The town of Guatapé looks like 10,000 Crayola boxes melted on top of it. Seriously, it simply can’t be real. It is exactly what a movie set for an old, peaceful Colombian village would look like because, well, that’s pretty much what it is. On a tip from a San Francisco friend that we randomly ran into in Medellin (this happens to me surprisingly often while travelling—perhaps more on that later), we decided to extend our day trip to Guatapé and spend the night. That way, we would have more time for, you know, activities. And boy-oh-boy what activities we enjoyed!
First, we conquered La Piedra, a monolith (because apparently that’s a real word that basically means big ass rock) that extends 220 meters into the air. It’s quite a site to behold as it looks like a mothership of sorts as you approach from the otherwise tranquil-looking countryside. In a very cool move, someone built a staircase all the way to the top along with an additional structure with a 360 degree lookout. That’s 740 steps in all. Naturally, Terra and I had to be the fastest to the top, which also (naturally) meant that we were the sweatiest once we arrived (in just 12 minutes, 30 seconds).
After we stopped perspiring, we snapped some photos of the incredible view of what we initially thought was a rather strange lake. We later learned that the valley had been intentionally flooded and that the nearby hydraulic dam provides over 30% of Colombia’s electricity. They had even relocated the town of El Peñol to higher ground when the original fell beneath the new water line.
The next major undertaking was a 26 kilometer, mostly downhill (16 miles) mountain bike ride from Guatapé to the tiny town of San Rafael. We found a crappy little bike shop and rented even crappier bikes. But hey, the views were incredible and that’s what you get for $10 for a 24-hour rental. Eat your heart out Blazing Saddles.
When we arrived in San Rafael, I nearly squealed when we passed a bar where several cowboys had “parked” their horses outside while they drank beers inside. One was, I kid you not, holding the lead rope for his horse from where he sat at the bar. I vow to one day be that cowboy, er… girl.
I would like to note that we made it to San Rafael and back in under three hours. The hostel told us it would take around five. I’m just saying.
Finally, we had a chance to wander around Guatapé. It was a Sunday and the town was abuzz with Colombians from Medellín and other nearby towns. The waterfront was covered in pop-up restaurants, kids played in the lake, and there was even a soccer match between Guatapé and nearby El Peñol at a brand new soccer stadium. Terra and I watched the first half and also tried our luck at this playground contraption that is like a cross between a treadmill and a steamroller. Definitely dicey.
All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier that we spent some extra time in Guatapé. It’s a truly special place with plenty of activities to entertain, especially on the weekends. Be sure to head there during your time in Colombia, and report back if you beat either of our time records. We’ll then have to return to defend our titles.
Want to have a similar experience? Here are the important details:
Transportation – The bus for Guatapé leaves from the Terminal del Norte in Medellín. You can take a 15-minute taxi from El Poblado (approx. 15,000 pesos) or it’s about 30 minutes on the Metro (across from the Caribe station). There are two companies with buses for El Peñol / La Piedra / Guatapé departing throughout the day. While the official schedule says that the buses depart hourly, on Sunday they were leaving approximately every 15 minutes. The trip takes around 2 hours and costs around 12,000 pesos. If you stop at La Piedra and then want to continue to Guatapé, you can get a tuk-tuk for around 6-8,000 pesos for the 4km trip.
La Piedra – Wear decent shoes for the climb and bring sunscreen as the way up is in the sun. Entry is 12,000 pesos.
Where to stay – We stayed at the Lake View Hostel and really enjoyed it. The private rooms are newly renovated, with beautiful bathrooms. They also have a cute, albeit standoffish, dog named Sofia.