Guatapé is a picture-perfect little pueblo (town) located only a few hours east of Medellín, in the Antioquia district. The proximity to the bustling city of Medellín makes it a manageable day trip or a welcome weekend escape for any traveler or local in the area. While a multi-day trip to Guatapé gives you more time to thoroughly enjoy and relax, going on a day trip to Guatapé from Medellín is indeed possible.
Often referred to as “the most colorful town in Colombia” (some people also claim it just might be one of the most colorful towns in the world), I don’t know the truth to this statement, but I can say it is a beautiful little place that can easily lift your spirits with the fun art and color painting the streets.
In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Guatapé, Colombia, and share some practical information to plan your visit.
Why You Should Visit Guatapé, Colombia
Small as it is, Guatapé has everything you may want for your escape from the hustle and bustle of Medellin; short day hikes, beautiful boat rides, active water sports, or eye-catching photoshoot spots. You should be busy whether you have one day, two days, or more.
The pretty colorful Colombian town has been gaining popularity amongst locals and travelers in recent years, and the lake surrounding Guatapé – called “Embalse El Peñol-Guatapé” – is another attraction in the area. This is an artificial lake that was created by the construction of a hydroelectric dam and one the largest lakes in Colombia, supplying roughly 30% of the electricity in Colombia.
Finally, if you are planning on visiting, let’s check out the best things to do in Guatapé and everything you need to know to plan your visit.
The Best Things To Do In Guatapé, Colombia
Climb La Piedra del Peñol
One of the most popular things to do in Guatapé is climbing La Piedra del Peñol. La Piedra del Peñol is a unique rock formation that towers 200 meters (656 feet) above the base.
You can climb this rock for stunning views with a 708-step staircase. It takes less than an hour to get to the top, and there are little stores (tiendas) to buy water and snacks at the bottom and the top of La Piedra. Once you are at the top you are treated with beautiful 360° views almost the entire way up. If possible, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid hectic crowds.
The landscape and lake surrounding Guatapé are like nothing I’ve ever seen. La Piedra del Peñol is an absolute must because it gives you the perfect views.
La Piedra del Peñol is about a 15-minute drive from Guatapé center. You can take a moto-taxi -it should cost about 12,000 Colombian Pesos (COP) or $2.50 USD each way to the entrance, drive to the nearby parking lot, or rent a bicycle. Access costs about 30,000 COP ($6.50 USD) and the site is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Paddle-board or kayak around the lake
Many hostels and rental companies scattered around Guatapé center have a kayak and paddle-board rentals by the hour. This is the perfect way to admire the small town from the lake, enjoy a sunny warm day, and escape any tour crowds you bump into.
You can easily rent your own kayaks or paddle-boards or hop on a comprehensive tour that includes kayak rentals. It is safe to swim in the lake too – just don’t do it closer to the dock as there is a lot of boat traffic.
If you are looking for a day trip to Guatapé from Medellin, you may want to consider this tour which is a popular option for those that want to experience the natural side of the small town and the surrounding area.
Ride on a helicopter
You will see helicopters going around Guatapé and the surrounding area at all times of the day. Helicopter tours are popular for many day and weekend trippers and there is no shortage of good options.
You can book your helicopter ride directly in town at one of the many travel agencies or book a full tour that includes a helicopter ride beforehand.
This tour includes transportation to and from Guatapé, a helicopter ride, a long boat ride, and admission to La Piedra del Peñol. It’s not cheap, but if you consider the fact that it includes a private helicopter ride on top of everything else, you’ll understand the price is actually quite reasonable.
Try a lake boat tour
If paddle-boarding and kayaking aren’t your things, try a boat tour around the lake. The docks in the center of Guatapé are scattered with dozens of different boats (including a mock Disney Cruise boat). Once you near the docks, you will be flocked with Colombians selling boat tour tickets and information.
One of the main selling points of boat tours on the lake is going past Pablo Escobar mansion, which is however not open for visits (actually, like all the other Escobar’s properties).
Stay in a luxurious lake cabin
The small lakeside town has no shortage of stunning cabins, riverboats, and fancy lodging for those that want a more luxurious getaway. This is the perfect option if you can spend a couple of days in the area and enjoy a peaceful place to return – definitely one of the best things to do in Guatapé.
By all means, the best place to stay is Jordan Hotel Boutique. It features spacious, comfortable modern (yet cozy) rooms all with a lake view – some even have a balcony. A fabulous breakfast is included in the price of the room and considering the location and the amenities, it’s more than reasonably priced.
Take photos in the colorful streets and parks
Guatapé is known for the beautifully painted streets and calles throughout the city. Almost every corner is a perfect photo opportunity for your next Instagram post – so this is definitely one of the best things to do in Guatapé!
Our guide told us that the locals of Guatapé began painting their houses vibrant colors to cover up the marks made from chicken pecks. From there, the town went with it and pushed for a whole community filled with color and excitement.
La Plaza De Los Zocalos (roughly translates to “the square of the town center”) is the most well-known square of Guatapé, home to the colorful staircase and brightly decorated umbrellas. You should also stop at the Calle del Recuerdo, which is actually a modern replica of what the streets of Guatapé looked like before being flooded after the creation of the hydroelectric dams.
Another nice spot for photos is the Guatapé sign you’ll find at the very end of the Malecon (the waterfront walk), which only opened in 2019.
Rent a bike to explore the surroundings
You can rent a bike in Guatapé central and take a leisurely ride along the lake surrounding it. If you go east, leaving Guatapé, you’ll encounter some beautiful viewpoints looking over different parts of the lake. This is an easy way to spend a relaxing afternoon outside of Guatapé. In fact, continue reading for one of the most fun things to do in Guatapé.
Head out to San Rafael
You may be able to visit San Rafael on a day trip to Guatapé from Medellin (it’s often included in the tour) but if you are spending the weekend or a few days, simply plan to go on your own as it is super easy. The town itself is ok – it’s basically the surroundings and the actual drive that you’ll love the most.
Make sure to pack a swimsuit as there will be plenty of places where you can stop for a dip, such as the Estadero Rio Bizcocho and La Casuela, a small waterfall with a near-perfect swimming hole about 5 km (3.2 miles) out of San Rafael. You can’t actually get all the way to the waterfall on a scooter, but the hike there is easy and quick (just 30 minutes) through the forest.
You’ll find San Rafael about 27 km (16.8 miles) from Guatapé. You can get there by scooter (several places in town will rent you one, you can pay by the hour) in about 45 minutes, and make plenty of stops along the way for stunning views. Alternatively, you can get there by bike or bus too.
A day trip to Guatapé
Guatapé is about 80 km (50 miles) east of Medellín. The bus to Guatapé from Medellin can take an hour to three hours, depending on traffic in Medellín and road conditions near Guatapé.
The proximity makes Guatapé an easy and popular day trip destination from Medellín. You’ll find locals and foreigners alike heading to Guatapé every weekend.
If you plan a day trip to Guatapé on your own, try to go during the week when it will be less busy.
You can either go there independently (in which case, I really recommend planning to leave early in the morning), or arrange a tour to hit all the most popular places to visit in the area.
Here are my recommendations for guided tours:
From Medellin: Guatape El Peñol with Boat, Breakfast & Lunch – this is the most popular and best reviewed tour that you can book online. It includes round-trip transportation from Medellin, the climb to El Peñol, a boat ride around the lake and even meals. It’s very reasonably priced.
Private day trip to Guatapé from Medellin – this tour is another good option for history buffs, though slightly more expensive. Not only do you visit La Piedra del Peñol, but you will get a guided tour of the dam on the lake and stop at several historically significant monuments.
A multi-day trip to Guatapé
If you have the time for it in your schedule, a multi-day trip to Guatapé is actually recommended. Many people go on a day trip to Guatapé, so the streets and surrounding areas are much quieter and less crowded in the mornings and evenings.
You can get up in the mornings to enjoy the colorful calles without a crowd, visit La Piedra del Peñol in the later afternoon with very few people, and go about everything at your own pace.
You would also have the opportunity to stay at one of those luxurious (yet still affordable) lake rentals (more about those below).
If you don’t care to plan a multi-day trip, you can even book one online – I recommend this one as it includes glamping on the lake.
How to get from Medellín to Guatapé
Whether you go by bus, car, or a tour, getting to Guatapé is one of the easiest things to do. Guatapé is only 80 km (50 miles) from Medellín. The short trip should take about an hour and a half, depending on the road and traffic conditions.
You should also read my post 12 Best Things To Do In Medellín, Colombia.
Bus to Guatapé from Medellin
The bus to Guatapé from Medellin is the most economical option and doesn’t take too long. The bus ticket costs 17,000 COP ($3.75 USD) one-way.
To catch the bus, first, you go to Terminal Norte in Medellín. You can easily get there by Metro: take the Line A (blue) to Caribe station.
We found Google Maps highly effective in navigating the Metro in Medellín. All you have to do is type in “Terminal Norte” as your destination, click the Metro icon, and Google Maps should calculate the easiest route for you to take.
You can also get to Terminal Norte by Uber, Didi, or other taxi options.
Once you are in Terminal Norte, go to the ground floor. There will be ticket booths lined up alongside the bus station. The booth to Guatapé should be booth #14. You go there, purchase your ticket, and you are ready to go.
A taxi or rental car will be the most expensive option to get to Guatapé. Expect to pay upwards of 200,000 COP ($45 USD) for a one-way trip. However, it is easy to navigate and gives you more independence and if you are traveling with friends it may turn out cheaper.
Once you leave Medellín, there is only one route directly to Guatapé. You can download the offline maps of Google Maps and make your way at your own pace.
Guided day trip to Guatapé
You can also take a tour, so you won’t have to worry about any of the navigation or planning. Several companies run day trips to Guatapé, and the price is usually very good, including all transportation and two meals.
I recommend this Guatape El Peñol with Boat, Breakfast & Lunch departing from Medellin. It includes round-trip transportation, the climb to El Peñol, a boat ride around the lake and meals.
How to move around
If you venture to Guatapé alone, you will be fine getting around. The small town is flooded with little moto-taxis (otherwise known as “ì”tuk-tuks”) that can take you almost anywhere you want to go in the area. The moto-taxis often wait around all the popular areas, so you won’t have to wait long for them.
If you rent a bike, you can get around to most places alone. The roads leading in and out of Guatapé are wide, with much bike traffic.
Guatapé itself is a small town. During your stay, you can easily walk around the village for all your other needs and interests.
Where to stay
There is a wide variety of accommodation options throughout Guatapé.
Almost all accommodations in Guatapé will either be right in the Guatapé center or somewhere along the lake. You can’t go wrong with either accommodation choice. If you want access to the lake, swimming, and kayaking, try to choose something along the lake. If you want to get to all the restaurants, docks, and town center hotspots from your front door, look inside Guatapé center.
You can easily get around via moto-taxis, so the exact location of your lake spot shouldn’t be an issue for navigating around town.
For the budget traveler, there is an abundance of comfortable and affordable hostels right in the city center or along the lake. One of the advantages of a hostel is they often have kayaks, bike rentals, and other touristy things in very close proximity.
The best hostel is Bacoa Hostel, which is close to the lake and has both private rooms and dorms. Breakfast can be arranged for a small additional fee too.
You can also go mid-tier and book a hotel or apartment. With an apartment, the benefit is that you will often have your own space and privacy while remaining on a reasonable budget. El Trebol is a nice lakeside studio apartment. It’s small but has everything you need for a short stay. Hotel Portobelo is a good option if you’d rather stay in the town center.
Of course, Guatapé also has some stunning luxurious houses, hotels, and lake boats. These will be much higher in the budget, but most are still reasonably priced. This option allows a lot more comfort and the ability to truly take in the beauty of the lake. Jordan Boutique Hotel is the best option if you want to stay close to the lake.
These other posts will be useful when planning your trip to Colombia:
- 22 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- The Best Day Trips From Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena: The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- A Guide To The Ciudad Perdida Trek: 18 Best Things To Know
- 19 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia
- A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia
- A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia
- An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia
- Where To Stay In Medellin