Taking a day trip to Guatape from Medellin is cheap and easy using public transport, meaning you can go without a tour to see El Peñol and the surrounding water with ease. Getting there is half the battle of course, as you will find yourself taking both a train and a bus before you can begin climbing the hundreds of stairs up the giant rock. Here is a guide on how to get to Guatape, including what you can do once you arrive.
How To Get To Guatape On Public Transportation
Firstly, you need to get onto the famous Medellin metro system and make your way to Caribe station. This is a popular station as it connects (via a short walk) to the north bus terminal or Terminal Norte, where buses go to hundreds of different destinations around Colombia.
Once you walk across to Terminal Norte, you should make your way to terminal gate 12, where you will see the ticket office for the bus company that goes to Guatape.
If you are lucky (like we were), you will come across a guy handing out discount cards on your walk between the metro and the bus station. If you were lucky, this will give you 15% off your ticket price which from the normal rate of 13,500COP, comes down to around 11,000COP – they round up in Colombia.
Buses to Guatape seem to leave once every 15 minutes or so, meaning as long as you’ve left early enough (especially for a day trip- leave early) you will get to Guatape in time to see it all.
It will take you around 2 hours to get to Guatape, and we recommend getting off the bus at the beginning point of the hike (or bike taxi) to get to the rock “El Peñol” to save yourself time and money in having to come back to it later.
El Peñol – The Climb
The famous photo and viewpoint of this town is of course El Peñol, where you pay to climb over 700 steps in order to reach its peak and the stunning view of the lake and dam below.
The current entrance price is set at 18,000COP, and when you finally reach the top there are many little shops and souvenir buying opportunities to keep you entertained (and the view of course). It truly is an amazing sight to behold, and we still don’t know how the colours seem to emerge so brilliantly both to your eyes and on camera! The town of Guatape is well worth a visit even if you only get to see this one small part of it.
Guatape – Exploring the Town
Once we pried ourselves away from the viewpoint, we hiked our way back down (with ice cream) to the road and luckily found a bus just about to leave. This saved us money we would have otherwise spent on a taxi, and the bus took us directly to the lake front and bus terminal. To ensure we could get back, we all booked our tickets then and there for the return bus, as there is limited space.
From here, we decided to walk around the city and see what was around. Guatape is known for its colourful houses and streets, and it wasn’t long before we were able to find some of them in amongst the small side streets. The beauty of this place comes from the colour, alongside the hospitality of the people that live here- we were always pleasantly surprised at how nice everyone was.
We continued walking around taking photos and also ended up coming across the main square in town, which allowed us to sit at a local panaderia eating empanadas and watching the locals go about their daily lives.
Feeling refreshed after our quick lunch, we decided to head once more to the lake front to see if there were any boat tours going. We could have kept exploring the town for many more hours, but unfortunately we were not staying a few nights (which we now recommend to you) and needed to spend our time wisely.
The Boat Tour
Usually we’re not one to take tours, but it is kind of impossible to rent your own boat and we didn’t have a clue what was on offer to see! We happily negotiated a price with a smaller operator and hopped in for what we were told would be around 1 hour and a half on the water.
After passing a few smaller islands on the lake, we came across the star attraction for this boat ride- a bombed out mansion. But this wasn’t just any bombed out house, but rather a mansion formerly owned by Pablo Escobar, and bombed by the Cali Cartel in the 90s after he had pissed them off one too many times. We took as many photos as we could of the derelict building, and noticed a smaller group getting ready to play paintball in the house itself (a novelty, but a very expensive one).
Moving on, we were taken towards a massive cross situated in the middle of the lake. Interesting enough on its own, our guide told us that there was an entire city sitting underneath the cross, long ago flooded by the waters.
From here, we looped back towards our dock, taking in the surrounding sights of El Peñol, and newer mansions that our guide explained as belonging to local Colombian celebrities (summer houses, darling). We continued to pass back over covered territory and arrived back at the dock after one hour (yep, short changed again!).
Heading Back to Medellin on Public Transport
Going back is the same as getting to Guatape, just hop on a bus heading from the small bus terminal (on the lake front) and it will take you back to Terminal Norte. From here, simply catch a metro (from Caribe station again) to your stop of choice- easy.
Guatape truly is a wonderful day trip from Medellin, and one that is not to be missed. We could have easily stayed longer here and we wish we had the time to do so, though we feel like we really packed in a lot of what you can do here and were extremely happy with what we were able to both see and do.