Nestled in the Andes Mountains of Colombia, the majestic monolith El Peñol and the charming town of Guatape are popular destinations for tourists and backpackers visiting the country. An unforgettable day trip to Guatape from Medellin should be on your Colombia itinerary.
Guatape is famous for its brightly-coloured buildings and colonial architecture, while El Peñol is a towering rock formation that offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes Guatape and El Peñol so special and offer tips on how to make the most of your visit including how to get there, what to do in Guatape, and how much it costs.
How to get to Guatapé from Medellín
Guatape is 74 kilometres away from Medellin and takes a 2-hour drive to reach. The bus to Guatape from Medellin offers a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the breathtaking scenery along the way.
Take a Guatapé tour
Suffering from travel fatigue, I asked my hostel how big the tour groups were. Having been told it was a small group tour, I signed up. When I arrived the next morning at the meeting point, the bus was huge so I requested decided to request a refund and took a last-minute DIY trip to Guatape.
Many Guatapé tours include a boat ride on the lake, and some include a coffee tour or even paragliding. A dedicated tour bus will avoid extra stops along the way.
A day trip to Guatapé can be booked in advance to guarantee your place, some top-rated suggestions would be;
- Day tour to Guatape + Piedra El Penol, Boat, Breakfast & Lunch
- Tour to Guatape + El Penol + 1 Night Lakeside Glamping
- Guatape Tour + Paragliding Flight
- Private Guatape Tour + El Penol + Boat
- Private Guatape and Coffee Tour
How to get the bus from Guatapé to Medellín
The bus for Guatapé leaves Medellin from Terminal Del Norte.
How to reach Terminal Del Norte
Metro – Make sure you buy your Metro Card (Cívica Card) and each journey costs 2,355 pesos (May 2022 – approx. $0.72 USD). Take the blue line (Line A) and alight at Caribe station which is located next to the bus terminal. Here is the Medellin metro map.
Taxi – All taxis are metered so check when you get in. Like me, many backpackers will be staying in El Poblado so you should expect to pay around 10,000-13,000 COP ($2).
Uber – Although Uber is they are technically illegal in Medellin, it is commonly used, and avoids any issues with the fare.
Terminal Del Norte, Medellín to Guatapé bus
There are a lot of ticket booths, search for No14. Look for the red and white signage labelled ‘Sotrasanvicente & Guatape La Piedra’ and ‘GUATAPE’ written across the window.
The single bus ticket from Medellin to Guatape costs 17,000COP (May 2022) which is around $4.
The gate (rampa) and seat number (puesto) is printed on the ticket.
Top tips to plan your day trip to Guatape
Visit El Penol first
Walking up the big rock of El Penol is a highlight of a day trip to Guatape, so it is recommended to get there as early as possible to tick this one off your list and avoid the afternoon crowds.
If you are travelling on the public bus, get off at the gas station or a parking lot further up to avoid the extra steps. I enjoyed seeing The Rock of Guatapé from a different perspective by walking up.
Fill up your water bottle
Keep hydrated especially when you are mixing sunny weather with walking up El Penol. There are no water stops along the way, so the next opportunity will be at the top.
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How to get from El Penol to Guatape town
It’s about 4km from El Peñol to Guatapé Town so if you are on a day trip, and want to maximise your time sightseeing in Guatapé, I’d recommend a tuk-tuk instead of walking.
A tuk-tuk will take around 10 minutes, charged at a fixed rate of 10,000 COP, and are always good fun. You won’t be short of any willing tuk-tuks awaiting their next fare.
Alternatively, you can wait for the next bus to arrive for 2,000 COP.
Book your return journey from Guatapé to Medellín
If you want to get back to Medellin on the same day, buy your return ticket right after you arrive in Guatapé to get the time you want. The buses run regularly, and the sign in the window is displayed every 20 minutes. You will be allocated the next available bus if you arrive at the Guatapé bus terminal ready to go back to Medellin, it’s on a first come first served basis.
Visit Piedra del Peñol
Piedra del Peñol is a massive rock formation located near Guatapé that stands at a height of 220 metres tall. The monolith’s unique shape and size make it a breathtaking sight to behold, and one sight I was excited to see on my Colombia travels.
With a staircase of 650 steps leading to the main viewing platform, and 708 steps to summit, La Piedra offers a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding landscape and man-made reservoir below.
The reservoir ‘Embalse El Peñol-Guatapé’, one of the largest lakes in the country, was created by the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the 1970s that now provides 30% of the electricity supply of Colombia.
How was El Peñol formed?
The formation of Piedra del Peñol is believed to be a result of a geological phenomenon known as a pluton. A pluton is a large mass of magma that has solidified deep beneath the Earth’s surface and then uplifted and exposed through the process of erosion over millions of years.
It is estimated that Piedra del Peñol was formed around 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous period when the area was covered by an ancient ocean. Over time, the ocean receded, leaving behind a massive granite rock that was eventually uplifted and exposed to the elements. The distinctive vertical lines on the rock face are believed to be the result of cooling and contracting magma.
Today, El Peñol rock stands as a testament to the power of natural forces and is a symbol of the beauty and resilience of the Colombian landscape.
History of El Peñol
The rock’s history dates back to the 1940s when it was used as a religious pilgrimage site by the Tahami, Colombian indigenous people who used to live in the Antioquia region. They called the rock mojarrá or mujará (meaning “rock” or “stone”).
The first documented scaling mission was in 1954 when Don Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopez took 5 days to climb the rock using only small wooden boards, wedged into the cracked surface down the side of the rock. A life-size bronze sculpture of Lopez sits at the base of El Peñol acknowledging him as the “first person on top of the Guatapé Rock”.
How long does it take to climb El Peñol?
Once you’ve bought your Guatape Rock ticket for 20,000 COP at the booth at the bottom of the rock, it’s time to start your ascent.
Walking up “the rock” looks more challenging than it actually is. The walk will take you about 15 minutes to reach the top of El Penol. However, the steps are narrow in places, and need to wait for people to pass, as well as stop at various platforms to admire the view.
What is at the top of Guatapé rock?
Apart from the 360-degree mind-blowing views at the top of the Rock of Guatape, there is a café to grab an ice cream or a snack to make the most of soaking up the atmosphere. There is also a souvenir shop should you wish to take home a memento.
What to do in Guatape in a day
Look at the Zocalos
One distinctive feature of Guatapé that you simply cannot miss is the brightly-coloured zócalos, it’s what Guatapé is famous for.
The tradition of adorning houses with bas-relief designs is believed to have started a century ago. Some say locals started to colour their houses to get stop chickens pecking at the walls. I wonder how true this is.
Originally, the zocalo frescos depicted heritage and the trade of the family living inside. The tradition has been preserved with some zócalos being more artistically-influenced than having cultural significance. The continuation of the zócalos is a great pull factor for tourists, which enables economic growth for the town of Guatape.
Enjoy Plazoleta de Los Zócalos
Plazoleta de Los Zócalos, or Plaza del Zocalo, is a popular hangout with stunning steps lined with eye-popping zócalos.
With the sound of traditional music, it’s a great place to stop for a coffee to soak up the lively atmosphere. If there are no chairs free, try the cafes with balconies to get in some people-watching time.
Calle de Las Sombrillas (Umbrella Street) connects with the Plaza del Zocalo. It’s known as a photo hotspot in Guatape, so you may see a good few people posing underneath the suspended umbrellas for the ‘gram!
Explore the colourful streets
Guatape is one of the most vibrant towns I have visited in Colombia. This Colombian pueblo is jumping with colour from blocks of colour and traditional zócalo frescos.
The most impressive and famous street in Guatape is Calle del Recuerdo (Memory Street) with a traditional fountain at the bottom of the street.
On Calle del Recuerdo is a small Historical Museum in a converted house to learn how people lived, and how the town has changed over time.
Find the street art
As if Guatape couldn’t get any more colourful! Remember to look up, or down side streets to discover the magnificent murals around the town of Guatape.
If you are looking for mind-blowing street art in Colombia, you should check out Getsemani Cartagena and the high-altitude capital of Bogotá.
Visit Parque Principal de Guatapé
Parque Principal de Guatapé is a relaxing meeting spot for locals and tourists. The park features a beautiful fountain with a selection of shops and cafes around the edge.
This is also the best place to get a tuk-tuk if you haven’t done La Piedra del Peñol yet.
The white and red majestic Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Guatapé is a building you cannot miss. Its’ construction began in 1865 and took a staggering 70 years to complete. The church was built in the Greco-Roman style, depicted by large arches and circular bevels that adorn the top and top of the columns. The inside has a warm feeling as it boasts impressive woodwork and an altar with swishes of fabric.
Try the traditional Bandeja Paises
Bandeja Paises is a traditional Antioquian dish with red beans, white rice, chorizo, chicharron (pork crackling), carne en polvo (Ground, powdered beef), fried egg, plantain, avocado and arepa piled on a platter.
As the home of the Bandeja Paises, I felt sure that I would find a good one on my day trip to Guatape, and I wasn’t wrong! I found a wonderful restaurant in Guatape called La Fogata next to the bus terminal so we could jump over the road when our booked bus was ready to depart. The hearty dish will keep you full for the journey back to Medellin.
To create a little atmosphere, a local Colombian chap in a white suit and cowboy hat strummed on his guitar and sang for us. With views of the lake, this was a great way to end a trip to Guatape.
FAQs: Guatape Day Trip
What is the best time to visit Guatape?
The peak season in Guatape is from December to March, as well as during Easter, Christmas and other public holidays. During these times, the weather is generally dry and sunny, and there are plenty of activities and events happening.
If you prefer to avoid crowds and high prices, the best time to visit Guatape is during the low season, which is from March to May and from September to November.
I visited Guatape on a day trip midweek in May, and the weather was fantastic and wasn’t overrun with tourists. It is best to avoid the weekends if you want fewer folk around!
Is Guatape worth visiting?
Yes, Guatape is definitely worth visiting! Guatape is a charming town to add to your bucket list when you are visiting Medellin Colombia. However, with the travel time, you may wish to consider an overnight stay to explore at a leisurely pace and add some extra activities to your Guatape trip.
Is Guatape safe?
Yes, Guatape is safe. Tourists are the lifeline of the economy in Guatape so it is within their interests to make tourists feel safe. Aside from that, Colombians are some of the friendliest folk I’ve met.
What is the best travel insurance for Colombia?
Despite Colombia’s bad reputation, it is safe to visit Guatape. Take the usual precautions against pickpockets, especially at night, and avoid getting too tipsy if you’re on your own.
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