Guatapé is quite possibly the Instagrammable destination on the planet.
This small town in the Colombian countryside is a popular day trip from Medellin, and it’s easy to see why – the vibrant houses and gorgeous scenery are guaranteed to make anyone swoon.
I remember seeing a photo of Guatapé somewhere on the internet, and being so awed that I immediately added it into my list of places to go in Colombia. How could I resist a trip to such a photogenic spot? I could practically feel my camera itching to jump out of my bag and get snapping.
Now that I’ve finally had the chance to visit the town of Guatapé, I can confirm that it is just as pretty in real life as it appears in photos! If you’re planning a trip to this picturesque Colombian destination, here are all the deets on a day trip to Guatapé from Medellin.
Our Guatapé day trip was with Tours Guatape, which we booked via Toucan Cafe in Poblado. You can reserve your spot online, or book through the tour desk in the cafe (as we did) any time up until the day before the tour.
This particular tour was a large group tour on a full size bus. While I generally prefer more intimate, smaller group tours, I actually didn’t mind the group size in this case as it meant the tour was dirt cheap. At only 79,000 pesos (about $26 USD) per person including breakfast and lunch, I definitely thought it was excellent value for money.
The bus also wasn’t packed with seniors as most large group tours are. I think older people tend not to travel to Colombia because of the historical reputation of it being a “dangerous” place (BTW – it’s not!). There were plenty of other people around our age taking the tour – we enjoyed chatting to a bunch of Americans in their 20s and 30s over breakfast.
Medellin to Guatapé is around 2 hours drive each way. The tour departs at about 8-8:30AM and arrives back in the city at about 7-7:30PM. There were a few people on our tour who had organised other activities or flights in the evening after the tour, which I wouldn’t recommend as you’ll probably be exhausted and the timing is only an estimate – it might arrive later if the bus hits traffic.
We hopped on the bus at Poblado, and the driver took us to El Centro to pick up some more passengers before we began our day trip.
The bus stopped in 2 locations on the way to Guatapé – a roadside restaurant where we had arepas (sort of like a savoury pancake topped with cheese) and hot chocolate for breakfast, then a historical town called Marinilla. The town was pretty, but to be honest I was too excited for El Peñol and Guatapé to pay much attention to it!
El Peñol is a giant rock (apparently it’s the third largest rock in the world, though I have no idea if that’s true!) which you can climb for spectacular views of the Colombian countryside. One thing to note is that the cost for climbing the rock (18,000 pesos per person, about $6 USD) is paid on arrival, and is not included in the tour cost.
The stairs that take you up El Peñol are fairly tough, but with enough breaks, nearly everyone can make it to the top. It’s worth the effort, as the views of the surrounding hills and lake are amazing!
Fun fact: The lake is actually man-made. Back in the 70s, a river was dammed to create a reservoir, and the resulting hydroelectric plant now creates more than 30% of Colombia’s energy.
After descending the 740 steps of El Peñol, our group met in the restaurant at the base of the rock. Some people might consider the food a little bland as we were served a traditional Colombian dish of rice, salad, and meat (or beans for us vegetarians), but I thought it was great. Local food is a way better option than the deep-fried crap that you get at most tourist hotspots around the world.
After lunch, it was time to explore the town of Guatapé. This town is 100% adorbs! Every house has a decorated facade (which is called a zócalo) along the base of the building. These zócalos are painted with bright colours and patterns to help bring tourism to the area, and to reflect the cultural importance of the family living inside.
Our guide took us on a fairly short walking tour of the town, then we made our way down to the waterfront for a boat ride on the lake. I was excited that the boat ride was included on our tour, but actually it turned out to be the lamest part of our day trip.
We all had to wear uncomfortable and unattractive life jackets, even though the boat was huge (though we did float past a partially submerged boat on the lake, so I guess it was justified?) and there was also no alcohol served on the boat except for a 2% strength “beer” that tasted like creaming soda. I mean, come on. Not even a regular beer? Sheesh.
With our feet back on dry land, we were given some free time to explore the town. Rob and I stopped for coffee on a balcony facing zócalo square. There was a local band playing atmospheric music nearby, which made the moment absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing way to end our busy day of sightseeing.
At 5PM, we hopped back on the bus for the 2 hour drive back to Medellin. By the time we arrived back in Poblado, we’d been day-tripping for a solid 12 hours.
I really enjoyed the Guatapé day trip. It was definitely worth putting aside time to visit the countryside during our stay in Medellin.
Taking the tour also meant the day trip was totally stress-free. As I don’t speak much Spanish (ok, basically none!), I appreciated that I didn’t have to figure out the logistics of getting to Guatapé from Medellin.
If you speak some Spanish then you could probably figure out how to do Guatapé independently, but if you’re looking for an easy way to see Guatapé in a day, this tour is a great way to go about it!
Are you planning a trip to Guatapé? What are you most looking forward to seeing? Share your thoughts with is un the comments!
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