rewarded with a unique view of the surrounding area. If you want to explore the lake, you can hire a lancha (small boat) any time. Most of the sights are related to Pablo Escobar as this was his pet project and tranquil escape outside of Medellin. They quoted us $50,000COP for visiting 3 sights lasting about 30 minutes and ; $90,000COP for 7 sights in 1 hour. These prices were just for the two of us, larger groups may have different rates.
Don’t Miss the party boats! We wanted to do this sooooo bad but our mistake was trying to go on Saturday. We couldn’t find any boats going out on Saturday and unfortunately missed out. When we saw them all returning early Sunday evening we were pretty disappointed. Apparently they take you out for a few hours, include dinner and are a total party full of drinking and dancing. We have no idea how much it would cost, but highly suggest taking part if you’re around on Sunday…. the Paisas know how to party.