One of the reasons Medellín is a must-visit destination is because not only does the city boast a stunning location and an array of things to do, it’s also perfectly positioned to access other pueblos in Antioquia. As the capital of the department, Medellín has plenty of bus routes running across the region – meaning there’s no excuse not to explore beyond the City of Eternal Spring. Guatapé is perhaps the most famous town within reach of Medellín, and extranjeros often plan a day trip there as part of their itinerary.
Whether you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Medellín, or simply see more of Colombia, here’s your guide to Guatapé, including what to take, how to arrive, activities and where to eat.
What to bring
The weather is Guatapé is normally hot and sunny, however, true to Colombian form, the climate can change dramatically, and fast. It’s best to pack clothes for all conditions, as well as practical wear for climbing El Peñol (see ‘things to do’). If you’re staying overnight, the temperature drops once the sun sets, so you’ll need warm layers. Guatapé is a popular tourist town, so it’s well-equipped in terms of ATMs, restaurants, shops and hostels/hotels.
– Sun cream
– Waterproof jacket or umbrella
– Warm layers
– Sneakers or practical walking shoes (especially if you’re going up the rock, do not wear sandals)
– Cash (there are ATMs but the majority of stores only accept cash, so it’s wise to arrive with some money)
– Spanish words and phrases
How to get there
The quickest and easiest way to arrive in Guatapé from Medellín is by bus from Terminal Norte (the North Terminal). You can either take a taxi to the station or the metro to Caribe and exit via the bridge which connects to the bus terminal. Once inside, there are multiple bus companies that go to Guatapé – they will show ‘Guatapé’ on the window or you can ask any employee for the counter number. Tickets cost around $13,000 COP each way and be sure to confirm which gate your bus departs from and at what time.
Buses in Colombia are notoriously late but generally, one leaves to Guatapé every 30 minutes throughout the day. You do not need to book in advance unless you’re planning to travel on a festivo (Colombian national holiday), or if you’re going on a weekend, aim to get to Terminal Norte early to secure a seat.
The journey to Guatapé takes roughly two hours and passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Antioquia. There are two points you can depart the bus – the first is the gas station at the bottom of El Peñol (best if you want to climb the rock), and the second is the town (best if you want to eat or wander). Whichever one you leave at, be sure to buy a ticket back to Medellín straight away. The returning buses to the city are always full and you want to be able to choose a time to head back.
Things to do
Climb the rock
The main attraction in Guatapé is El Peñol (also known as La Piedra). The rock stands over 2,135 meters tall at its highest point and is visible from miles away. It’s particularly distinctive because of its charcoal color and smooth sides that protrude out of the otherwise flat area. For active visitors, there’s a 649-step criss-cross route up, which takes roughly 30 minutes. Although the climb is steep, the reward is well worth it – an incredible view across Guatapé’s lakes. At the top, there are bathrooms, souvenir shops and tiendas.
Explore on the lake
Besides the rock, Guatapé is most recognizable for its lakes that surround the town. After you’ve seen the view from above on La Piedra, take a boat tour to experience Guatapé from the water. Tons of boats depart from the jetty on the waterfront opposite the bus station in town, or you can hire kayaks to explore the islets alone. If you’re an adrenaline-seeker, there’s the option to rent jet skis, go flyboarding, zip-lining or hang-gliding too.
Wander through the town
A short tuk-tuk ride away from the rock, Guatapé town is one of the most photogenic pueblos in Antioquia. The brightly-colored streets, quaint decorations and rustic doorways mean visitors can spend hours aimlessly strolling and snapping pictures. Along the way, there’s a range of shops selling Colombian trinkets and souvenirs, plus clothes and snacks. Be sure to check out Plaza de Zocalos, a small square with multi-colored steps leading to a statue of a fish. The area is perfect to sit with a coffee and watch the world go by.
Where to eat
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, Guatapé has a whole host of tasty places to tuck into authentically-Colombian dishes and cuisine from around the world. The top spots to refuel include:
Pizzeria De Luigi
Tucked away down a small side street, this pizzeria serves up a taste of Italy in Guatapé. The pizzas have a classic crispy base and are made fresh in-house, topped off with a range of herbs and spices, along with a glass of good wine. The atmosphere is relaxed and cozy, and the owners speak both English and Spanish.
Run by a Frenchman, Guatacrep’ is home to delicious sweet and savory crepes filled with ingredients ranging from chocolate and banana to mushroom, cheese and tomato. Just as mouth-watering is the artisanal bread and pesto – a rare find in Colombia. The prices are very reasonable and there are vegan dishes available too.
Perched on the roof of a hostel, both the view and food at Thai Terrace are spectacular. The restaurant is renowned for its locally-sourced ingredients and popular dishes like pad thai and red curry, plus its veggie choices. Although the menu is small, every option is packed with flavor, and there’s also Chilean wine and a happy hour from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm each evening.
Al Carbon Parrilla Bar
One for the meat-eaters, Al Carbon Parrilla is the top South American restaurant in Guatapé. The grill is praised for its juicy steaks and ribs, along with its Colombian arepas and cazuela, which are guaranteed to leave guests feeling full. The portions are large and there’s outdoor seating for soaking up nature while tucking savoring the rich dishes.
Café La Vina
Arguably home to the best cup of coffee in Guatapé, this is the place to sample Colombia’s second biggest export. The service is particularly friendly and guests can purchase coffee beans to take home with them. The food menu is very limited, however, so if you’re hungry, stop by after you’ve had a meal elsewhere.
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