En route from the airport to our hotel in Medellín, we chitchatted with our driver about our itinerary.
“If you want to go to Guatape, I can take you,” he said.
“Oh really?” I asked, instinctively knowing that he was going to try to hustle us. “How much would you charge?”
“650,000 pesos,” he replied with a straight face. This guy must think we’re suckers, I thought as I quickly converted to USD on my phone.
“That would be about $200 for the four of us,” I shared with Jave, my brother and his girlfriend.
“$50 per person? Hmmm…we’ll think about it,” I replied to the driver, knowing that his offer was completely outrageous.
“Yeah, think about it,” he said. “Trust me, you’ll be more comfortable in a nice, roomy van like this because the roads to Guatapé can get kind of bumpy,” he continued his pitch.
Fortunately, I’d already done my homework on how much transportation to Guatapé would cost us from Medellín: about $12,000 pesos (a little over $3 USD). My only concern and the only reason I gave a sliver of consideration to paying more for a private driver was our safety. But after consulting with a front desk clerk at our hotel who vouched with an assuring smile that the bus was a very safe option, we decided to set out on our own. And I’m so glad we did.
Guatapé is a colorful little town about two hours away on the outskirts of Medellín. And contrary to what our airport driver told us, the bus wasn’t uncomfortable and road wasn’t bumpy.
Before the Spanish arrived to the area in the 16th century, indigenous tribes ran the town. In fact, Guatapé is named after one of the tribal leaders. Fast forwarding to the 1970s, the government created a reservoir for the hydroelectric dam that propelled Guatapé to become one of the most critical electric production hubs in Colombia.
Today, although Guatapé is a meeting place for small farms in the area, around the town you’ll find a few resorts and vacation rentals, and in the town itself, you’ll find lots of shops, restaurants and La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen.
I have to say, I’ve never been someplace quite as colorful as Guatapé. The town looks as if someone gave a bunch of kids a box of Crayolas and let them go nuts.
When we arrived, we spent some time walking around town at our leisure, ducking in and out of souvenir shops. Hungry, we were tempted to eat, but decided to hold off until after we climbed El Peñol which turned out to be a smart move.
After exploring Guatapé, we caught a tuk tuk to drive us about 5 minutes back down the road to La Piedra del Peñol (El Peñol for short), the intimidating monolith towering over the town.
Looking at El Peñol from afar, it was hard to believe that 2/3 of this geological wonder is underground!
Once we made it to the base of the 70 million-year-old rock, I immediately felt exhausted just looking up at all of the stairs built into its side, knowing that we’d have to climb them to get to the top. Unwisely, I started off the climb with a bit too much pep in my step and I quickly wore out. Slowing my pace, I decided to treat myself to a rest stop every 125 steps, with a total of 740 to get to the top.
When I first read about El Peñol, I didn’t think that 740 stairs were a big deal at all, but these stairs are quite steep which makes sense considering that the rock stands at 7,005 feet above sea level at its highest point. Other climbers had the same idea as most stopped to catch their breath every 100 steps or so.
But once we finally made it to the top, the views were soooo worth it!!
At the top, we also found food vendors, and inside the tower, we discovered a gift shop. To reach the tippy top of El Peñol, we had to take the winding staircase up the inside of the tower.
Once reaching the top, we were in no rush to get back down. We spent a good hour or so up there treating ourselves to helados and lots of pictures before heading down.
The climb down was actually a little difficult as well considering that I don’t have the best knees, but I’d take the climb down than up any day!
Upon reaching solid ground, we headed to the restaurant directly across from El Peñol’s entrance for an early dinner. The restaurant offered good food and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
Overall, our trip to Guatapé was the perfect getaway from hectic Medellín, offering an excellent balance of food, fun, and adventure in an insanely beautiful setting.
- From Medellín’s center, take the metro to the Caribe station, and from there, follow the crowds to the North Bus Terminal (it’s just a short walk over a highway overpass).
- Once inside the terminal, go to booth #9 and buy your ticket to Guatapé/El Peñol (approx. $12,000 COP/a little over $3 USD); NOTE: there will be other booths selling tickets, but I read about booth #9 on another blog, and coincidentally, it was the only booth where we saw other tourists purchasing tickets to Guatapé (not sure why).
- You can either get dropped off at El Peñol first (i.e., climb the rock first) or get dropped off at Guatapé first (i.e., dine and walk around the town first); NOTE: it doesn’t really matter since there are cheap tuk tuks that cost about $10,000 COP/$3 USD that will shuttle you the 5 minute drive between Guatapé and El Peñol. Just keep in mind that you won’t want to make the climb on a full stomach.
- In Guatapé, along the shore of the reservoir, there’s a ticket booth where you can buy a return ticket back to Medellín (same price). Be sure you ask about the last pickup time before you start your day of exploring.