Guatape was not on our radar originally, but quickly became one of our favorite cities on our trip so far. I found Guatape when I was searching for things to see and do in Medellin and it was mentioned. After seeing pictures of the town, we booked a bus from Medellin and spent 3 days exploring the city. We probably could have seen the city in 2 days but it was nice to have the extra day to relax.
Our timing was off as it was a Colombian holiday when we visited. Typically the city is quiet during the week and busy on the weekend. I wish that we were able to experience Guatape when it was quieter as it was very crowded when we were there, even on a weekday.
Things We Did in Guatape
La Piedra del Penon
The main attraction in Guatape is La Piedra del Penon. It is a large piece of granite rock with a staircase consisting of 740 steps to the top. Once you get to the top there are sweeping 360 degree views of the lake and surrounding mountains. This to date, is my favorite view that we have had on the entire trip and the coolest part of Guatape.
We visited La Piedra del Penon with some friends that we made in Medellin. After hiring a tuk tuk to drive us to the top of the mountain, we paid the 12,000 peso or $4 entry fee per person and headed up. Luckily for us, most of the stairs were shaded, keeping us a little bit cooler as we climbed up to the top. The stairs are level and the same rise/run the entire time which made for pretty easy climbing. The only time that there were issues is when the staircase would bottleneck with people stopping to rest or take pictures.
There are 2 levels at the top – the observation deck and the upper deck. We relaxed on the observation deck for a while before continuing up to the upper deck. Funny enough, they make you go through the gift shops to get to the top and then back down. Whenever we travel to a new city, we purchase keychains which we re-purpose into Christmas ornaments. We were suckers in the gift shop and ended up buying our souvenirs there.
After taking quite a few pictures and enjoying the view, we headed back down the stairs. I really like that there was a second set of stairs specifically for going down as it would have been a nightmare to have both up and down using the same set.
Since Guatape is on a lake, we wanted to take a boat ride. There are quite a few cool things to see on the lake, including Pablo Escobar’s lake house, an entire town under water due to the flooding of the reservoir and more.
Once we approached the dock, there was one guy in particular that was quite aggressive. He tried to get us to pay 90,000 pesos or $30 for a boat ride. We laughed him off as we were told that the going price was about 10,000 – 15,000 pesos or $3.50 – $5 for a shared boat. In our broken Spanish we haggled and got him down to 45,000 pesos or $15 for a private ride.
The guy was in quite a rush from the second we were talking to him, something that should have tipped us off that something wasn’t right but we continued on. Once we got on the boat, he was driving extremely fast, again, another indication that something wasn’t right but we just thought he was maybe rushing since we were paying him less than he wanted.
Once we hit fantasy island he started heading back towards town. Andy was suspicious that we were going back to the docks but I assumed that we were just continuing on the other way to the other sites, after all he showed us pictures of everything that we would see.
Andy’s suspicions were right and we returned to the dock. Once we arrived, I refused to get out of the boat, yelling at the guy in my broken Spanish that we didn’t see everything he promised. He eventually left us on the boat and Andy got out to see if he could find out anything about the pricing structure. Turns out in the broken translation, he told us he would take us for less, but also cut out some of the attractions. The price that we paid was the price on the board so there was nothing that we could do but be annoyed.
We learned a few lessons to apply to our future travels from this:
- Never trust aggressive people selling something
- Make sure that we fully understand what we are getting before we pay, even if there is a language barrier
- Don’t be in a rush to commit to something – had we taken our time, we would have been able to go as part of a larger group to see everything at a lower cost than we had paid
Walked Around the City
Guatape was a very cute, charming city so we spent quite a bit of time walking around, just exploring. Since it was a holiday weekend the streets which would normally be empty, were quite full which made the walks a little less enjoyable.
There were not many attractions to see in the city center besides the church. Most of the city is shops and restaurants, as expected being a tourist town.
We were fortunate to stumble upon a soccer game going on at the field during one of our wanderings. It was fun to just relax and watch the game for a while. While I am not huge into sports, especially soccer, you could tell that the players were quite good which made it more fun.
Since both Hotel Los Recuerdos and Mi Casa Guatape Hostel are a little removed from town, we took quite a few shared jeeps to get us where we needed to go. For 1,500 pesos or around 50 cents per person, a fraction of the price of a tuk tuk or taxi, we could get a ride all the way into town or back.
Coming from where we were staying, we just needed to flag down one of the colorful jeeps that drove by. Depending on the day and time of the day, the jeeps were various states of fullness. We were lucky enough to catch a few relatively empty Jeeps, but also had our fair share of jam packed Jeeps as well. There were even times where the locals, when there was no room, would stand on the back bumper and hold on to the jeep.
Things We Didn’t Do in Guatape
Even though we had enough time we probably could have seen and done more, the massive crowds made us want to just stay back at the hostel to relax more than we normally would have. This wasn’t a bad thing as too much traveling without taking time to relax can really burn you out.
Watch the Sunset
We were going to watch the sunset from the little rock next to La Piedra del Penon, the big rock. The clouds looked promising and we were excited to see if it would produce a brightly colored sunset. As we were on the path to the little rock, where we planned to watch the sunset, we encountered a cow. As we got closer to her, she continued to hike up the trail. We followed her at a safe distance until we reached another cow who seemed irritated. At this point, we were not ready to risk getting injured by any cows and headed back to the hostel.
From the front balcony of our hostel, we saw what would have been an amazing sunset if we had been on the little rock. We still caught some of it, but there were buildings and power lines in the way which made it less spectacular than it would have been.
One of the things that I saw online and was excited to do when we were in Guatape was riding a zipline over the water. When we went to check it out, we saw that the line for the zipline must have been 100 people long. There was no way that I could justify standing in that long of a line for a zipline which had mediocre views. If Guatape wasn’t so busy I probably would have gone on the zipline – it looked fun, just not that long of a line fun.
For our final day, Andy and I had planned to take a bus out to San Rafael, a town about 40 minutes away famous for having lots of waterfalls and natural pools. We didn’t set our alarm and slept in a little bit so by the time we would have gotten there, we would only have 3 hours before we had to turn back to town to catch our bus back to Medellin.
Since the weather was overcast and we knew that there were likely going to be a ton of tourists, we instead opted to hang out at the hostel and relax.
Of all the places we visited in Colombia, Guatape was by far our favorite. It has the perfect mix of things to see/do and was also small. For the first time in quite some time, we were able to let our guards down a little bit. The city itself felt extremely safe, especially after coming from such large cities before hand.
I can see why this is a popular weekend destination for those who live in Medellin. I dubbed it as “the Hamptons of Colombia”, a nod to all the New Yorkers who drive out to the Hamptons for the weekend.
Andy and I joked that we would return to Guatape sometime on a random Wednesday. This way we could hopefully have most of La Piedra del Penon to ourselves and could take some great pictures.