Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Guatape, Colombia
Guatape: Colombia’s Kaleidoscopic Pueblo
Teetering along cobblestone streets past rows of vividly hued shops, the precipice of the El Peñon looming in the background.
You could only be in Guatapé.
Situated just two-hours outside of Medellin, Guatapé is a rural farming community that has laid claim to the title of “Most Colorful City on Earth“.
Still home to farmers and cowboys but also heavily on the beaten path of tourism in Colombia, it’s a must-see for any traveler.
The natural landscape drew visitors to the abundant green hillsides and red clay-banked reservoir lakes. But it’s the pueblos’ rainbow-colored streets that keep them all coming.
Many visit only on a day-trip from Medellin.
But Guatapé has much more to offer than originally meets the eye. Given the gift of time, we highly recommend staying overnight in the town.
Here’s your complete guide of things to do in Guatapé – Colombia’s most famous pueblo.
The History of Guatape
Driving from the bustling metropolis of Medellin through rolling green hills and rural communities you’ll see this area of Colombia is dependent on farming and agriculture.
Guatapé has always been this way.
Before it was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, Guatapé was inhabited by indigenous peoples.
The chief – Guatapé (which also happens to mean ‘of stones and water‘), has the honor of being the town’s namesake.
Economically, the town began to change in the 1970s when the man-made reservoir was built. The emphasis on farming decreased and was placed on tourism instead. The red clay earth and deep blue water create a unique and beautiful landscape.
People visited from all over to witness the twisting, weaving lakes of Guatapé’s reservoir.
And as they came they were charmed by the colorful streets of the town.
Around 100 years ago, the shop and homeowners in Guatapé began to craft intricate Zócalos along the bottom on their buildings. That combined with the proclivity of the brilliant Crayola-colored paint jobs in South America–a town was decorated.
The Zócalos depict scenes from Guatapé’s and Colombia’s history, indigenous people, cowboys, or even as simple as what the shop sells inside.
Today, tourism sustains Guatapé’s economy.
Shops line the cobblestones streets, restaurants of all tastes have popped up, and tuk-tuks are readily available to transport you to the various attractions around town.
Getting to Guatape from Medellin
If you aren’t planning on utilizing one of the all-inclusive day trips to Guatapé (see below if you are), your first hurdle will be getting there.
Fortunately, there are two easy options for covering the relatively short distance between Medellin and Guatapé.
Option 1: Bus
- Take the famous Medellin Metro to the Caribe station.
- Cross the street to the North Bus Terminal.
- Inside the terminal, Counters #9 and #14 both sell 14,000 COP tickets to Guatapé.
- There is no need to book ahead, they will put you on the first available bus out.
- This is the cheapest option and still relatively comfortable. Expect delays along the way because South American buses rarely keep to schedule.
Option 2: Hire a Car
- Obviously, the more expensive option. But should still cost you only around $40.
- This will be a more direct route and you can reach Guatapé faster.
Your Return Trip
Guatapé has one bus/taxi drop-off point in the town. From here you can book a seat on the same bus you arrived in OR take up an offer by one of the local taxi’s to drive you to Medellin for cheap. They try to fill their vehicle with passengers but only charge around $11 per person, nearly the same as the bus ticket.
Day Trips to Guatape
If your tightly packed Colombian itinerary only allows for a day-trip to the pueblo it’s best to book through your accommodation.
Every hotel, hostel, and guesthouse in Medellin will be able to offer a reasonably priced all-inclusive day-trip to the town.
The trips will typically include round-trip transportation, lunch, entrance fee to the Peñol, and a knowledgeable guide.
The downside to this option– you forgo seeing the town outside of peak tourist hours. The highlight of Guatapé is rising early to see the empty streets and visiting the Peñol without all the crowds and tour buses.
Accommodation in Guatape
For those planning on staying in Guatapé, there is a bounty of stunning and unique lodging for such a small town. You can book ahead to score some of the most luxurious sleeping or simply arrive and find a place near the town square that suits you.
Here’s some of the most noteworthy accommodation in Guatapé for all budget types.
This is one of the most unique places to stay in all of Colombia. The Mush-Room pods here allow for panoramic views of the many lakes of Guatapé as well as the opportunity to completely disconnect from the world. This is an experience rather than a bed to sleep in. Carefully designed and decorated rooms paired with wooden terraces and outdoor showers.
Guatapé’s very own resort. Built in the shadow of Piedra el Peñon, this hotel is right up against the waters of the reservoir and offers panoramic views (in some rooms) of the surrounding landscape. You’ll also have access to stunning outdoor pools and a cruise ship for exploring the lake. But be aware, you won’t be located in Guatapé’s colorful streets.
Luxury villas complete with breathtaking views of the natural landscape, personal outdoor jacuzzis, and a “beach club” restaurant and bar. These modern glass-walled villas are built right into the hillside of Guatapé overlooking the bright blue waters of the reservoir.
The epitome of Guatapé architecture. This bright pink 200-year old building was one of the first-ever constructed in town. Today it is a cozy hostel that serves homemade jam for breakfast and caretakers who cater to your every need.
This hostel gets you deeply in touch with nature here in Guatapé. Positioned close to the water and just outside the town itself, you’ll stay in a lovely farmhouse filled with terraces, balconies, and views of the water below. This is a perfect place to stay if you plan to explore the surrounding area and indulge in some water activities such as kayaking and paddle-boarding.
One of the top-rated hostels in Guatapé. Here you’ll have access to a kitchen and full spice cabinet if cooking is on the agenda. The gracious hosts are also knowledgable in activities and guides in the area and are more than happy to help arrange them for you. As an added bonus, you can lounge on some of the large woven hammocks on the hostel grounds.
Eating in Guatape
Colombia is king of gut-busting meat dishes and deep-fried deliciousness and Guatapé is no different.
This particular region of Antioquia is famous for a particularly meat-laden dish called Bandeja Paisa.
Its consists of a teeming pile of arepas, rice, beans, chicharrones, chorizo, ground beef, plantain, and avocado, all topped with a fried egg.
Most restaurants in Guatapé’s town square will have it on the menu.
If you gravitate toward the center of town you’ll find plenty of small mom and pop restaurants and street food vendors serving up traditional Colombian cuisine. Any of these options will be pure carbohydrate bliss.
But for those in search of a more diverse menu or vegetarian-friendly options, here are some restaurants to consider.
Namaste Cafe ($)
One of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants in town. With tasty fruit bowls, crepes, sandwiches, and pastries this is a much lighter version of Colombian cuisine.
The Snuggly Duckling ($$)
Meat piled high onto sandwiches and various other comfort foods served here. The Colombian coffee and biscuits are top-notch.
Thai Terrace ($$)
Yes, there is phenomenal Thai food in Colombia. Located on the rooftop of a hostel, really adding to the ambiance. A great place to begin a boozy evening out.
Pizzeria de Luigi ($$)
Colombian’s love their pizza. Even deep in the Amazonas region, you can find phenomenal pizza. With thin-crust, candle-light, and a small selection of wine your sure to have a relaxing evening.
8 Must-See Things to Do in Guatape (and 1 to Avoid)
Guatapé has a relaxed pace of life.
It’s easy to get caught up admiring the streets and lounging by the water’s edge.
Next thing you know you haven’t done anything aside from wandering the streets and simply enjoying the colorful facades.
But there are plenty of activities for restless or adventurous travelers.
Here are the top 8 must-see things to do in Guatapé.
1. CLIMB LA PIEDRA DEL PENOL
750 stone steps twist around the massive rock karst that dominates the landscape of Guatapé. Hiking up them is a sort of pilgrimage that all travelers must take. The views from the top overlooking the reservoir are indescribable. One of the best miradors in all of Colombia. At the peak stop for a beer and some seasoned mango and just take in the view.
Pro-tip: Visit before 10 AM or after 4 PM to miss the crowds. Visitors on a day-trip tour arrive mid-day and the stairway can become claustrophobic. You’ll also have to jostle through people for your chance to photograph the view.
Getting to the Peñol: This attraction is the furthest from town. Luckily, the local tuk-tuk drivers are looping back and forth from town to the rock constantly. Prices are set at 12,000 COP so there is no need to haggle.
2. GIVE YOURSELF A DAY AT THE LAKE
Take full advantage of the beautiful reservoir and rent a kayak, jetski or your very own boat. Many lakeside accommodations have a variety of equipment to rent. Or you can wander down to the docks and book a cruise around the lake.
3. PARTAKE IN ADVENTURE SPORTS
Hang-gliding, paragliding, and mountain biking are all commonplace here. There is even a zipline, albeit small and unexciting, near the reservoir itself. Mountaineers can literally climb their way up El Peñon. For experienced climbers only. Adrenaline junkies can book these excursions through their accommodation.
4. VISIT THE CHURCH OF ‘OUR LADY CARMEN’
Smack-dab in the middle of town square, surrounded by restaurants and street vendors, is an impressive colonial church. Locals gather at dusk for an evening mass. Aside from its aesthetic beauty its a great place to mingle and get to know some fellow travelers and townspeople.
6. BROWSE THE ARTISANAL SHOPS
Guatapé has some of the best shopping in Colombia when it comes to handmade goods. Local shops and artisans handcraft bags, jewelry, and home decorations. They are priced very reasonably here.
7. WANDER THE COLOURFUL STREETS
Guatapé is a labyrinth of kaleidescopic streets and quirky little houses and so the highlight for many is to simply spend some time on foot wandering the beautiful pueblo.
8. VISIT THE NEARBY WATERFALLS OF SAN RAFAEL
The small but beautiful town of San Rafael is only an hours journey from Guatapé. Famed for its outdoor activities, specifically, it’s pulsing waterfalls. Feel like Indiana Jones, as you hike across wooden hanging bridges through the jungle to swimming holes and falls.
What is one attraction to avoid? Paintballing at La Manuela. The ruins of the infamous Pablo Escobar’s mansion. It was bombed in 1993 and has slowly been taken over by the local flora. Today, local entrepreneurs have decided to capitalize on his destructive fame. Considering the context, it is in poor taste to trivialize a civil war in the home of a man who was personally responsible for the death of thousands of Colombians.
Nightlife in Guatape
During the week Guatapé is your typical sleepy town. But on the weekend several discotheques and chill bars belt out tunes and pack their dance floors.
Here are a few of the best places to get your groove on.
Less of a backpacker joint and more of a salsa club. This Cuban style home is a perfect place to dance the night away and indulge in some cocktails. Their food menu doesn’t disappoint either.
A healthy mix of locals and travelers enjoy the calm atmosphere of this bar. The music isn’t blared too loudly and the owner has theme nights frequently.
Jala Jala Disco Bar
A more typical dark and neon light bar. Loud thumping music and often filled with younger travelers. This is more of a spot to end your evening rather than begin it.
Guatapé is a special destination. At times it can feel like Disneyland with its technicolor madness and crowds. But also much like Disneyland, it’s charming and you’ll find yourself entertained. If you only visit one pueblo in all of Colombia, it has to be this one.
So when you find yourself in Medellin, slow down and take a few days drinking in the views of Guatapé.
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