Just an easy 2.5-hour bus ride away from the city of Medellín, the beautiful town of Guatapé, Colombia awaits those in need of some fresh air and nature! Due to its accessibility, the town has become a popular day trip for backpackers and vacationing Paisas alike.
Guatapé is a quaint town with incredibly cheap and delicious eateries, lakeside entertainment, and relaxation at its best. The colourful streets and unusual architecture will delight photographers and the surrounding countryside is a nature lover’s heaven with hikes, rock climbing, boating adventures and more.
Made famous for its impressive monolith, La Piedra del Peñol, a climb to the top of this rock to take in the views is an absolute must. But, the town offers much more than this one attraction…
A Guide to Guatapé – Colombia’s Most Colourful Town!
Best Time to Visit Guatapé
The best time to visit Guatapé is undeniably the dry season, which falls from December to March. This will allow you to get the most time outside to enjoy alfresco adventures! Even though this is the driest time to visit, afternoon showers are still common, so it’s recommended to bring a rain layer just in case!
On the weekends, the small town can get quite busy so if you’re not a fan of crowds, it is best to avoid Saturdays and Sundays. Despite its ever-increasing popularity, it remains a perfect escape from the city during the week.
Lots of travellers choose to cram this destination into a day trip from Medellín. However, if time allows, we would recommend that you stay for at least a couple of nights at one of the many awesome backpacker hostels in Guatapé. In our humble opinion, there is a lot more to this tiny town than can be garnered from a quick stop!
Where to Stay in Guatapé
When it comes to places to stay in Guatapé, visitors only really have two options: the town centre or the outskirts. While a centrally located stay offers proximity to bars and restaurants, a stay at the edge of town in the Playa Hermosa area will provide a more scenic backdrop away from the noise.
Top Hostels in Guatapé
Recently, more and more luxury accommodation options are popping up in town but for those on a budget, there are still some excellent budget hostels in Guatapé. The following options come highly recommended by backpackers!
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One of the cheapest options that Guatapé has to offer with dorm beds and privates – you can’t go wrong with this cheap and cheerful hostel. Right next to the lake (as the name suggests) and with a rooftop bar, complete with happy hour where you can meet fellow travellers, the rooms are basic but budget travellers have everything they need here!
This centrally located hostel offers a budget-friendly stay for backpackers. Rooms are basic but clean and offer fantastic value for money! Free coffee is available for guests and there is a shared kitchen so you can cook your own meals. It’s a no-frills option but you’d be hard-pressed to find something better for the price.
A ten-minute stroll from the centre of town will get you to one of our favourite spots in Guatapé. Located high up on a hill is Casa Encuentro Ecolodge, offering private rooms and even a waterfront-front bungalow – this is a great spot for couples. It also boasts some of the best views of Guatapé’s reservoir and famous rock! With private swimming and boating access, kayaks and bikes to rent, as well as hammocks to relax in, staying here is an enchanting experience.
If you’re looking for something more upmarket in Guatapé then look no further than this exceptional (so the reviews say!) property set in the heart of nature. Cute and stylish bamboo huts will compliment your Guatapé experience and the views from the deck are breathtaking. Owners Jairo and Adriana will do everything they can to make your stay pleasant and breakfast is a delicious treat!
Things to Do in Guatapé
1. Hike to the Top of La Piedra del Peñol
No trip to Guatapé would be complete without climbing up the 700+ steps of the huge rock, La Piedra del Peñol, and taking in the 365 views of the reservoir that awaits. The walk up only takes 30 minutes(ish) and is completely worth the potential sore muscles that you may have afterwards!
We recommend tackling the climb as early as possible to beat the tour buses and day trippers. This is also when Guatapé is at its coolest. La Piedra del Peñol opens at 8 am and you can easily get there via a motochiva from town. Walking is also possible but will take a while.
2. Do Some Rock Climbing
If you’re looking for something more adventurous than stairs you can also choose to rock climb up the side of La Piedra del Peñol. The views are stunning and there are routes for all experience levels and abilities. One climb even includes a stop at a hanging hammock that has been drilled into an overhang on the rock!
3. Waterfall Trek
There are plenty of wonderful hiking opportunities all around Guatapé. You can head off on your own (many trails are on maps.me or AllTrails) or organise a tour through any of the town’s popular hostels. One popular hike takes you to a waterfall with an idyllic swimming hole to cool off in!
4. Rent a Boat on Guatapé Reservoir
Boating out on Guatapé’s spectacular reservoir is a wonderful way to spend the day. Emerald green waters snake through red clay lands creating complete serenity. Boat away from the waterfront in town and you are sure to spot an array of wildlife.
While you’ll constantly be hounded by people on the lakefront in town, a far more budget-friendly way to take to the water is to head to Parque Comfama. This entertainment complex houses walking trails, a restaurant, inflatable water park and kayak/boat hire inclusive of a ticket. You also get some of the best views of La Piedra del Peñol from here.
5. Practice Yoga, Meditation, Spanish and Permaculture
Despite its somewhat misleading name, Eco Hostel Medellin is situated on a vegan farm in Guatapé. Offering a rustic stay for backpackers, they run courses in all of the above and even offer vegan cooking classes. If you want to get out of the hustle of town, this rural location offers the perfect base.
6. Take a Free Walking Tour of the Zócalos
We’re guessing that you’re visiting Guatapé because it’s a colourful town that appears on every Colombia itinerary, right? But do you actually know why this town is so colourful?
For a deeper understanding of the town and its famous zócalos (square murals which characterise the building facades), don’t miss the free walking tour that leaves daily from the middle of town.
Offered in both English and Spanish by a pair of local women, they explain the evolution of Guatapé from a market town into the tourist hotspot we see today. Learning about the history behind the zocalos and murals will give you a new appreciation for this colourful pueblo.
7. Visit San Rafael on a Day Trip
The nearby pueblo of San Rafael is a popular day trip for those staying longer in Guatapé. Public buses run there frequently and it is also possible to hire a scooter to make the journey. While there isn’t loads to do here, there are a number of nice hikes including a couple to beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes.
8. Snap a Selfie Down Umbrella Street
If you’re here because of Instagram, you’ve probably already seen Guatapé’s famous umbrella street. Originally put up as a temporary installation, the street found internet fame and attracted so many visitors that the local government decided to keep it. Visit first thing in the morning to snap photos devoid of other tourists.
9. Take to the Skies Over Guatapé
If you’re looking to have an experience you won’t forget in a hurry, consider taking a helicopter ride over the town. These are fairly brief experiences but offer good value for money when you consider what helicopter rides cost elsewhere in the world. Look online for well-rated tour providers or speak to the staff at your accommodation for a local recommendation.
10. Sample Some Cannabis Cerveza
Yep, you read that right! There are a couple of spots around town to sample craft cannabis beer, the nicest of which is El Bacchanal. They brew their own strong (7% ABV!) cannabis cerveza which is well worth sampling if you are so inclined.
In case you were wondering, Cannabis has been legal for medicinal use in Colombia since 2016 and has been partially decriminalised for recreational use since 1994.
Food and Drink in Guatapé
Thai food may not be what you expected to find in this Gutapé food and drink section but trust us when we say it is well worth trying here! Offering light and tasty Thai dishes, this place is a great place to get your noodle fix!
A French-run restaurant specialising in crêpes, there is a range of sweet and savoury options available here. The dishes are surprisingly filling and the food is mouthwatering. It’s a small place with a cosy ambience; perfect for couples.
As well as offering its famous cannabis cerveza, El Bacchanal also do some banging burgers. Fast food is the name of the game here, with a range of burgers, hot dogs and other comfort food on offer. Don’t miss the tasty Canadian poutine!
Restaurante Vegano Zona Prosalud
Calling all vegans and veggies – don’t miss Restaurante Vegano Zona Prosalud! We recommend their vegan take on the popular Antioquian dish Bandeja Paisa. Usually comprised of plantain, rice, beans, chorizo, beef, arepa, fried egg and avocado, this hearty dish is guaranteed to fill you up!
Getting Around Guatapé
Guatapé is an eminently walkable town and for anything further afield, there are motochivas. As La Piedra del Peñol is located out of town, motochiva offers the best way to get there. Rates are set so there is no need to haggle. Ask at your accommodation how much your journey should cost so you can avoid being scammed by an unscrupulous driver!
How to Get to Guatapé
Unless you have your own transportation, the best way to get to Guatapé from Medellín is by local bus. To get to the north bus station, take metro line A to the Caribe stop. When you arrive at the bus station, look for the counter where you can buy a bus ticket to Guatapé.
There is no need to book ahead of time as buses run every hour or so. The trip takes about 2 ½ hours and the bus will drop you off in the centre of town. Guatape is rarely the last stop so listen to your driver or follow the route on Google Maps to make sure you get off in the right place!
Where to Go Next:
Medellín: To continue the party in the city, head back to Medellín. With an abundance of backpacker hostels, breweries and bars, there are endless opportunities for backpackers to mingle and salsa.
Santa Fe de Antioquia: This charming town is a great example of countryside Paisa life, only three hours from Guatapé.
Jardín: Return to Medellín and hop on a bus for around four hours to the underrated town of Jardín. Perfect for coffee tours, bird watching and grand views, our favourite thing to do is relax in the square with a cup of tinto.