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Every year, thousands of people make the easy day-trip from Medellin to Guatape; it’s by far the most popular thing to do outside the City of Eternal Spring. There are 3 key things to do in Guatapé. The first is a simple walk around the colourful town, admiring the stunning houses with animals and typical scenes moulded onto the front. The second is go and see La Piedra (‘the rock’) and amazing views of the man-made lake that the town is famous for. The third is to play paintball in one of Pablo Escobar’s old mansions. Yes, you read that right.
Realistically, you can do all of these in a day. For the paintballing, most people take a tour from Medellín to Guatape, but you can also stay in Guatapé and find a tour once there. If you can help it, avoid Guatapé on a Sunday, as the crowds turn it into a different town. Sure, there’s an extra market in the square that day, but they sell the same stuff as you get in the many souvenir shops, and you can barely move around the streets for coach-loads of both domestic and international tourists.
How to pronounce Guatapé: gwah-tah-PAY
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To get from Medellin to Guatape without a tour, get one of the local buses that leave from Medellín North Bus Terminal every 15 minutes for 14,000 pesos one way. The bus will stop at La Piedra first, but sit tight if you want to see the town before you tackle the rock. You can get a jeep or tuktuk back to the rock afterwards for around 10,000 pesos including the extra ride up the hill (normally 3,000 pesos) from the main square of the town. We wouldn’t recommend walking to or from the rock and town as it’s not as close as you’d expect. It takes about 2 hours to get from Medellin to Guatape by bus.
Climbing La Piedra to see the Lake at Guatapé
The rock was first officially climbed in 1954, and since having steps built into it has become a tourist hit due to its fantastic view of the lake (actually a dammed reservoir). It goes by many names, from La Piedra de Guatapé to La Piedra de Peñol or El Peñón de Guatapé. There are 659 (officially 740 if you go right up the tower) steps to the top of the rock. At the bottom of the hill of the rock, near the petrol station, you’ll be instantly hit by tuktuk drivers and horse owners trying to flog you a ride up to the base of the steps. We originally turned this down, and then seeing how far up we had to walk up the steep hill before we even got to the 659 stairs, we opted for a tuktuk (3000 pesos / 75p). The horses looked pretty fed up, and after Lozzy’s experience on Rainbow Mountain that’s a no-go for us.
At the top, you’ll need to pay your entrance fee at the office (18,000 pesos / £4.50) and then start your ascent. The steps are easier than they look, but maybe that’s influenced by the fact that we’d already conquered Cocora Valley. If you get puffed out, there are plenty of spots to stop and pretend you’re just taking in the beautiful view.
There’s not much at the top, but we recommend getting a traditional Colombian ice cream and/or a beer from the small shop. It’s generally not too crowded, but the ‘Instagram corner’ normally has a queue even if there aren’t that many people visiting that day. Whether you’re there for cheesy photos or not, views are fantastic in every direction.
When you come back down, you have the choice to either wait for the local bus which can take you into the town or get a tuktuk into town.
Seeing La Piedra without breaking a sweat
If you hate the idea of climbing 659 stairs, fear not, you can still see the rock from below. Taking a boat ride around the lake of Guatapé will give you outstanding views as you weave in and out of the manmade islands. There are some beautiful holiday homes to behold in this part of Colombia, and you’ll likely go past the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s house too.
Alternatively, you can go bougie and see La Piedra de Guatapé from the air, with a helicopter ride. Quite the view, no doubt!
Exploring Guatapé Town
Guatapé town itself is colourful, quaint and quiet. All around, you’ll see houses with murals on the outside like skirting boards, each with their own vibrant depictions of llamas, horses and old men at the bar.
The town’s touristic centre is in the Plazoleta de los Zócalos square, which gives you Guatapé’s two favourite things: colourful murals and steps. This is also the place to get your souvenirs if that’s what you’re looking for. Other than that, stroll around the town, take in its beauty, grab some churros or coffee (recommend Cafe Sin P, which will give you a quick lesson in colonial clothing and ways of making coffee just because they want to spread the word).
Also, when wandering around the town, check out the cinnamon buns. LUSH.
How to get back to Medellín from Guatapé
To get back to Medellín, just walk down to the bus terminal at Calle 32 with Carrera 30, and buy a ticket at the café counter. If you want to go back to Medellín straight from La Piedra, you can pick one up from the petrol station at the bottom of the hill. However, if you get the bus after it’s left the terminal you risk not having a seat as it’s a very popular route.