12 Unique Things to do in Guatapé

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Guatapé is a colorful colonial town that is the most popular day trip from Medellin. There are lots of things to do as it is surrounded by a unique landscape created by a dam that was built nearby.

Guatapé receives nearly 1 million visitors a year and with that comes the problems created by over tourism. But it is still a great day trip from Medellin and a cool place to visit. So let’s dive in and find out all the top things to do in Guatapé ✨

Why Guatapé is so unique

Before we get into the top things to do in Guatapé let’s first have a quick look at why it is such a popular tourist spot and how it became its unique shape 🕵️‍♀️

Guatapé is located about 80 km (50 miles) from Medellin. The town of Guatapé was established in 1811 and for many years the area made money primarily from agriculture.

Then in the 1970s, the land around Guatapé was flooded to create a hydroelectric damn. This has created a unique landscape with a huge lake surrounding Guatapé that has over 500km of shoreline.

This lake has become very popular to build holiday houses, particularly with the wealthy residents of Medellin. So expect to see some fancy architecture around.

Because of its colorful old town, lake, and impressive giant rock El Peñol Guatapé now receives close to 1 million visitors per year! It is a favorite of residents from Medellin to visit so it is always busy with local and foreign tourists.

Tip: Because Guatapé is incredibly popular I recommend visiting during the week. It can get super busy on the weekend. Even on a Tuesday, we thought there were many tourists 👀

The view from the top of El Peñol in Guatape Colombia
View from El Peñol overlooking the artificial lake around Guatapé

1. Climb El Peñol de Guatapé

The first thing most people will do when they arrive in Guatapé is climb El Peñol📍 – it’s a must-do when in Guatapé! 🥾

El Peñol is a giant rock that is over 70 million years old. Even before the arrival of the Spanish, this rock was worshipped as sacred by the Tahami and indigenous groups that lived in the area.

A large rock behind a lake called El Peñol one of the top things to do in Guatape
El Peñol de Guatapé – wow!

The modern history of El Peñol begins on the 16th of July 1954 when a local man Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopez climbed the rock using a series of sticks in the cracks of the rock.

After his climb, he built stairs in the same crack and started taking tourists up. Luis Lopez’s family owned the land around El Peñol and still makes money from tourists climbing it to this day 💰

A mural dedicated to Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopze the first man to climb the El Peñal de Guatape
Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopez was the first man to climb El Peñol

Fun Fact: Although his family owned the land there was a dispute between Guatapé and the nearby town called El Peñol about who owned the rock.

At one point the town of Guatapé decided they would paint the words Guatapé on the rock to show they owned the rock. This resulted in an angry crowd of citizens from El Peñol gathering and demanding that the painting be stopped.

So today if you look at El Peñol you can see a G and part of a U (which looks like an I) painted on the rock which is pretty hilarious! 🪨 #GI

How to climb El Peñol

The entrance fee to climb El Peñol is 25,000 COP (6 USD). The rock is about 125m (410 ft) high and 659 stairs will bring you to the top. If you are in decent shape you will have no problem getting up.

There are a few lookout points on the way up the stairs to take photos of the spectacular lake. Once you get up to the top there are more lookouts and places selling snacks and drinks.

But don’t expect too much from the food at the top. Better to bring your own or eat in town which is one of the top things to do in Guatapé. Get ideas for cheap and healthy snacks to bring here.

Tip: El Peñol and the town of Guatapé are 4 km (2.4 mi) apart from each other. So if you travel to Guatapé independently you will need to catch a tuk-tuk or taxi in between. A tuk-tuk ride should cost about 12,000 COP (3 USD) and is the fun way to go! 🛺

The top of El Peñol with a group of people enjoying the view and sitting outside cafes one of the top things to do in Guatape
The top of El Peñol

2. Explore colorful Guatapé

The second best thing to do in Guatapé after climbing El Peñol is to walk around town. The entire town is super colorful and covered in artwork so it is a great place to get lost for an hour or two.

Our tips for the best spots 📸

Tip: If you do not like crowds it may be best to try and explore the town in the morning or evening as it can get very crowded in the middle of the day ☀️

A colorful motorcycle with Guatapé written on it

3. Have fun with Zocalos

Colombia has many colorful pueblos but one thing that makes Guatapé unique is its zocolos. The word zocalo describes the lower part of the outside wall of a house and is often painted bright.

But the zocalos of Guatapé are covered in colorful artwork that sticks out from the walls. A full 3D experience! And what makes it even more fun: Around 1919 the residents started to depict scenes from their everyday lives.

So around town, you will also see art for bakeries, dentists, and other professions. Some zocalos show important points in the town’s history such as the first man to climb El Peñol. Pretty cool!

You will also see lots of art with sheep because the region is known for sheep farming 🐑

A piece of artwork on a wall in Guatape Colombia showing a baker with a basket full of bread in his hands
A zocolo on a wall in Guatape advertising a dentist with pictures of teeth

4. Stroll at Parque Principal de Guatapé

The Parque Principal de Guatapé📍is the central square of the town and is a pleasant place to stroll around. There are a few restaurants around the square if you are looking for somewhere to eat.

You can also have a look inside the Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Carmen Guatapé📍which is the main church on the square. The church was built around 1919 so is not that old. But it has a nice wooden interior that is worth poking your head in to see.

Tip: If you are looking for a tuk-tuk the Parque Principal is a good place to come. There will be tuk-tuks lined up along the square waiting for passengers 🛺

The main church at the Parque Principal de Guatape with a colorful tuk tuk in font of the church one of the best things to do in Guatape

5. Check out Art Galleries & Artesanias

Because Guatapé is almost an open-air art museum there are a few art galleries in town. Casa del Nerviosismo📍is an interesting little art gallery that is to the right of the picture below. It is also a super pretty street with not many tourists so you have to check it out.

There are also many artisans around town to go souvenir shopping at. Many of them are selling touristy things but there are also many higher quality artisanal items to look at.

Read also: 25 Awesome free things to do in Medellin

A colorful street in Guatapé with a painting

6. Cruise on the Lake

One of the most popular things to do in Guatapé is to take a boat trip on the lake. If you head to the waterfront you will immediately be offered a boat tour.

  • A shared tour costs around 15,000 COP (4 USD)
  • A private tour closer to 150,000 COP (37 USD)
  • You can also rent kayaks for 30,000 COP (7 USD) per hour

Tip: If you go on the Guatapé Tour from Medellin a boat trip is included in the tour 🚤

The lake around Guatape and green hills

7. Take a Tuk-Tuk Ride

The most popular way to get around town for tourists in Guatapé is by tuk-tuk. In many smaller Colombian towns like Jardin or Salento tuk-tuks are a very common form of transport. But the tuk-tuks in Guatapé are especially colorful and beautifully decorated 📸

Read also:
🌸 A Complete Travel Guide to Jardin
🌴 What to do in Salento (coming soon!)

A colorful tuk tuk driving down the road one of the top things to do in Guatape

8. Try Unusual Flavors of Chocolate

Since we have been in Grenada, the Caribbean we love eating artisanal chocolate and there is a store in Guatapé called La Tiendita Chocolate📍with a cool selection of flavors.

We grabbed a few different bars and then had a chocolate tasting at the colorful Plazaleto de Zocolos across it. Some of the spicy flavors are quite hot so be careful!

Read also: How real chocolate is made 🍫

A selection of chocolates at a chocolate shop in Guatape

9. Go on a Free Walking Tour

Going on a free walking tour is always the best way to get to know a new place and meet other travelers. Guatapé Free Walking Tours is run by two local women who grew up in Guatapé.

They have a very in-depth knowledge of the town and offer tours in English and Spanish. Make sure to book tours in advance on their website 📝

Street art of an old woman on a wall in a small town in Colombia
Learn about all the artwork on the free walking tour

10. Eat different Cuisines

Because Guatapé is a super popular touristy town it is full of restaurants. You will able to find a whole range of different cuisines not just Colombian food.

  • El Breton 🍲 cool little restaurant with a laid-back atmosphere that makes authentic crepes
  • Namaste Vegan Food 🍲 great restaurant that serves generous portions of healthy vegan food
  • Restaurante Vegano Zona Prosalud 🍲 another vegan restaurant serving tasty healthy meals
  • La Bahia 🍲 serves traditional Colombian food. Order Bandeja Paisa for a monster-sized meal
  • Koi Cocina Asiatica 🍲 makes a variety of super tasty Asian food

Read also: 12 Best cafes in Laureles, Medellin

A tofu bowl with seeds and sprouts on the top at a restaurant in Guatape Colombia
A tofu bowl from Vegano Zona Prosalud

11. Stay at a Unique Airbnb

We only did a day trip to Guatapé but we were considering staying the night because of the surprising amount of cool-looking and decently priced Airbnbs there.

Many of them are located right on the lakefront. Because of the unique shape of the lake surrounding Guatapé, it has over 500 km of shoreline! So there is plenty of space to build lakefront accommodation.

2 of our favorites we marked:

Read also: How to stay for free in Colombia

A colorful house from the outside

12. Learn Local History at the Guatapé Museum

The small Community Historical Museum📍is in the middle of Guatapé. It will not take long to look around but it has some interesting info about the history of Guatapé. There are also exhibits about the construction of the dam and the effect it had on the surrounding area.

Read also: Best way to visit Comuna 13 in Medellin

A Botero figure painted on a zocolo on a wall

How to Get to Guatapé

To get to Guatapé there are 3 options and we explain them in detail below for you:

  1. Take a bus from Medellin 🚍 (cheapest)
  2. Drive yourself 🚗 (most comfortable)
  3. Join a tour 🚐 (most fun if you travel solo)

Option #1: Bus Medellin to Guatapé

Taking the bus from Medellin to Guatapé is the cheapest way to visit. Tickets cost as low as 20,000 COP (5 USD) each way and the ride will take around 2 hours.

You can book tickets on Busbud or buy tickets at the bus station. The bus will depart from the Terminal del Norte station📍in Medellin and drop you in the town of Guatapé.

Tip: You will probably want to climb El Peñol before checking out Guatapé. So ask the bus driver if you can be dropped off at El Peñol. If not you will have to take a tuk-tuk to El Peñol or walk 40 minutes along the side of the road 🚍

Travel everywhere for less

Option #2: Driving from Medellin to Guatapé

We got to Guatapé by renting a car with friends and driving. It is quite a nice scenic drive and the roads are in good condition the whole way. Renting a car will be the most expensive option even if you split the costs between 4 people due to the highway tolls along the way.

But if you like to drive you can book a rental car here at rentalcars.com 🚗

Option #3: Guatapé Tours from Medellin

I am usually against doing tours when you can visit a destination by yourself. But the tours to Guatapé are a great deal and have really good reviews.

There is a tour with GetYourGuide that costs 35 USD. Included in the tour is transport to El Peñol and Guatapé, Breakfast and Lunch, a boat ride on the lake, and a tour around Guatapé. The only thing that is not included is the entrance to El Peñol which is 25,000 COP (6 USD).

This tour has a 4.9/5 from over 4000 reviews. Especially if you travel solo you should consider booking a Guatapé tour here 🚐

Where to Stay in Guatapé?

There are many places to stay in and around Guatapé with amazing views of the lake and El Peñol. For the best views, you should stay just outside of Guatapé. Below are some hotels and a hostel that are affordable and have awesome views.

Guatapé Hotels

  • Hotel Zocalo Campestere 🏠 is located right next to El Peñol and has amazing views of the lake. Rooms cost around 65 USD and are in very colorful traditional Colombian buildings.
  • Ecolodge Bahia del Penon 🏠 has amazing views of the lake and El Peñol. Rooms start at 80 USD a night and the property has tons of excellent reviews.

Guatapé Hostels

There are not a lot of hostels but Lake View Hostel 🛌 is an excellent option. They have dorm rooms for 10 USD and a well-equipped kitchen with awesome lake views.

How much time do you need in Guatapé?

The most popular way to visit Guatapé is on a day trip from Medellin which gives you enough time to climb El Peñol and see the colorful town if you leave in the morning.

But if you like to avoid the crowds and see the picturesque landscape in the morning and evening sunlight staying a night is worth it too. Especially because you have enough great options of hotels, hostels and Airbnbs for every budget to choose from.

Is Guatapé Safe?

Guatapé is super safe and you do not have to be worried about your safety. There are so many tourists around and I have never heard of any tourists getting in trouble there, which is great because you need to think about your safety in Medellin.

Read also: Best travel insurance for digital nomads 🩺

A colorful street with a motorcycle in Guatapé

Is going to Guatapé worth it?

I think that going to Guatape is worth it but I would put your expectations low. The El Peñol de Guatapé is awesome and the surrounding countryside is beautiful.

But my big problem with Guatapé is that it is a bit too touristy. Even during the week, there are massive crowds of people. Plus the town itself is super touristy and does not feel like a “real town”.

I may be a little too cynical but it just was not my favorite town. Especially when you compare it to other pueblos in Colombia such as Jardin or Salento which despite many tourists still felt authentic.

But let me know in the comments below what your impression is! I’d love to hear it.

Read also: Is visiting Parque Arvi in Medellin worth it? 🌳

A man taking photographs in Guatapes colorful streets

Enjoy all the Top Things to do in Guatapé!

A day trip to Guatapé is always on the list of must-do things from Medellin for good reason. Climbing El Peñol and having an amazing view of the water around the town is worth the trip.

But be aware that it is a very touristy destination so if you want to visit a “real” Colombian town I highly recommend Jardin or Salento in the coffee region, a few hours south of Medellin.

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Hi, I am Allan, a travel, health and fitness fanatic from New Zealand. I'm a former lawyer who turned into a full-time nomad in 2020. For the last 4+ years I've been traveling the world. I'm always on a hunt for good food, activities on a budget and workouts on the go. I hope you find my tips helpful and get inspired to travel more!

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