Headed to Colombia and looking for exciting things to do in Guatape? You’re in luck, because besides being one of Colombia’s most colorful towns, there’s a whole bunch of fun activities here, like climbing the giant rock and hanging at the lake!
Guatape feels a world away from Medellin. It’s a maze of colorful, kaleidoscopic streets, known for its small-town feel and exciting lakeside activities. It’s a tranquil pueblo outside of Medellín (and super easy to get to), and I’m urging everyone to visit this lakeside paradise sooner than later.
I think the first time I saw a photo of Guatape, I had no clue where it was. Upon further investigation of this colorful little lakeside town, I finally figured out it was only two hours east of Medellin. It instantly got added to my travel bucket list!
So as soon as I started planning our recent trip to Colombia, I knew I needed to include Guatape – the colorful little town intrigued me so much!
And once we got there… wow. Just wow! It’s one of those postcard-perfect places in Colombia you really need to see to believe. It’s well-known for Piedra del Peñol (the huge rock you’ll see later on in this post) and its colorful pueblo scattered with zocalos. It really is Colombia’s most colorful town (okay, maybe it’s on par with Cartagena, but who’s counting?!).
So whether you wanna escape the hustle and bustle of big city life in Medellin for a few hours or simply spend a few days relaxing on the lake, add Guatape into your Colombia itinerary. You’re gonna love it here, I promise. I’m aching to go back already!
Pre-Travel Guide to Guatape
Where is Guatape
First things first, Guatape is located in the Department of Antioquia in central Colombia (yes, the country!). It’s about 1.5 -2 hours east of Medellin, and much further away from Cartagena (another of Colombia’s colorful cities).
The tiny town is located right on the edge of Guatape Lake, a large man-made reservoir built with the purpose of hydroelectric power generation in the late 20th century. And what does all this mean? The views are absolutely breathtaking! No joke, I was in awe and my husband had to literally peel me away.
I didn’t realize this at first, but Guatape is actually considered to be within the Central Andean mountain range like other traditional towns, including Salento, Filandia, and Santa Fe de Antioquia. It sits at a pretty high elevation of 6,201′ (about 1k feet lower than Mexico City and 1k feet higher than Denver, Colorado), but thankfully weren’t affected by the high elevation at all.
How to Get to Guatape from Medellin
Can’t wait to experience all the things to do in Guatape? Thankfully, the town’s pretty easy to get to, especially if you’re already in Colombia. You’ll wanna first get yourself to Medellin (easy flights from both Cartagena and Bogota), then you’ve got a few options.
- Public Bus
- Guided Day Trip
All of them pass by rolling green hills and rural farming communities, so look out the window periodically!
Option 1: Medellin to Guatape Public Bus
This is the way we went! At first it sounded kinda complicated, but in reality, it was super simple! Non stop buses from Medellin to Guatape depart from Terminal Norte (the city’s busier northern bus terminal) all times of day. Buses depart every 20-30 minutes, every day of the week, from 6am to 7pm.
Step 1: Get yourself to Terminal Norte in Medellin
There’s essentially two ways to get to Terminal Norte, depending on where you’re coming from. For the sake of ease, I’m assuming you’re staying in El Poblado, where most tourists in Medellin sleep.
- Option 1: Take an Uber or Taxi straight to Terminal Norte from El Poblado. This is by far the easiest option, and should only set you back around 10,000COP ($2.50USD) for a short 20 minute ride. We didn’t feel like riding the metro so early in the morning (having to walk there, wait for a train, etc) so we decided to Uber. Super, super easy!
- Option 2: Use public transit. The Medellin metro system is very efficient, organized, and cheap(!), so if you’re down for a mini morning adventure, walk over to Poblado Station and buy a ticket from the counter. All one-way tickets cost the same, so you don’t even need to say where you’re headed. Grab a train towards Niquía on Line A (blue), and then get off at Caribe Metro Station, which is actually attached to Terminal Norte.
Step 2: Buy a ticket to Guatape!
Once you make your way to Terminal Norte, buy a nonstop ticket to Guatape! Head to the lower level, and you’ll find the companies serving Guatape at ticket counter 14.
We were a tad confused about where to go at first, so we approached staff in the terminal. They automatically assumed we were off to Guatape (wonder how they knew… haha, we definitely looked like lost tourists) and directed us downstairs. So if you get lost, just ask anyone where buses to Guatape are, and they’ll point you towards counter 14.
We traveled with Sotrasanvicente & Guatape La Piedra (at counter 14), and although we had already bought a ticket online, we were instructed to exchange that for a regular ticket at the ticket booth. While we somehow ended up on a slightly later bus than the one we had already purchased, it all worked out. Organized chaos at its best!
I really don’t think there’s a reason to buy in advance, and should we had known that, we probably wouldn’t have.
Tickets cost 17,000COP per person each way, which comes out to roughly $4.25. Talk about an absolute steal!
Step 3: Ride the Bus!
The 2-hour bus ride was comfortable enough, although not as spectacular as my bus journey from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende (which had foot rests and charging stations — practically unheard of on most public buses).
While on the bus, be prepared for a few types of people boarding the bus after the fact while on the road. Some are begging for money, some are selling small snacks, and others are playing music (and then looking for tips). Don’t feel obligated to purchase anything or give any money. They then essentially jump off the moving bus in a stop or two.
Just something to keep in mind. This seems pretty normal and bus drivers and passengers aren’t fazed by this in the least bit. Just very different than anywhere else I’ve been, so wanted to point that out.
And once you arrive in Guatape, the bus will drop you off at the bus terminal (it’s like a small, glorified parking lot), which is only a minute walk to the center of town.
Tip: If you’re just taking a day trip from Medellin to Guatape and DIYing it, I recommend getting to Terminal Norte no later than 7am. This means you’ll arrive in Guatape around 9ish or so (depending on when the bus leaves), and have the whole day to explore the tiny pueblo.
Option 2: Taxi from Medellin to Guatape
Want zero hassle at all? Consider taking a taxi all the way from Medellin to Guatape! The ride should cost about $35USD, and take roughly 2 hours. Not terrible if you’ve got a few friends to split the bill with, or had a few too many aguardiente shots the night before and don’t think you’ll make it on the bus.
Do note you’ll probably have a hard time finding a taxi in Guatape to take you all the way back to Medellin, so plan on taking the bus back.
Psst – if you’re flying into Medellin (MDE) with the aim of going to Guatape, don’t go into the city just yet! The airport is much closer to Guatape than the actual city of Medellin is, so you can head straight to Gautape if you wanna take a taxi.
You’ll basically save an hour of travel time as the airport is on the way from Medellin to Guatape. But if you wanna take the cheap public bus, be prepared to head into the city first.
Option 3: Take a Guatape Tour from Medellin
Getting yourself to Guatape can be a pain in the ass, especially if you’re only going for the day.
Being 2 hours away each way, if you don’t leave super early, you’ll waste half the day on the bus. Worried you’ll oversleep? Sign up for a day tour! These Guatape tours show you the best of the best of town, and are super inexpensive.
If you don’t wanna have to worry about first getting yourself to Terminal Norte, navigating the bus station, buying a ticket in Spanish, and then making the 2-hour journey, booking yourself on a tour from Medellin to Guatape is the way to go. Especially if you’ve only got time for a day trip from Medellin to Guatape!
Thankfully, there’s plenty of companies who make day trips from Medellin to Guatape, and they’re not at all expensive! Most tours are around $35USD, and give you time for the strenuous climb up Piedra del Penol and extra time to explore the colorful tiny town. Some even include breakfast and lunch, plus a boat trip – that’s great value for the money!
Weather and When to Visit Guatape
In a nutshell, the days are warm (but not crazy hot), the nights are cool (but hardly freezing), and there’s always a good chance of rain. So, bring a rain jacket.
But as we experienced, the weather changes frequently in Guatape. We encountered clouds, an intense Colombian thunderstorm, and sun all in the same day/night. Pretty wild if you ask me. One thing we learned – never trust the Colombian weather forecast; it’s typically very, very wrong!
Unlike Cartagena, we never felt gross and sweaty – the air felt crisp and we were super comfortable wandering around town. Thankfully, it wasn’t as hot and humid as the Caribbean coast (I complained far less here in Guatape about the weather, haha). This is probably because Guatape sits at a higher altitude of 6,346 feet, coming in at just under Mexico City (~7,000 feet).
Beware of rain: The rainiest season is from May to November, but we encountered a massive thunderstorm in late March. And let’s just say it was no joke – it was actually quite the experience walking down El Penol when the steps were flooding! Thankfully the next day in Guatape was bright and sunny!
It seems as if rain and clouds kinda happen throughout the year, so I don’t think there’s really any way to completely escape it. But fingers crossed you get a warm, sunny day without much cloud cover!
Crowds: In terms of crowds, Guatape will be at its busiest during the Christmas and Easter holidays. You’ll find it way busier on the weekends than during the week, as locals head from Medellin to Guatape to spend relaxing weekends at the lake.
With that being said, if you’ve got flexibility in your Colombia itinerary, aim to visit Guatape during the week – it’ll be far less crowded.
How Long to Stay in Guatape
Most people visit as a day trip, as the journey from Medellin to Guatape is pretty easy and there’s tons of tours for not a lot of money. But if you really wanna experience all that has to offer, spend a night or two! We chose to spend a night and while I honestly don’t think it was all that necessary, we’re glad we didn’t feel rushed.
A few thoughts on each:
Should I stay overnight?
If you wanna see Guatape in all its glory without the hordes of tourists, plan to stay the night. Once the day trippers head on home (around 4pm or so), the crowds die down and the town is much more pleasurable. And if you get out early the next morning, you can beat the day trippers before they even arrive, which is usually around 10am.
Staying overnight ensures you can take your time, relax, and overall enjoy a slower pace of life in the tiny town.
However, there’s not a ton going on at night besides locals playing music in the square and restaurants for dinner – we found ourselves back in our hotel room by 8pm. We were exhausted from all our traveling, so honestly didn’t mind it much!
On the weekends, however, it’s a bit more active, with a few bars and clubs staying open pretty late. If you’re really big on nightlife, I’d head back to Medellin instead.
Day trip from Medellin to Guatape?
If all you’ve got time for is a quick day trip, I highly recommend adding Guatape to your Colombia itinerary! Hey, one day is better than nothing! Since Guatape is only two hours away from Medellin, you can really do a whole lot in a day.
Plus, since the town and surrounding area is small enough, you can really see the highlights within just a day. Just make sure to leave early. There are however, a few negatives of not staying the night:
- You’ll be spending at least 4 hours in the car/bus that day
- You’ll be there at the most crowded times of day
- If you’re going via public transit, you’ll probably have to wait some time for a bus to head back to Medellin (since everyone who isn’t staying overnight and isn’t on a tour uses the same bus company to head back to Medellin)
Would I still go from Medellin to Guatape if all I had was a day? Yes, 100%. I’d probably go with a tour though to save myself the hassle of the bus if I was on such a limited timeframe.
Best Guatape Tours
Wanna make your life super easy? Skip the public bus and sign up in advance for one of these Guatape tours. They’re a great value for money (with most being around $35USD), and take you around to the different things to do in Guatape (like the huge rock and colorful town, as well on an included boat tour on many).
Plus, most tours come with an English-speaking guide. If you wanna learn more about the history of Guatape, way of life here in town, and interesting facts about the zocalos, ask away!
Tours will pick you up in Medellin, and take you straight to Guatape. And thankfully most tours leave super early, meaning you’ll have the entire day to spend checking out this pretty lakeside town.
- Option 1: Includes a relaxing boat ride, free time at El Peñol Rock, a guided tour of the colorful town, and even time to enjoy a traditional Colombian lunch (included). This tour has over 1,300 5 star reviews, so you know it’s a good one (and it’s such a bargain at only $35, all transportation included). Read reviews and book tour here.
- Option 2: This one includes a guided tour of the colorful town of Guatapé, vast panoramas from atop La Piedra del Peñol, and lunch in Guatape´s best local restaurant (a traditional Antioquian meal along the boardwalk). You’ll also take a boat cruise on the Guatapé Reservoir. Read reviews and book tour here.
- Option 3: This one’s pretty similar to the others, but it also includes a visit to a private coffee villa and gorgeous waterfall! It’s more expensive, but you get a private tour plus those extra stops! Read reviews and book tour with coffee farm here.
Where to Stay in Guatape
You won’t find any major hotel chains in Guatape – it’s a super tiny village that’s turned into a tourist attraction over time. Expect to find cute budget hotels and small B&Bs instead. Some hotels have a pool, so if this is important to you, be cognizant of that when booking!
Regardless of where you stay, if you only have one night, I highly recommend picking a hotel near the best things to do in Guatape. Some hotels are a 30 minute walk away from town, and trust me, you don’t wanna be that far if all you’ve got is a day or two. Gotta save that energy for climbing La Piedra del Penol anyways!
There are 2 main areas I recommend staying:
In the town itself
- Hotel Bahia Guatape: This is where we stayed, and at less than $40 a night for a private room with a private bathroom, I don’t think it gets much cheaper. We were right in the middle of town, literally a 2 minute walk from anywhere. Yes, it was quite basic, but the room was clean, we felt super safe, the included breakfast was quite tasty, and the staff was extra friendly (despite the language barrier).
- Hotel El Paisaje Guatapé: Right in the middle of town, with a great restaurant on the terrace. Looks kinda basic, but fine for a 1-night stay.
- Hotel Santorini: Despite its location on the outskirts of town, Hotel Santorini is easily walkable to all the main sights in the village. Plus, there’s a pool and a jacuzzi!
Overlooking the lake
- Hotel Bosko: I wanted to stay here SO badly, but they were sold out (big mistake on my part for waiting to book, whoops!). Their crystal mushrooms look SO cool. We were tempted to buy a day pass (which includes lunch, time at the resort pool, a trip to town, and time on the lake kayaking and/or paddling), but we decided against it after we were unsure of what the weather would be.
- Luxe by the Charlee: I’ve heard such good things about Luxe, but this was after our stay! Funny how that happens, right? The villas look super sleek, the views look absolutely amazing, and it’s super colorful – just like Guatape town itself.
- Lake View Hostel: Looking to save some pesos? This spot is super low-key and basic, so you have more money for empanadas! And plus, it’s right across the street from the lake! Everyone raves about the attached Thai restaurant/bar, so it must be worthy of a meal!
- Hotel Los Recuerdos: Overlooking the Peñol–Guatapé reservoir, this spot is great if you can get a room facing the famous rock. There’s even a few swimming pools/jacuzzis and a sauna.
Other Important Guatape FAQS
- Safety in Guatape: The entire town of Guatape is super safe! We felt comfortable wandering off the main square, even at night. One thing to note is that the water in Guatape is not safe to drink, so bring your steripen water bottle or plan to buy water bottles in town. We had no health issues with the food whatsoever.
- Is English spoken in Guatape? Yes, a tiny bit, but don’t expect it. Like elsewhere in Colombia, English was spoken way less than we originally had thought it would be, and we relied on translation apps and our mediocre Spanish skills to communicate. I highly recommend learning a few basic words/phrases in Spanish before heading to Guatape, and Colombia in general.
- Is Guatape expensive? Coming from California, we found everything in Guatape to be extremely cheap. It’s definitely more expensive than nearby Medellin, but you really get a lot for your money. We had piping hot street empanadas for less than 35 cents (USD), a huge plate of food (bandeja paisa) and a Colombian beer was a mere $7, and our hotel room with a perfect location right in the middle of town was under $45. Even getting there on the public bus only costs ~$4USD for a 2 hour ride!
- How to get around Guatape: There’s hardly any cars in Guatape (therefore no Uber). But don’t worry, almost everything is within walking distance… besides El Penol which you can take a quick tuk-tuk ride to (a colorful 3-wheeled motorized vehicle – more on that below).
- How far is La Piedra del Penol (the rock) from Guatapé town? The famous Guatape rock is almost 3 miles from town. You can either make the long 45-minute walk to El Penol, or take a short 10-minute tuk-tuk ride (costing 12k pesos for two people, easily found near the town square).
- Are there ATMs in Guatape? Yes, but….. I highly recommend bringing enough pesos from Medellin for your time in Guatape. When we visited in March 2022, there were apparently 2 ATMS in town, but one was out of service and well, we couldn’t for the life of us find the other. I also learned that the ATMs (when they are functioning properly) frequently run out of money. We found some restaurants in Guatape to only take cash, and our hotel preferred cash as well. So…. I wouldn’t depend on being able to use the local ATMs in Guatape. Bring your money from Medellin.
- Can you swim in the lake? You can, and it’s quite refreshing! Unfortunately there’s too much boat traffic near the town which doesn’t make swimming all that nice from the shore. Thankfully, you can paddle board, jet ski, and/or kayak in the lake if you don’t wanna get completely wet but still wanna take advantage of #lakelife.
Things to bring to Guatape
If you’re only going for a day, you don’t need to bring too much. Remember – you’ll be carrying it around the entire time, including your climb up El Penol! I recommend sunscreen, a sun hat, reusable water bottle with steripen, a light sweater, and a rain jacket if the forecast calls for any rain at all. You really just never know! Plus, wear comfy shoes to walk up the rock and on the cobblestone in town. Leave those heels/wedges at home, ladies!
Prone to car sickness? Or get nauseous on boats? Pop some dramamine for the bus ride over and beforehand if you’re planning to take a boat tour of the lake!
Staying overnight? Well, you’ll already have all your stuff with you so I think you’ll be more than prepared! Just remember to slather on that sunscreen!
Brief History of Guatape
Guatape has a long and fascinating local history. It all started with the indigenous groups that used to inhabit the area, and now there’s an entire town (the original village of El Peñol) submerged under the lake! How wild and crazy is that?!
Let me explain….
Guatape was once a farming community dedicated to livestock, mining, and agriculture. It was founded in 1714, and then became a municipality in 1867. All very typical up until then for those times.
But then, in 1970, the entire geographical area completely changed. The Colombian government flooded all the surrounding hills and valleys and even the original village of El Penol in order to create a network of freshwater lakes.
ON PURPOSE. Like, what?! Super bizarre! You can even see the cross where the old church once stood when the water falls below a certain level. Why? To construct a huge hydroelectric complex and current Peñol-Guatapé reservoir.
Yes, people were displaced and lost their homes, and were thankfully given compensation and new homes on higher ground. But they had to give up their old lives and entire village, their homes, and their memories. Super sad when you think about it.
This 5500-acre reservoir and dam currently generates a third of the energy in all of Colombia, so I guess you can say it’s kinda important. But those poor people – so sad!
16 Fun Things to do in Guatape
Finally, what you probably came here for: my favorite things to do in Guatape… and a few others I wish we had time for!
Walk around the town of Guatape
Out of all the things to do in Guatape, simply wandering around town was my favorite. The entire village is basically a kaleidoscope of color – the buildings are painted in every color imaginable, the storefronts are practically rainbows, and even the tuk tuks are decked out in glitz and glam.
I was in heaven! And I just couldn’t get enough of it – I definitely took way too many pictures, haha.
As you wander around, you’ll see all the creative zocalos – painted scenes on the lower portion of buildings made from cement. These are famous here in Guatape, and every single house, building, restaurant, store, and even the church has their own zocalos. These zocalos are not only picturesque, but the cement is resistant to humidity which ultimately helps protect the buildings.
Psst: The word “zocalo” in Mexico typically means “town square”, like in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and San Miguel de Allende. But here in Guatape, Colombia they refer to the raised designs found on the baseboard of buildings and homes. Just thought I should point that out because I got a bit confused at first, haha.
If you look closely, you’ll see that the zocalos actually portray the trade or history of the house/building they’re on! We had fun trying to guess the store based on the zocalos we saw. Some were very obscure and some were pretty obvious.
You’ll find painted animals (we saw so many llamas, sheep, and donkeys!), ornate flowers, simple geometric designs, music notes, milk farmers, and marine scenes representing La Piedra del Peñol.
Tip: Don’t just wander around the main square. Those are the most popular and crowded parts of town. As you walk away from the main square, the streets get so much quieter. We had plenty of streets all to ourselves, which we couldn’t believe since the main square and plaza were absolutely packed!
Walk up El Penol Rock for Spectacular 360° Views
Whether you’re visiting Guatape as a day trip or for a few nights, don’t leave without climbing up El Penol. Why?! Well, the view is absolutely spectacular – there’s a reason it’s become pretty insta-famous over the last few years!
Yes, this makes it feel kinda touristy, but I promise you the views are to die for. It’s got to be one of the most amazing lookout spots in all of Colombia. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular things to do in Guatape!
La Piedra Del Penol is over 700 feet high with a whopping 740 steps. And boy is it a strenuous climb! I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath and let my tired legs rest, while my marathon-running husband was just fine, haha. But once we got to the top?! Those stunning views of the lake were more than worth the tough climb.
You’ll get panoramic views of Guatape Lake, all the little islands, and deep blue water. Absolutely mesmerizing. Reminded me a tiny bit of the fjords in Norway on our Preikestolen hike (ok, fine, maybe just in the slightest). But this is NOT what I pictured Colombia to look like!
At the top, you’ll see a few restaurants, souvenir shops, and picnic tables and chairs. Treat yourself to whatever you damn well please – you just walked up 700+ steps! Salty mango micheladas, fresh fruit, ice cream, and obleas (a yummy Colombian wafer with caramel inside) await!
Read Next: Climbing La Piedra del Penol (everything you need to know)
And don’t you worry – we saw people of all ages, shapes, and sizes climbing Penol. With a little determination, anyone can do it (although unfortunately it’s not accessible to wheelchair users). For reference, it took us about 20 minutes to reach the top, with plenty of photo (and rest) stops along the way. My legs were absolute jello after step 75 or so.
How to get to La Piedra Del Penol: From Guatape town, you can either make the 30-minute walk to El Penol, or take a short 10-minute tuk-tuk ride (for 12k pesos for two people). We opted for the tuk-tuk, and it was an experience in and of itself! Highly recommended if you’ve never ridden in one before (I had previously in Guatemala and Thailand, but will never give up a chance for another fun ride!).
Cost: Of course there’s an entrance fee to climb the zigzagging staircase of La Piedra Del Penol, being COP 20k (~$6 USD). Yes, you need to pay to torture yourself up the rock, but again, the views are breathtaking and you’d be crazy to miss them.
Safety: Wear comfortable shoes, and prepare for rain. The stairs are frequently wet and therefore can be very slippery. Be extra careful! On our way down, we ended up getting stuck in a wild Colombian thunderstorm and the steps completely flooded. Let’s just say that’s an experience we’ll never forget. Oh, and bring lots of water! You don’t wanna get dehydrated.
Take photos with the umbrellas
Like in other spots around the world (including Getsemani in Cartagena), there’s an umbrella street over here! It’s right next to the Plaza del Zocalo, so snap a few quick photos before/after hanging out over here!
Do note this particular street gets INSANELY busy, meaning you’ll wanna get your IG photos early in the morning before the day trippers arrive (latest 9:30am). Any later and you’ll undoubtedly have tons of photobombers in your pics. But hey, that’s more authentic anyways, right?
Try trucha frita
Seafood lover? You need to try trucha frita (fried trout). Not only is it one of the most popular things to eat in all of Guatape, but it’s so cheap and the fish is so fresh (right from the lake itself!).
The dish is typically served with rice, salad, beans, avocado, and fried plantains, for as little as 18,000COP (~$4.50USD). You can find it in most Colombian restaurants in Guatape. A few spots to try trucha: La Fogota and The Snuggly Duckling (locally known as El Patito Modosito).
Indulge in a bandeja paisa
Next up, a bandeja paisa, a true Colombian classic! It’s a super popular meal in all of Colombia, especially in the Antioquia department (where Guatape is).
The meal consists of ground beef, chorizo, rice, beans, avocado, a fried egg, arepas, chicharrones, and fried plantains. Talk about a heart attack on a plate (so…. not a wise idea to eat this everyday). The plates are huge with so much variety, so we decided to share an order and had the perfect amount of food!
Colombian Coffee at Cafe La Vina
Need a caffeinated little pick-me-up? Exhausted from all the fun things to do in Guatape?! Head over to Cafe La Vina for a latte frio and brownie a la mode!
We loved this cute little cafe – sit outside on the 2nd floor balcony for great views of the plaza and its colorful steps below. The coffees even had cute little designs on them; the key to my coffee heart. <3
Plaza del Zócalo
Thought you’ve seen color? Think again. Head to Guatape’s splashy town square. The Plaza del Zocalo is absolutely saturated with color – every single inch is covered! It’s a small square with steps on one side, with each step painted a different color with plenty of designs! Just look at that photo – color overload!
It’s typically pretty busy over here, as both locals and tourists hang out here for photos, listening to live Colombian music, watching street performers, and just sitting down to relax! It’s honestly the perfect place for people watching. Here you’ll also find the famous hot cinnamon rolls – I was so sad we missed out on these. Next time for us!
If you want those perfect IG photos, make sure to head here early! As you can see, the steps and plaza get crazy crowded.
Take a stroll on the malecon
For great views of the water, head to the malecon (essentially a waterfront boardwalk along the shore of the reservoir which doubles as an observation deck). The malecon is pretty new; it just opened a few years ago in 2019 with pristine cobblestone floors, benches to relax on, green spaces with colorful flowers, and even sandy spots for the kids.
If you’re feeling snacky, don’t worry – there were a bunch of food stalls over here in late afternoon/night. We got a whole bag of mini fried arepas and happily popped them into our mouths as we were strolling by the lake. Like the rest of Colombia, expect to eat lots of deep-fried deliciousness over here!
Looking for the Guatape sign? Walk along the entire waterfront promenade and you’ll eventually find it – fun for a touristy photo!
Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen
Walking around town, you’ll undoubtedly run into the Church of Our Lady Carmen (the town’s ‘iglesia’ (church), built way back when in 1865. This impressive colonial church is located in the town’s main square, and is filled with aesthetic beauty.
The outside is even decorated with its own zocalos – representing the four Evangelists (an angel, a lion, a bull, and an eagle). It’s such a beautiful church in Guatape, with striking white paint and red stripes. There’s a huge fountain right in front so you can’t miss it!
Plus, there’s typically some tuk-tuks hanging out here if you need a ride to El Penol!
Ride a colorful tuk-tuk
While you don’t necessarily need a tuk-tuk to get around town (everythings very walkable), if you’re headed anywhere out of town (like the popular Guatape rock), take a tuk-tuk!
These are popular modes of transport in small villages like Guatape, and are super fun to ride! They’ve only got three wheels and have open sides (kinda like a motorbike with extra seating in the back for passengers), so be sure to hold on and keep your stuff securely by your feet.
Depending on your driver, the ride will be fast and thrilling, and I always have so much fun in them. Do note there are no seat belts in the tuk-tuks, so you ride at your own risk.
Empanada Lady near Cuatro Esquinas
While doing my (diligent) research on things to do in Guatape, I came across what a few people dubbed the “Empanada Lady”. Kinda like my tortilla lady in San Pancho! Lover of all things fried, we made it our mission to find this special lady! Old reports claim she sets up shop near Cuatro Esquinas after 3pm, but when we went over there (and even asked nearby shop owners), she was nowhere to be found!
We totally thought they were wrong and outdated, and we were unfortunately, shit outta luck. Well, I’m happy to report we finally found her (!!!) at 10am the next morning and she is in fact still dishing up her famous empanadas.
We couldn’t believe just how cheap they were – less than 75cents (USD) for TWO scorching hot empanadas. What a perfect breakfast treat that was!
Now, I’m not sure if she’s got regular hours or she comes around when she feels like it, but locals seem to know her schedule. There was a whole slew of locals gathered around her street stand. If you speak a decent amount of Spanish, definitely ask when she’s typically there as I unfortunately cannot give you exact days/times!
Snack on strawberries and meringue
Mmmm strawberries and meringue and whipped cream – I swear this is the best dessert in all of Guatapé. You’ll find this little stand with the sweetest lady near the main square on Calle 31.
We randomly stumbled upon this hole in the wall one night while walking around town, and I’m so glad we stopped for some strawberries.
Such a surprising dessert – and ridiculously sweet (and a decent sized portion) so I couldn’t finish the entire plate. And at only ~8,000COP (~$2USD), it’s well worth the few pesos. Look out for the cheerful “merengon” sign in bold, red letters – that’s where the strawberries are!
Walk down Calle del Recuerdo
Calle del Recuerdo is one of the most picturesque streets in all of Guatape, and I think we walked down half a dozen times. Sorry, husband! It was so colorful and pretty and I just couldn’t stop taking photos!
Those hanging flower pots really made the street so different from the others. Don’t miss the traditional fountain at the entrance of the Calle del Recuerdo – it’s got working men decked out in color (obviously).
The street was actually created to honor the town’s past, and thus, translates to “Memory Street”.
Helicopter flight over the lake
Don’t have the energy to climb Piedra del Peñol? Book yourself on an epic helicopter flight over the stunning emerald lake and tiny green islands. Be sure to book in advance as this activity gets sold out fast – I mean, just look at those views!
Pretty stunning if you ask me. And trust me, helicopters are always a lot of fun (here’s my experience in Canada and Hawaii).
Go on a boat tour
Guatape is built around a man-made reservoir, so of course one of the best things to do in Guatape is to get out on the water itself! I recommend signing up for one in advance, but if you decide to head out on a whim, you can always head down to the malecon and see if there are any offering tours that day.
Most boat tours are about an hour, and pass by La Cruz, Piedra del Penol, and even the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s vacation home. After all that energy spent climbing up the rock, I bet you’ll want a more relaxing activity. And if you’re a sucker for stunning panoramas like me, you’ll love just gazing out onto the water.
Since it was pretty rainy on our first day, we decided to skip the boat tour, but I so wish we signed up for one the next day!
Hang out on the lake
Since lake life is such a big thing here in Guatape, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Rent kayaks or paddle boards and paddle to a multitude of little islands, whip around the lake on jet skis, or even cruise around in your very own boat (if you’ve got a bunch of people in your party). There’s lots of equipment to rent and tons of aquatic adventure sports, so decide in advance what you wanna prioritize.
One way to raise that adrenaline? Parasailing and paragliding! These are some of the biggest thrills in the area, and are perfect for you adventure seekers out there. You can even rappel a nearby waterfall or scale El Penol itself!
So there ya have it – my complete guide of things to do in Guatape! What are you most excited about? Ready to climb up the 740 steps of El Penol?!
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