I originally read that Guatapé, a two hour trip outside of Medellin, was busy and crowded on weekends, and so, not being a fan of crowds, planned to visit on a Monday as a daytrip. But some things in our Medellin schedule had to get rearranged, and so we had to change our daytrip to fall on a Sunday. It turns out this was the best decision that could have happened – the vibe of Guatapé on a Sunday was one of my most fun days in Colombia.
To get to Guatapé, we took the Metro to the Terminal Norte bus station. There are two booths offering buses to Guatapé – both cost the same and take the same amount of time, so take whichever one is leaving sooner, and pay for the slightly cheaper ticket to La Piedra rather than all the way to Guatapé. It shouldn’t be more than 15,000 COP. The journey takes about two hours, and as is the case with many Colombia buses, a variety of people will come onto the bus attempting to sell you water, pop, snacks, beer, bracelets, etc. The bus seats maybe 24 people, and we were two of four gringos on the whole bus. Everyone else were local “paisas” off to Guatapé to enjoy the day, and everyone was in a great mood. One guy had a beer in his hand and was buying at least one of each thing that the vendors were selling, and he had the most contagious laugh.
The bus to Guatapé stops first at La Piedra, which is the rock that overlooks the amazing, flooded landscape of the Guatapé area. There’s mixed information about how exactly the rock got there – some say it’s a meteor wedged into the earth, others say it’s a result of volcanic activity. The driver will announce that you’ve arrived at La Piedra. From there, you can either walk 15-20 minutes uphill to the base of the rock or pay a tuk-tuk to take you there. Once at the rock, the entry fee is around 15,000 COP, so get ready to start climbing up around 750 steps! Note that there is water, beverages and ice cream at the top of the rock, but no restaurants (but there are washrooms!)- you can choose to eat at one of the restaurants at the base of the rock for not too expensive and still with a great view.
Once you’ve huffed and puffed your way up the rock, prepare for a bit of wind and take as many photos as you can. You don’t need to spend more than 30 minutes at the top. There’s also a hokey souvenir shop that you can buy random trinkets from.
After some time admiring the amazing view at the top, we headed down and chose to ate at a random restaurant that had a great patio view of the landscape. We shared a “bandeja paisa” for 15,000 COP – typical Antioquia-area dish of multiple kinds of meat, plus rice, beans, and a bit of avocado and lettuce. I can’t believe anyone would order one of these to eat individually – we couldn’t even finish one plate between the two of us even though it was yummy, and could feel our arteries clogging as we chewed. But, having bandeja paisa is a must-do cultural experience in Antioquia, so they say!
From La Piedra, you can take a taxi to the town of Guatapé or catch a local bus. You could walk, but it’s pretty far and not an interesting journey at all. We took a taxi for 6000 COP. Once in Guatapé, you don’t need more than two to three hours to explore this colourful town. You could also spend the night and go back to Medellin the next day – I’ve heard that if you want to do that, then to go on a Saturday because the local paisas really bring the party on Saturday nights! If you have the opportunity to stay longer, I heard that the boat tours around the lake area are quite nice, and if you’re up for it, there’s also a zipline nearby the lake. We bought our return bus ticket upon arrival in Guatapé (the bus stop is on the main street next to the lake, you can’t miss it) to ensure that we would be getting back to Medellin at a time that suits us.
As we walked through the town, admiring each of the colourful “zocalo” buildings and the unique small murals that accompany each one, we received many warm smiles from the locals also enjoying their Sunday. One old lady looked at me as I was taking a picture of a colourful balcony, placed her hands to her heart, and then gave me the thumbs up.
Still full from our lunch, we visited a cafe ran by a Belgian and had some Tres Cordilleras beer while sitting on a patio, listening to an accordion player and continuing to watch the locals enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Following which, we headed back to the bus station and returned to Medellin along with the rest of the tired locals, happy after their Sunday break from the big city. All in all, if you are in Medellin, definitely make time for a day trip on a weekend to Guatapé!