If you’re spending time in Medellin, I would absolutely recommend taking a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé. Read on for details of how to get there and what to do!
After spending time in the hectic and bustling metropolis of Medellin, Guatapé was a literal breath of fresh air. We anticipated having a nice day in Guatapé, but we ended up loving the little town so much more than we even expected – it was a highlight of our trip to Colombia.
While the town is small and tucked away in the countryside of the Antioquia department of Colombia, Guatapé is well known in Colombia for its large monolithic rock and its colorful buildings.
Those two attractions lived up to they hype, and there are even more fun and interesting things to see and do here. I would say it’s well worth the time and effort to make a day trip (or longer!) out to this pretty little pueblo!
Here is our guide for taking a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé, including how to get there, what to see and do, our favorite spots, restaurant recommendations, and more.
How to Get to Guatapé from Medellin
There are 5 main ways to take a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé: take the bus, take a tour, take a taxi, hire a private driver, or rent a car and drive yourself. Here are the things to know about each mode of transportation.
➡️Take a Tour
If logistics aren’t your thing, and you just want to focus on enjoying the experience, a guided tour may be right for you! This tour is actually a nice hybrid between a do-it-yourself and a guided tour.
You will get round trip transportation from Medellin, to the El Peñol rock (where you climb by yourself), to the town of Guatapé, and back. Lunch after El Peñol and a boat ride around the reservoir to end your trip are also included. The commentary by the guides is interesting and the value for what you pay is excellent.
➡️Take a Taxi
There is always the option to take a taxi, or use an app like Uber or Cabify, for your day trip from Medellin to Guatapé. Expect this to cost you between 55-60 USD one way.
If you take a taxi, make sure you know whether the driver is using the meter for the journey, or will just charge you a set price. If there’s a set price, agree (and haggle if necessary) on the price beforehand.
➡️Hire a Private Driver
Hiring a private driver may be the right choice for you if you don’t want the hassle of dealing with the logistics of getting between Medellin and Guatapé, and also like the idea of having private transportation.
This option is definitely the most expensive of all the options on this list, but it also is the most hands-off. Plus, you can arrange a ride any time of the day or night. (Note that this booking is for a one way ride, not round trip).
➡️ Rent a Car and Drive Yourself
While you technically could rent a car in Medellin and drive yourself out for the daytrip to Guatapé, this is an option I don’t recommend. Traffic in Medellin is certifiably crazy, and even once you get onto the more rural roads, the roads are narrow and winding. Since there are so many other options for doing a day trip to Guatapé, I would not recommend driving.
However, if you decide that renting a car is the best option for you, I would book via RentalCars.com – I find they have the best options and lowest prices available. There are rental locations in both Laureles and El Poblado. And we did see attended parking lots in Guatapé when you are exploring, and El Peñol has a large lot, as well.
➡️Take the Bus
Okay there are several different steps to using bus as your form of transportation for your day trip to Guatapé from Medellin, so let’s dive in to the details.
Getting from Medellin to Guatapé
Taking the bus to from Medellin to Guatapé is the most inexpensive way to do this daytrip.
First, take a taxi or the metro (get off at the Caribe station) to the Terminal de Norte bus station. The ticket booths for the buses to Guatapé are on the lowest level of the station. There is a long line of ticket booths, but you’ll find the buses from Medellin to Guatapé at stands 9 (the company is Sotra Peñol) and 14 (the company is Sotrasanvicente).
The buses for Guatapé generally leave every 15-20 minutes. Once you buy your ticket at the counter, there are exit turnstiles, where you scan your ticket to exit the bus terminal and enter the area where the buses are waiting. The ticket will show you loading stall number where your bus will be (“Rampa“).
Buses are comfortable and safe, and the ride between Medellin and Guatapé takes between 1.5 – 2 hours, depending on traffic conditions.
You can take the bus all the way into Guatapé or you can get off one stop before the city, at a gas station right next to the El Peñon rock.
Cost for the bus: It is 17,000 COP (4 USD) per one-way ticket to Guatapé. It also cost us 16,000 COP (4 USD) to take a taxi from Laureles to the bus station. If you take the metro up, that will cost 3,000 COP per person.
How to Get Between the El Peñol Rock and Guatapé
Whether you visit the El Peñol rock at the beginning or end of your day trip to Guatapé, you will need transportation between the rock and the town. It’s about a ten minute drive or an hour long walk, so it’s definitely worth getting transit.
There are two main forms of transit: the bus and the tuktuks. The bus will cost you about 2500 COP per person between the town and the rock, and the tuktuks will run you around 15,000-20,000 COP for the ride.
Tuktuks are plentiful in the city of Guatapé and easy to flag down. There are also a lot of tuktuks at the gas station near El Peñol you can get a ride from.
You’ll want to pick up the bus at the gas station by El Peñol, or the bus station in Guatapé. You can buy your ticket at the ticket counter in Guatapé if you’re heading to El Peñol, or just flag down the bus and pay the driver directly if you’re heading from El Peñol to Guatapé.
Getting from Guatapé or El Peñol back to Medellin
From El Peñol
If you decide to climb the rock at the end your day trip to Guatapé, then you can pick up the bus back to Medellin at the gas station on the side of the road near El Peñol. This station is easy to find – the bus stops here and you will pass by it on the way in and out of Guatapé.
If you are heading back to Medellin from Guatapé city, the bus station is at the corner of Calle 32 and Carrera 30, right along the waterfront. This bus station can get pretty busy, so I would try to grab your tickets a little bit ahead of time, if possible.
We bought our tickets for an hour out, and then used the wait time to visit to a viewpoint and grab some delicious street food (more on both of those things in the following sections).
Cost: Cost for bus tickets from Guatapé back to Medellin are 17,000 COP per person (about 4 USD).
13 Things to Do on Your Guatapé Day Trip
Ok, now that you’re in Guatapé for your day trip, let’s talk about all the fun, beautiful, and interesting things there are to do in the area!
1. Visit El Piedra del Peñol
The main reason everyone goes through the effort to do a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé is to visit La Piedra del Peñol, a massive, monolithic rock. This rock is actually the second largest monolith in South America.
Interestingly, this rock has a lot of names that it is known by: La Piedra del Peñol, just El Peñol or El Peñon, and even sometimes just La Piedra.
If you are arriving by bus from Medellin, you can get off at the gas station near the base of El Peñol. From this gas station, there is a set of stairs you can climb that will take you up to the ticketing booth for the rock, or you can hire a tuktuk at the gas station to drive you up (it is a bit of a climb).
If you are arriving by rental car, tour group, or taxi, you should arrive right by the entrance, at the base of the rock.
Once you’re at the base of El Peñol, you’ll go down a touristy street with lots of souvenirs shops and cafes, toward the rock. Buy your tickets right at the base of the rock and then start up the stairs!
Note: Tickets are cash only. In fact, basically everything at El Peñol is cash only and there are no ATM’s that can be used by foreigners.
Visitors to La Piedra will climb the 675 narrow steps to the top of the rock. I won’t lie, you are definitely going to feel those 675 steps! The steps are really narrow and it can be tricky to pass people. Thankfully, there is a separate staircase for going down, so you’re only dealing with one-way traffic. It’s long but doable, and the reward at the top makes it all worth it!
Unfortunately, this attraction is not handicap-acccessible. The stairs are the only way to access the top.
At the top, there are several viewing spots, souvenir booths, food stands, and bathrooms. The views over the lake are really spectacular, with all the little inlets and curvy coastline and the shape of the lake.
Note the little black tower at the far end of the viewing platform (in the picture below). Inside the tower is a souvenir shop, but you can climb stairs to the roof of the tower for what are honestly the best views over the lake.
- Hours: 8am-6pm. It got busy around 9, and got significantly busier at 10am.
- Cost: 20,000 COP (about 5 USD) – cash only!
Bonus Tip: You can take a helicopter around the rock and the lake. This costs 70 USD per person for a 7-8 minute flight. You can also pay a bit more for a little more time. Rides start at 10am and you can just buy tickets at the booth in the upper parking lot, next to the parked helicopter.
2. Explore the Colorful Town of Guatapé
Guatapé is SO. DANG. COLORFUL. We visited a lot of colorful towns and spots in Colombia and honestly, Guatapé takes the cake.
Seriously, when we first walked into Guatapé and saw the veritable explosion of colors, my jaw about hit the ground. Every building was painted in a variety of different hues, with the doors, windows, even the roofs painted in contrasting colors.
But what makes the rainbow buildings of Guatapé particularly unique are the zocalos – the panels on the walls (almost like a “chair rail moulding”) that features different designs and shapes. Sometimes these zocalos were purely ornamental, but sometimes the decorations referred to the type of business inside, or even told a story!
There are some specific attractions and features in the town that you can visit (these are highlighted in the following sections), but a great part of visiting Guatapé is just wandering around the town and seeing what you discover!
3. Parque Principal de Guatapé
The Parque Principal of Guatapé is the main square in the village.
Like the rest of Colombia, often the “parques,” are more of a square than a greenspace, and this holds true for Guatapé. Still, it’s a nice village square, with a fountain in the middle, lots of pretty buildings around it, and bordered by restaurants, cafes, and the village church (next!)
4. Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Guatapé Church
This church stands prominently on the Parque Principal of Guatapé. I love how the architecture and striking, contrasting colors really seemed to fit with the theme of the rest of the town!
Also, the inside was really breathtaking. The tiled, mosaic floors in particular were so beautiful and interesting! The intricate tiled floors were a feature of churches that was really unique in Colombia – I haven’t seen floors like that in churches anywhere else.
Other beautiful and interesting features include the wooden ceiling and the ornate, golden alterpiece in front!
5. Plazoleta de Los Zócalos + Umbrella Street
Plazoleta de los Zocalos is a vibrant, chill square in Guatapé. There are a variety of cafes, and takeaway snack shops surrounding the square.
Leading up to the square is Calle del Recuerdo, an umbrella street that is great for a photo-op. You can access this street off of Calle 31.
If you head up the stairs between Plazoleta de los Zocalos and Calle 29, you’ll see some really great examples of Zocalos that tell a story!
6. Callejon Julia Pastusa
This passageway is towards the back of the town and because it’s a pedestrian-only alley, it doesn’t actually show up on Google maps. You shouldn’t miss it though! It has some really happy rainbow stairs and a really interesting zocalos.
If you are standing in front of the church in the main square, you’ll be on Carrera 30. Follow Carrera 30 south and it’ll take you right to the alleyway.
Read More About Other Colorful Cities in Colombia: 14 Amazing Things to Do in Salento (A Travel Guide) and 3 Days in Cartagena: What to See and Do
7. Walk Along the Waterfront
As the town sits right on the water, walking the sidewalk along the waterfront is for sure on the beautiful things to do in Guatapé. This particular section in the picture above is the very eastern section of town – it’s a little more quiet and a little more beautiful here with the grass and the palms.
The western section of the waterfront is also very lovely, it’s just busier and more commercial.
8. Take a Picture by the Guatapé Sign
On the northern side of the waterfront walkway, you can find this colorful Guatapé sign, designed for a great photo-op. Yeah, it’ s a little touristy and cheesy, but we saw signs like these all over Colombia, and I can’t deny the background is extremely fun.
9. Viewpoint behind the city
For a great viewpoint of the La Piedra del Peñon rock from the town of Guatapé, head up and behind the town for about 5 minutes until you reach the Mirador Alto de la Virgen. This gated-in mirador (viewpoint) has a shrine and statue for Mary, but also these really great views over the reservoir to the monolith.
It seems that this viewpoint is fairly unknown, as when we went by the town was bustling but the viewpoint only had one other (local) family there.
10. Take a Boat Tour on the Reservoir
As you walk down the waterfront, you’ll see lots of catamaran and cruise ships docked and ready to take passengers out. If you want to do a cruise, I would just walk along until you find one at the right time and the right price for you! Uusally these boat cruises are about 1-2 hours long.
Generally, these boats will take you out on the water, exploring all the little inlets on the reservoir. You may pass by Pablo Escobar’s home (the drug lord who had a vacation home in Guatapé) and, depending on the expedition, you may get to explore islands or even take a dip in the water.
And you will get to see the Piedra del Peñol from the water!
11. Go Kayaking on the Reservoir
Another fun option is to go kayaking on the reservoir! There are several places renting kayaks on the lakefront – just walk down until you find some kayaks out. We rented one double kayak for 20,000 COP (4 USD) for an hour. We didn’t haggle on this price – you probably could haggle and get it for less.
With just an hour, we were able to go out just a little bit on the lake (it really was just a taste). There are a lot of speedboat and cruisers on the lake, so you’ll need to navigate around those waves. It was a calm wind day, so the waves were never very large for us.
If you want to really explore more of the inlets and find islands, you would need several hours to half a day. (Or you could go on a boat cruise).
12. Go Power Paragliding Over the Lake
One of the more adventurous things you can do in Guatapé is this exciting power paragliding experience over the Embalse del Peñol! You’ll glide over the water, getting a unique view of all the inlets of the reservoir, and a birds eye view of the Piedra del Peñol rock!
Feeling the wind blowing in your face as you glide over cool landscapes is a fun way to experience Guatapé – I’ve loved our paragliding experiences! Plus, it’s a good starter adrenaline activity. It definitely has some adventure factor to it, but it’s not anywhere as extreme as bungee jumping or skydiving. (Plus, pictures and videos are included)
13. Eat Some Delicious Food
We ate some really delicious food in Guatapé. Here are our recommendations:
Restaurante Dona Pastora
Located between the Parque Principal and the Umbrella Street, this restaurant was little and cozy and had a yummy and inexpensive menu. The almuerzo del dia (the lunch of the day) was a great value, at $3. Get the jugo con leche! (literally “juice with milk” and tastes like a light and fresh milkshake)
Food Trucks by Parque Principal
Along the south side of the Parque Principal is a line up of food stands selling a variety of hot foods to go. We bought this plate of hot potatoes and chorizo, which was absolutely fantastic and my favorite chorizo of the entire trip.
Cinnamon Rolls from Zocarolls
I wouldn’t have thought Colombia would have amazing cinnamon rolls, but Zocarolls knows what they are doing!
This little takeout spot on Plazoleta de Los Zócalos sells the most delicious cinnamon rolls, with several different toppings that you can get. We got ours with softserve vanilla and arequipe – fantastic.
Other Practical Information About Taking a Day Trip from Medellin to Guatapé
I mentioned it above, but it’s worth noting again here. You will need to pay for things almost exclusively in cash in Guatapé. There are ATMs in the town of Guatapé (there’s one right by the main square), but there are none at la Piedra del Peñol. Be prepared accordingly.
The exchange rate when we were there was about $1 = 4300 COP
How Much Does It Cost to Go to Guatapé
A lot of these costs were mentioned in the previous paragraphs, but I’ll summarize it here for convenience:
- 34,000 COP per round trip bus ticket
- 3000 COP per metro ticket or ~16,000 COP per taxi to get to/from the bus station
- 100+ USD for a round trip taxi
- ~33 USD for a rental car
- 100+ USD pp for private transfer
- ~30 USD pp for a tour to Guatapé (includes lunch and boat ride)
- 20,000 COP to climb El Peñon
- 2500 COP per person for the bus or 15,000-20,000 COP per ride for a tuktuk between El Peñon and Guatapé city
- 20,000 COP to kayak on the lake for an hour
- 50,000+ COP for a lake cruise
- 100 USD for power paragliding over the reservoir and by El Peñol
- Anywhere from 15,000-50,000 COP (3-11 USD) per person for a meal
- Snacks and street food are <10,000 COP (<2.50 USD)
How Much Time Do You Need in Guatapé?
I would plan to leave very early in the morning from Medellin for your Guatapé day trip. Ideally, I would try to arrive at El Peñol around opening time at 8am, so I would aim to leave Medellin around 6:30 or 7am.
The last bus back to Medellin usually leaves Guatapé around 6:30pm, but I would double check the bus schedule when you arrive.
If you have the time in your Colombia itinerary, staying overnight can be a really fun thing to do! You will be able to enjoy the town in the evening and morning before it fills up with daytrippers, and have time to explore the area and the reservoir more fully.
There are some really beautiful and fun properties on the lake around Guatapé that offer great views surrounded in nature. Here are a few of my favorites:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for your trip to Colombia – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Final Thoughts on A Day Trip to Guatapé
100% doing a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé is a great thing to do in Colombia. Guatapé is absolutely worth visiting, whether you visit from Medellin for a day trip, or stay overnight for a longer trip.
The El Peñol rock is super cool, the views over the lake are gorgeous, and the city of Guatapé is absolutely breathtaking in it’s color and vibrancy. We loved our day trip from Medellin to Guatapé!
Check Out My Other Colombia Posts:
- 14 Best Things to Do in Salento (A Travel Guide)
- A Detailed Guide to the Cocora Valley Hike in 2022
- How to Get from Pereira to Salento
- Where to Stay in Salento (3 Best Areas + Hotels)
- 3 Days in Bogota: Absolute Best Things to Do
- How to Spend a Perfect 3 Days in Cartagena
- 34 Traditional Colombian Foods to Eat in Colombia
- How Much Does a Trip to Colombia Cost? Our Colombia Travel Budget