Lovers of small-town flavor, spectacular views, and water-related activities will find plenty of things to do in Guatape, Colombia.
Guatape is, in our humble opinion, one of the coolest small towns in Colombia. Granted we have only visited about 6 or 7 small towns, but Guatape left a HUGE impression.
Visiting small towns is as rewarding to us as exploring the speed and energy of foreign cities. Small towns are generally laid back, peaceful, and possess a sense of character that is sometimes lost in a metropolis. You can even say that the real soul of a country or a region is found in its towns and villages.
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Six Things to Do in Guatape
We spent three months exploring Colombia. After a busy week (and a crazy weekend) in Medellin we decided to hop on a bus and head two hours east of the city, to the lovely and colorful town of Guatape. Situated on a bank of a beautiful (and artificial) lake, the town is known for the fresco-like images depicting daily farming life that adorn the lower portion of most buildings.
Within a couple of hours of walking around, we were full-on in love. The town itself is small, bright, and colorful, and most of its people possess the friendly good-spirited nature that this part of Colombia is known for. Surrounded by high green hills, and filled with small little islands, the lake is a spectacular sight to behold and great fun to explore via your watercraft of choice. We climbed a large hill right on the outskirts of town and were rewarded with majestic views and a glorious sunset.
We decided to check into the Lake View Hostel, which turned out to be a great launching pad for all the exploration we did over a few days. Both Nick and Greg, the two expats who opened the Lake View Hostel together, bombarded us with options of things to do in Guatape.
We decided to compile a list of six attractions the town has to offer, just in case hanging out and reading a book in peace by a gorgeous lake is not activity enough.
Getting from Medellin to Guatape
Getting to Guatape from Medellin is pretty simple. Mini-buses run every half hour (from 5:30 AM to 6:00 PM) from Medellin’s North Bus Terminal to Guatape.
Otherwise, you can rent a car and make the drive yourself, but we tend to avoid such things when on the road in countries we have very little experience driving in.
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Climb La Piedra del Penol in Guatape
Without a doubt, this should be first on your list of things to do in Guatape.
Known simply as La Piedra (The Rock) this massive monolith towers some two hundred meters over the countryside just outside of Guatape. Entrance is 18,000 COP ($6.50) and you get to climb 740 steep steps to get to the top, but it’s totally worth it. Oh the views you will take in! The breathtaking vistas are so stunning as to be almost immune to hyperbole. Simply gorgeous.
There are a couple of small shops at the top to buy a beverage or a snack and just hang out watching hawks swoop around the valley and out over the lake.
If you visit Guatape you simply MUST do this. Period.
Explore the Lake by Kayak
As far as things to do in Guatape are concerned, this is a no-brainer.
Pack a lunch and get started for a full day of exploring this amazing lake. There are a multitude of little islands you can sink anchor at to have a rest and take in the view.
You can rent kayaks for a full day for 40,000 COP from Colombia Getaway, a new tour company on the lake shore (more info below in the Booking Activities section). If you decide you don’t want to kayak they offer other modes of transport around the lake like paddle boards, jet skis, or boats, for exploring the lake.
Be sure to pack sunscreen as the sun’s rays can get pretty intense out on the water.
Take a Boat Tour with Zorbing
One of the most notable figures in Columbian history is Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord. If you’re interested in learning more, Colombia Getaway offers a famous boat tour across the freshwater lake. During the trip, you’ll get to see “La Manuela”, one of Escobar’s mansion, and learn more about the impact that the Narcos had on the area. You’ll also learn more about the history of the artificial lake and famous rock “El Peñon de Guatapé”, and get to check out other cool spots along the way.
For the second part of the tour, try Zorbing (bubble soccer). Don’t worry, it’s safe, anyone can play, and it’s so much fun. Your upper body and head will be enclosed in an inflated bubble, and you’ll get to roll, bounce, and bump into other players as you compete to gain possession of the soccer ball. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit as you’ll also have access to a jacuzzi, and the chance to take a refreshing dip in the lake towards the end of the tour. A complimentary drink is also included.
Explore the Town, Visit Namaste Cafe
Sporting an abundance of colorful buildings adorned with murals, Guatape is very pleasant to walk around. Stroll through the streets and relax in the main square. You can have a “Menu del Dia” lunch in town if you want rice, beans, and meat.
If vegan or vegetarian fare is more to your liking stop by the Namaste Cafe and sample a delicious fruit juice, and whatever sandwich the owner is preparing that week (using only fresh local veggies).
Visit San Rafael Near Guatape
If you’re planning to stay longer than two days in Guatape, San Rafael is deserving of a day trip. Only about an hour away from Guatape, San Rafael has some of the most gorgeous crystal clear rivers in Colombia. One of the best aspects of this trip is the journey itself. Rent a mountain bike, a motorcycle, or a scooter so you have a chance to stop and admire the breathtaking scenery along the way.
This small town features everything from beaches and waterfalls to monkeys and jungles. Whether you prefer to swim or hike some of the scenic trails, the guys at Colombia Getaway will provide maps of the area and show you the best spots. They also offer a guided bike tour that ends at a secret waterfall.
You can also take the bus to San Rafael, which costs 8,000 pesos. Just keep in mind that you may miss some of the best natural sights when taking this form of transport.
Lake View Hostel Rooftop Restaurant
Located on the third floor of the Lake View Hostel, the Thai Terrace and Dragon Bar serve up some delicious Thai snacks, main courses, and surprising house cocktails. On top of the great food and drink the restaurant and bar is an excellent place to meet other travelers.
Chef Marcela Zamudio cooks with passion and gusto, whipping up delicious snacks and mains in his brand-new kitchen. We definitely recommend stopping by for at least a snack and a beer in what is already one of the best restaurants in Guatape.
Thai Terrace is open from 6:00 – 10:00 PM, and the Dragon Bar has happy hour from 5:30 – 7:30 PM.
Where to Stay in Guatape Colombia
Clearly, we are fans of the Lake View Hostel and highly recommend it as the best place to stay in Guatape. The hostel has a fantastic atmosphere, killer views, and both private and dorm rooms to choose from. Additionally, the staff are amazing, and the food and beverage are on point.
We stayed at the Lake View twice, on both of our trips from Medellin to Guatape. Both visits were great, made all the better by the fantastic Thai food, awesome views, and nighttime drinks at the bar. We weren’t paid to say this, by the way.
And yeah, we can’t wait to go back!
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