Picturesque Guatapé is a very popular pueblo to visit from Medellín. It’s a great place for a day trip or a weekend getaway from Medellín. In my opinion, no trip to Medellín and Antioquia would be complete without a trip to Guatapé.
Guatapé is located next to the massive man-made lake that was created for a hydroelectric dam built in the 1970s. So, it’s now a lakeside pueblo with many sidewalk restaurants and cafes plus water activities in the area. And there is also El Peñón de Guatapé – the gigantic rock with incredible views. The above photo by Wilc82 was taken from El Peñón.
Guatapé is easy to get to. It’s only about two hours away from Medellín. And it’s one of my favorite pueblos near Medellín. The pueblo is also extremely colorful with the homes painted many colors and many have additional decorations.
If you visit during the weekends, you’ll typically see the pueblo packed with Colombian tourists including many families with children. Also, on the weekends, the boardwalk fills up with local vendors selling art, food and souvenirs. During the week, there are much fewer tourists, so you’ll you have the pueblo more to yourself with the colorful locals.
There are several restaurants along the boardwalk and around the Guatapé central plaza, which offer everything from traditional bandeja paisa to steaks and pizza and Mexican food. Three of my favorite restaurants in Guatapé are Pizzeria de Luigi with some good pizzas, Don de Sam with Italian and Mexican food and La Fogata with steaks and typical Colombian dishes.
History of Guatapé
Before Spanish conquistadors reached the area in the 16th century, this area was inhabited by indigenous ethnic groups, some who were controlled by a chief named Guatapé. The pueblo was name in his honor.
The pueblo was originally founded in October 1811, by the Spaniard Don Francisco Giraldo y Jimenez. It was officially declared a municipality in September 1867.
Historically it was mainly a farming town that relied on agriculture and livestock as well as some mining. But when Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) built a huge hydroelectric project in the 1970s and created the large man-made Guatapé-El Peñol reservoir, tourism became much more important for the local economy.
El Peñón de Guatapé
One of the most popular things to do in the area is to climb the huge monolith rock near the pueblo, which offers fantastic views of the area.
The Rock of Guatapé (El Peñón de Guatapé) is a huge landmark inselburg located in the municipality of Guatapé. However, the neighboring town of El Peñol historically has also claimed the massive rock. So, they call it El Peñón de El Peñol. Guatapé and El Peñol have long disputed ownership of the rock.
At its highest part, at southeast side, the massive rock has an elevation of 7,006 feet (2,135 meters) above sea level. The rock is composed of quartz, feldspar and mica. And it reportedly has an approximate weight of 65 million tons. In addition, it has an average temperature of 64 °F (18 °C) at the top.
Climbing to the top of the monolith involves climbing up steep stairs built into the side of the rock (740 total stairs). The cost is 18,000 pesos per person to climb the rock. It is definitely worth the climb for the incredible views. From the top, you can see the huge lake as far as you can see.
In addition, at the top is a viewing platform where it is possible to buy drinks and snacks as well as handicrafts and other local goods. But make sure to go on a clear day.
Other Things to Do in Guatapé
There are many things to do including bridge-jumping, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, motorcycle tours, paddle boats, paintballing, jet skis, zip-lining and boat rides along the water.
In addition, there are several large tourist boats at Guatapé that go out on the lake. However, in June this year, tragedy struck when one of these tourist boats sunk with 150 passengers on board and several died. Rescued passengers reportedly said they had not been provided with life vests when they boarded the vessel, as in the above photo. So, take care on the boats there.
We recommend going on the lake on the Yate Majestic, which is a huge yacht at Hotel los Recuerdos. This is reportedly the largest boat on the lake and it requires life vests for all passengers. This yacht goes out on the lake for two-hour lunch and dinner cruises each day. And there are even hot tubs on the yacht, but bring towels. The per-person fare of about 80,000 pesos includes a meal and two drinks.
Staying at Hotel los Recuerdos
I have been to Guatapé about 12 different times during my time living in Medellín for over seven years. And I have stayed in several places but my favorite is Hotel los Recuerdos, which I recommend as it is like a resort.
Hotel los Recuerdos is located a relatively short distance from El Peñón and is located on the lake. When we stayed there a couple months ago, we had an amazing view of El Peñón and the surrounding area from our room. The room was nice and clean, spacious, and had plenty of extra blankets to stay nice and warm at night. We paid 243,700 pesos per night for two nights. My Colombian wife loves this hotel.
The Yate Majestic is located right at a dock at the hotel and you can buy tickets for cruises at the hotel. In addition, the hotel has a large heated pool, which is well maintained. And the staff is great and very attentive in my experience. The only downside is the hotel restaurant. It’s decent for breakfast but you’ll find much better dining options for lunch and dinner in the nearby pueblo.
Other Lodging Options
Since Guatapé is a popular tourist spot there are many lodging options with a range of prices. Besides Hotel los Recuerdos, two other hotels I recommend are Hotel Portobelo and Hotel Guatatur. Both are nice hotels located in Guatapé.
There are also several hostels in the area. Several expats I talked to recommended the Rock a Town Hostel located close to the main square and both the All In Hostel and Mi Casa Guatapé that are located near El Peñón. In addition, all three of these hostels are highly rated on HostelWorld.
How to Get to Guatapé
The easiest way to go to Guatapé is by bus from Medellín. You can catch buses at the north bus terminal in Medellín located at the Caribe metro station. And the bus tickets are inexpensive, currently only 15,000 pesos each direction. Also, we have a guide the the Medellín bus terminals.
The Sotrasanvicente bus company runs regular buses to Guatapé starting at 6 am until 7 pm, every 30 minutes. The buses take you first to the entrance to El Peñón de Guatapé (also known as La Piedra).
The bus then goes onto Guatapé. In the pueblo, you can buy your return bus ticket from the Sotrasanviente office. Sotrasanvicente runs regular buses returning to Medellín starting from 4:30 am until 7 pm, every 30 minutes. On weekends and holidays the buses returning to Medellín may run later.
For the return trip to Medellín, we recommend buying your bus ticket in advance at the bus office in Guatapé. This is especially important on the weekends, as the later return buses to Medellín fill up fast.
Once you are in Guatapé, you can walk most places (except to El Peñón, which is about a 45-minute walk, or to Hotel los Recuerdos). To get to/from these places there are colorful tuk-tuks.
The Pueblos Near Medellín
We have been looking at the pueblos worth visiting near Medellín in a series on this website. So far, we have looked at eight pueblos near Medellín:
- Guatapé – a very popular pueblo near Medellín known for its huge rock and lake.
- Jardín – a tranquil get-away from Medellin that boosts breathtaking mountain views and less tourists than Guatapé.
- Santa Fe de Antioquia – known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobbled streets.
- Jericó – a picturesque pueblo known for its religious attractions, well-preserved colonial architecture and heritage, generous nature all around, hiking, paragliding, amazing landscapes and much more.
- San Carlos – a hidden gem surrounded by rivers, waterfalls and nature.
- Barbosa – an overlooked pueblo very near Medellín with streams, waterfalls, natural swimming pools, hiking, horseback riding and many other things to do.
- Abejorral – another hidden gem surrounded by waterfalls and dazzling landscapes with many opportunities for hikers and rock climbers.
- El Carmen de Viboral – the heart of Colombia’s ceramics industry.
We included Guatapé in our article about the best pueblos near Medellín worth visiting. And we plan to look at several more pueblos near Medellín.
Also, we looked at Salento, which is a popular pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region that is definitely worth visiting. And we looked at San Gil, which is a pueblo known as “Colombia’s Adventure Capital” with so much to do including rafting, paragliding, caving, rappelling, hiking and much more.
The Bottom Line: Guatapé
Guatapé is a very popular weekend getaway place for those living in Medellín. It is also a popular tourist attraction for expat tourists visiting Medellín. With a close proximity to Medellín the colorful pueblo with a huge lake and a gigantic rock with great views should remain popular.
While it is possible to go there as a day trip, there is much to do to keep you entertained and make it worth staying overnight. I normally try to go for a three-day weekend and stay there two nights to provide more time to unwind and enjoy the colorful pueblo.
Another popular pueblo close to Medellín, which will typically have fewer backpackers, is Colonial Jardín. And Santa Fee de Antioquia is another nearby pueblo that is popular for day trips from Medellín.
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Editors note: updated on September 3, 2019 with the current bus fare to/from Guatapé.