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I love getting a taste of local flavor when I travel, especially quirky, whimsical, or deeply cultural flavors. So when I learned that there’s a gorgeous and colorful town in Colombia named Guatape that’s just a short distance away from Medellin, I knew we had to visit.
Take a look at these photos, and I’m sure you’ll want to take a day trip from Medellin to Guatape as well.
Interest piqued yet? Here’s how to visit Guatape and La Piedra de Peñol on your own.
How to get to Guatape from Medellin
As with most places, you can choose to join a tour or hire a private driver to take you from Medellin to Guatape. If you’d rather do it yourself, however, head to Medellin’s long-distance bus station.
The bus trip from Medellin to Guatape is super easy to navigate. It’s such a popular route that ticket window employees for the Guatape bus will literally see a gringo and flag them over.
Just buy your tickets at window number 14 and get on the bus at the assigned time. Tickets are $15,000 COP (one-way), and the ride is approximately two hours.
Heads-up, the bus will stop here and there to pick up additional folks who’ll stand if there are no empty seats, but a bathroom break is not guaranteed. There may also be buskers who come on to perform and vendors selling snacks, and you’re welcome to engage or not engage as you wish.
Want less hassle and an easier route? Check out a tour instead.
Climbing La Piedra de Peñol
While the bus technically goes all the way to Guatape town, it’ll also stop at La Piedra de Peñol, which is where most visitors will want to get off at. After all, one of the main attractions of Guatape is this large rock that offers a panoramic view of the flooded plains around town.
Fun fact: It is alternately known as El Peñón de Guatapé and La Piedra de Peñol because Guatape and its neighbor El Peñol both claim the rock as its own.
There will be tuk-tuks to take you from the bus stop up to the base of the rock, or you can go up the stairs and dirt trail for free.
To ascend la Piedra itself, you’ll need to buy a $18,000 COP ticket.
Is it pricey? Yes.
Is it worth it? I’ll let these views do the talking.
It takes about 700 stairs and 15 minutes to get up to the top, where you can enjoy the views for as long as you want. There are also a few vendors up top should you want a drink or quick snack.
Then it’s down the rock and into town.
We actually walked from La Piedra de Penol into Guatape, which I would not recommend. The walk is about 35 minutes to the edge of town and then another 20 minutes to the middle of town, which was perfect for getting in some physical activity without being too much of a timesuck.
But what we didn’t know was that there are no sidewalks for those first 35 minutes. While there were occasional areas where it felt more pedestrian-friendly, it really is meant to be a road for vehicles.
Don’t be like us — help the local economy and take one of the tuk-tuks into town.
Exploring the zocalos of Guatape
Once in town, first things first. Buy your return bus ticket upon arrival.
Buses leave pretty frequently, but if you don’t buy them ahead of time, you could risk having no seat on the way back to Medellin. We bought on arrival and our initial time choice was already full. (If you choose to stay overnight in Guatape instead, there are a ton of adorable lodging options!)
Then go and explore the town’s colorful and whimsical zocalos, or the painted panels at the bottom of buildings (some are even 3-D!). It’s a fantasyland of alleys and pretty buildings, perfect for walking and relaxing.
While the whimsical nature of Guatape reminded me of Fusterlandia in Cuba, I also really appreciated the history of the zocalos.
Well, at least the sort of murky history since no one seems to really know why the town’s buildings started including zocalos about a hundred years ago. Perhaps it was a way to memorialize a family’s trade or a way to advertise a store’s goods. What is sure is they’re fun, colorful, and unique.
And these days, the painted panels are a standard in the town, much like how the White Villages in southern Spain are required to keep their buildings white.
Other things to do in Guatape
The locals in Guatape are super friendly. It really felt like you were visiting a friend’s hometown and being welcomed by all the people they grew up with.
For example, we were checking out some 3-D zocalos at one point, and an elderly gentleman came up to us and started talking to us about who the artist was.
And then he insisted on taking us to the artist’s home and showing us a Jesus Christ artwork nearby, all despite the fact that we spoke very little Spanish and mostly just smiled and nodded. (Fortunately, he spoke pretty slowly so we were able to get the general gist of what he was saying.)
So try to interact with the locals outside of a commercial nature, especially if you do speak Spanish. I wish I spoke more Spanish and could ask the elderly gentleman about what he knew about the tradition of the zocalos.
The town also has the cutest stores that sell both mass-produced and handmade products. I bought a pair of locally-made gold earrings fashioned in the country’s pre-Columbian style (my sole souvenir from our Colombia trip).
There are also boating and watersports options on the lake for those so inclined. We definitely would have been down for that if we were staying in Guatape longer.
But since we weren’t, we decided to just sit down, grab a beer, read, and people watch while basking in the Antioquian sun (which is super strong so wear your sunscreen!).
Ready to hop on over to this colorful fantasyland? Pin it to share it!