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Ah, Laguna de Guatape: known as one of Colombia’s most colourful small towns, Guatape makes an excellent getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Medellin. Whether you want to slow down and relax, partake in adventure activities, or simply take in the views from Laguna de Guatape’s famous El Penol viewpoint, a Guatape day trip is well worth the effort it takes to visit. One of the worst mistakes we (Gemma and Craig) made in Colombia was missing the chance to visit the striking Laguna de Guatape. Luckily for us, Kate from Our Escape Clause has had the pleasure of climbing those stairs and taking in that view. Here’s her guide on what to do in Guatape and how to get there.
Where is Guatape?
Guatape is about two hours east of Medellin by bus and is most popularly visited as a day trip from Medellin. If you’re headed to Medellin, we’d recommend adding a day trip to Guatape onto any Colombia itinerary.
How to Get to Guatape Independently
The easiest way to reach Guatape is by guided tour, which you can purchase either in Medellin or book online in advance. Booking in advance typically costs around £30-£55/$40-$73 USD for a 10-hour day door-to-door trip. If you would like to include a boat trip there is an additional cost.
However, travelling to Guatape independently offers some advantages, including controlling your own schedule, not wasting time with scheduled lunch stops, and – of course – saving money.
Luckily, getting to Laguna de Guatape independently is very simple: buses run from Medellin’s North Station to Guatape and back several times a day.
Tickets cost around 14,000 Colombian pesos (or about $5.00 USD) per person, per way, and don’t need to be booked in advance – simply show up at the bus station an hour or so before departure.
What to Do in Guatape in One Day
Climb El Peñol for those epic views.
Climbing El Peñol, that giant rock, is the number one thing to do in Guatape, and it is worth every one of the 700+ steps to the top.
Once you arrive in Guatape, make a beeline for El Peñol and climb it immediately – don’t wait another second for those views.
Numbers marked on the stairs will keep you going! The view is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Guartape as well as being the main image you see on social media when people are boasting (rightfully so) about the area!
Explore Laguna de Guatape’s colourful town centre
The centre of Guatape is an explosion of colour, with zocalos (artwork that depicts a scene or design) decorating the bottom half of many buildings.
Vibrant paint covers every inch of available space. Churches, souvenir shops, and cafes dot the centre of town, so be sure to wander around with a camera in hand to discover the best spots.
What stories can you create from the interesting artwork? Look out for the tuk-tuks, who am I kidding, you can’t miss them. Yes, they’ve had a paint makeover too.
Play paintball in Pablo Escobar’s mansion
The abandoned mansion of La Manuela (named for Escobar’s daughter) has sat abandoned since it was bombed by a vigilante group in 1993, and today sits in legal limbo as the Colombian government considers what to do with it.
In the years since the bombing, nature has started to creep back in and take over the abandoned building, making it an interesting (and somewhat controversial) place to play paintball – but controversy aside, these paintball games remain one of the most popular things to do in Guatape.
Enjoy the lake of Laguna de Guatape
Jet skis, boat trips, swimming, kayaking, or even zip lining over the water – if you want to interact with the lake itself in Guatape, it’s not hard to find a way to do it.
With only one day in Guatape, you’ll likely have to narrow your choices down to just one activity on the lake – but whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong when deciding what to do in Guatape.
If you stick around for the evening…
Take a break from Colombian food and check out Thai Terrace. After weeks of snacking on one country’s cuisine, it’s easy to crave some variety. Somewhat unexpectedly, Guatape is home to a tasty Thai restaurant.
Thai Terrace serves up Pad Thai, curries, and other backpacker favourites.
The restaurant also boasts a small bar, making it an excellent place to close out an evening in Guatape.
If you came as a couple…
Nothing says romance like being alone on the open road: consider renting a motorbike and taking a few hours in the afternoon to ride down to the village of San Rafael and back.
The village itself is colourful and a great place to stop for lunch, but the views along the way are the real showstopper. Be prepared for winding curves, epic views of the Andes Mountains, and lush landscapes in every direction.
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How Much Does it Cost to Visit Guatape?
Travelling to Laguna de Guatape, like most of Colombia, can be extremely affordable.
- Bus tickets from Medellin to Guatape run about 14,000 Colombian pesos per person, per way
- Climbing the famous El Penol to get the best view of Laguna de Guatape costs 18,000 pesos per person (the price has risen sharply in recent years due to the popularity of the sight)
- When eating in Guatape, the most expensive restaurants will be along the lakefront, where you can expect to pay $7-10 USD for a meal. For less expensive food, eat within the town itself
The Best Time to Visit Guatape
Laguna de Guatape is a popular weekend destination for Colombians, so for a quieter visit, consider taking your Guatape day trip on a weekday.
Guatape has a very temperate climate, with highs almost always falling around 23 degrees Celsius/73 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, Laguna de Guatape experiences lots of rainfall, so keep an eye on the weather and try to pick a day with good odds for your Guatape day trip from Medellin. On average, the driest months in Guatape are December, January, and February.
What to Pack for a Day in Guatape
You won’t need much for one day in Guatape, but here are a couple of things to consider throwing in your day bag:
- Swimsuit – Better to bring it and not use it than be without one and want to take a dip!
- Suntan lotion
- A change of clothes – Whether you’re swimming or playing paintball, consider bringing along some clothes on your Guatape day trip to switch into for the bus ride home
- Colombian pesos – Laguna de Guatape is primarily a cash-based town – while there are ATMs available, don’t expect to use your card to pay for most transactions
- Motion sickness medication – The bus from Medellin to Guatape has a tendency to cause motion sickness in people who are susceptible to it – there are lots of twists and turns along the way
- It’s a long day, don’t forget a phone/camera capacitor
- Stay hydrated, pack your filter bottle – check out the DrinkSafe review here
- Waterproof coat
- If hiring a bike, remember to take a waterproof day bag cover to avoid electronics being drenched in downpours
- Don’t forget your travel insurance for Colombia too. Two Scots Abroad use True Traveller because they are cheaper than popular alternatives, payout (Gemma had to claim in Canada) and cover high altitude hikes which is essential for South America
Accommodation in Guatape
If you do decide to stay overnight there are a few options for all budgets. Hotels in Guatape start at around £35/$47 such as the Santa Maria de las Aguas Peñol.
This includes breakfast and great views of Peñol. For the luxury side of Guatape check out Mansion de Oriente, which has a swimming pool, breakfast buffet and sun terrace.
Hostels are more economical option for budget travellers. Dorms start at £6/$8, check out the swimming pool at Happy Buddha Hostel. A little more expensive but on the lake is appropriately named Lake Hostel.
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Our Escape Clause
Kate is busy travelling the world with her husband and documenting all the adventures on her blog, Our Escape Clause. When she’s not writing, you can normally find her on a hike somewhere gorgeous, swimming in a beautiful sea, wandering around a city, or planning one of the next thousand trips she plans to take. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.