Well I haven't yet seen that many others but I definitely understand why Guatapé makes it to almost every "Top places to visit in Colombia" - list, that I could find on the internet. Ever since I spent three wonderful days in Trinidad, Cuba, in January, and fell in love with its beauty, atmosphere and friendliness of people, I compare every small town I go to with Trinidad. And it's hard to beat, I don't know if any other cute little village ever will. However, Guatapé came close and even if its a lot smaller, in many ways it reminded me of Trinidad. So I couldn't have felt happier spending a day there.
I hesitated staying one night in Guatapé but in the end decided not to because I really liked my Airbnb in Medellin and because I wanted to save myself the effort of finding a hostel and packing again. I left early in the morning to make the most of my one-day-trip and I think it was enough. After all, it is a very small place so there is not that much to see or do. Guatapé is easily reachable from Medellin, only a 2-hour bus ride away. The busses leave from the North terminal and I had heard that there is a bus every hour, always at half past. I aimed at the 7.30AM bus, took an Uber to the station, found the right ticket booth and was told that the bus leaves at 7.20. Perfect timing, it was 7.17, I got my ticket and walked to the bus, that actually left on time. The price was 12000COP (3,5€) one way.
The main attraction in Guatapé, besides the town itself, is a hill called Piedra del Peñol. It is located just outside the village, by a bunch of lakes called Laguna de Guatapé. At its highest spot it raises more than 2000m over sea level (and 200m from the ground) so, as you can guess, the views from up there are stunning. The rock was formed millions of years ago, and later worshipped by the region's former inhabitants, Tahamies Indians, who called it "mojarrá" or "mujará", meaning rock or stone. The two towns of Guatapé and Peñol disputed over the ownership of the rock and thus the residents of Guatapé took the action to paint their town's name on big white letters on the north side of the hill. Naturally, the Peñol people noticed the attempt, protested, and the work was never completed. That is why today you can still see the letters G and an incomplete U painted. The rock was first climbed in 1954 and today there is a viewing spot up there, that can be reach by climbing the 740 steps (entrance fee 15000COP / 4,5€).
When coming from Medellin, ask the driver to drop you off at La Piedra because it is on the way. You can then walk or take a small carriage, carro, to reach the spot where you can start climbing. The drivers will of course try their best to sell you the ride in a carro but don't be fooled, it was only some 10 minutes walking. Also, no reason to be worried about the 740 steps: it was relatively easy. Take a break every 100 steps to admire the views and when you get up, there is a bar waiting for you. However, be careful when coming down: I was running and hopping like it was the easiest thing to do until suddenly my legs started shaking and I had to sit down. I can still feel it in my muscles...
Here is a recap of my morning work out:
Step 0: Ready to go
Step 50: This is easy
Step 175: Views start getting better
Step 300, step 450: Keep going...
Step 600: Quite high up already
Step 700: Almost there!
Step 735: I made it to the top!
I recommend to go to Piedra de Peñol early in the morning. When I arrived there was barely no one and the place was quiet and peaceful. The best touristic spot ever! I sat there for a long while, just relaxing and taking it all in. The 360° view over the mountains and many many small lacs was breath-taking, extremely beautiful. Only after 11AM when I started to walk down, I saw more people climbing up. If I lived in Medellin, this is the kind of place where I would come all the time to escape the big city chaos.
I then continued my journey in a mini carro to the village of Guatapé, that was some 10 minutes away (4000COP / 1,2€).
One afternoon is just enough to wander around the picturesque old town of Guatapé. There is a central plaza, a church and an endless amount of narrow cobble-stone streets that go up and down. Hope for sunny weather because the variety of colours you'll see is impressive.
It looks like every house has a story to tell:
And around every corner there is a new colourful surprise:
Even administrative buildings look like this:
I had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called Namaste, the menu del día (crêpe, salad and juice) was very tasty and cost 13000COP (3,8€).
When I café looks this cute, you just have to go in and have dessert:
I couldn't resist doing some jewellery shopping because the village is full of small shops where they sell local, most of them hand-made, creations that were each more beautiful than the other - and ridiculously cheap. Mum and J, I bought something for you as well but you'll have to wait to find out what. :)
If you stay longer in town or get tired of walking around and peeking into shops (I didn't) there is also a lake and a possibility to go for a boat ride or kayaking.
I took a bus back to Medellin at 5.30 and, after all the climbing, walking and sunbathing, slept like a baby. Perfect day, I wish traveling was always this relaxing (well recently it has been). If you travel to Medellin, you must spend one day in Guatapé and El Peñol, it is just amazing!
I also realised that traveling is so much easier now when I speak good Spanish. I don't need to look up for things in advance, I can just spontaneously go and figure everything out on my way. Like finding the bus terminal, finding the right ticket booth and bus, knowing where to get off, how to get from El Peñol to Guatape, where to take the bus back, where to have good lunch, and so on. Everything is so simple when you can just chat to people and ask for advice (and understand what they tell you). It is funny now to think about my travels in Cuba where I was always a little bit lost and nervous when I needed to communicate with someone. My Spanish is still far from perfect but at least I've learnt a lot in 5 months. Happy!
You may also want to read my post from Medellín here.
Read the next story here.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!