Wander the colorful streets – It is just two hours outside of Medellín. The view transforms from high green mountains to hundreds of lakes sprawling around the verdant rolling hills. Nestled around the lake is the lively town of Guatapé, where every home is carefully manicured and colorfully painted with themed-placard borders called Zocalos. Each house showcases its style with sign boards that adorn flowers, stars or characters like the Pink Panther or Minnie Mouse. For wanderers, you can spend hours sauntering through the many colorful streets to find the next interesting work of art.
The Star Attraction – Of course, the obvious star attraction for sightseeing is La Piedra or “The Rock”. This rock is an enormous granite structure towering 200 meters high beside the lake. The 700-step brick staircase takes you to the top where you can discover magnificent views of the area or take an ample daydreaming time to view all the quaint lakeside homes from above. Entrance fee is $15,000 Colombian pesos (or $5USD).
There is a rather interesting rivalry between the two towns of El Peñol and Guatapé over the ownership of the La Piedra. The owner would claim rights to the hundreds of Colombians and foreign tourists that enjoy the walk every weekend. The town of Guatapé went as far as painting their name on the side of the rock, and discontinued part way, so you will see the confusing letters of ” G- I” painted in white once you spot the rock from the highway.
Hiking and biking trails – This is the most overlooked attraction in travel blogs and books, yet not to be missed. The trails are scenic. They do require a guide as they are not easy to find and are vast and rugged. We hiked the Guatapé Vereda Cirpes, a 5-hour walk through villages, valleys, narrow rock caverns, coffee farms, riverbeds, and into the valley, while being surrounded by emerald green mountains. A welcome break was stopping at a local farm for lunch with a family.
Ice cream and street food – When you’ve had enough of the heat and you need a break, head to the central plaza and treat yourself to a crema de Antioquia, which is ice milk popsicles made in the area, served in different flavors like green mango and salt, cheesecake, strawberry, and coconut, along with fresh shavings. Other notable nibbles on the street include popcorn and sugar and empanadas. Where to eat? There are endless spots for food; we recommend wandering through the town to find a spot. A good rule of thumb when it comes to finding the cheapest buys is that the prices are better when you wander away from the Main Square and the restaurants around the lake.
These are activities we haven’t done but have received good reviews from friends and travelers we met:
Paintball at the Infamous Escobar Mansion – We have some friends who enjoyed the odd and ironic Paintball fun at the once mansion of Pablo Escobar on the other side of the lake. Not only is it fun, but you also get a little history lesson of the stunning estate across the lake. (http://www.pabloescobarpaintball.com/)
Boat trips and jet skiing around the lake – For adventurers, there are options such as boat trips and booze-cruise type cruising around the lake, jet skiing, and something for everyone, including paintball games at the old abandoned mansion of the late Pablo Escobar, once the notorious head of the Medellín cocaine cartel.
Zip lining – Do not imagine yourself gliding through the trees and forests on the zip line in Guatape. It is just one line at the lake’s edge partly above the lake and a parking lot. With only one line, you glide to a not-so-scenic view of the water’s edge. Also, this goes without brakes, so you crash land onto a giant mat at the end of the line. Does this sound appealing?
We recommend about 1-2 nights in Guatapé at the very least, because a day trip is too short. One night gives you time to relax and take in one or two of the many attractions, if you just want to see the town, a day trip is enough- but you are missing out.
A day trip is easy to Guatapé but this place is so cool you will probably want to stay longer.
Here are the top picks of places to stay (based on location, ambience and price). All of these options have a double room option.
El Trebol – Gorgeous lake views, super tranquil setting and great staff.
La Casona hostel – Fantastic location, great staff, decent wifi, basic yet comfortable.
Country House Hostel – Super location, great staff, very comfortable cabin style stay.
The town is very easy to reach on your own, and you don’t require a tour to get there.
– From Medellín, take the metro station to Caribe station and walk to the connecting North Bus terminal.
– On the main floor of the station, buy your ticket from any window that advertises Guatapé, El Peñol or La Piedra.
– A one-way ticket costs 13,000 COP ($4.25 USD) at the time of our booking; all bus companies are competitively priced.
– Book your ticket back to Medellín immediately when you arrive at Guatapé, buses tend to book up quickly.
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Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com