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.
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 which 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, 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 right on the outskirt 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. The price per person is 14,000 COP and the ride takes about two hours.
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.
Six Things to Do in Guatape
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 35,000 COP ($12.00) 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.
Explore Pablo Escobar’s Mansion in Guatape…and Play Paintball
One of the strangest but coolest activities we have recently encountered – paintball in the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s once stately mansion.
The infamous drug-lord is not around to make lives miserable for the people of Colombia anymore, so why not go play some paintball in the dude’s mansion in Guatape? Enjoy a cool boat ride across the lake, take in the views, get a tour of the mansion, and then suit up for some paintball blasting fun. This is a quirky and novel activity that we think many travelers will have a hard time passing up.
Check out the this website for info on paintball in Pablo Escobar’s mansion. Note, this activity can only be booked in Medellin in advance.
If paintball isn’t your thing, and you’d rather learn a bit about the Escobar history you can also take a guided boat tour and in depth visit to the mansion (more info below in the Booking Activities section).
Things to do in Guatape – 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
San Rafael is a small town located some 25 kilometers east of Guatape. Since its elevation is 1,000 meters lower it is far more tropical in nature. Jungles, waterfalls, and swim holes are all within walking distance from this quaint town, which is only now starting to experience international tourism.
A great day trip from Guatape, you can either take a bus there, rent a scooter or a mountain bike and try your hand at the steep (but paved) descent into the jungle.
The last bus back to Guatape leaves at 5:00 PM and costs 7,000 pesos ($2.50 USD).
Delicious Thai Food at the 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 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 night time drinks at the bar. We weren’t paid to say this, by the way.
And yeah, we can’t wait to go back!
Booking Activities in Guatape Colombia
Colombia Getaway is a tour company located on the lake shore in Guatape offering guided tours of the area and rentals. We highly recommend you give their site a look if you want to arrange activities while you are in Guatape.
Here are just a few of the services they provide:
- Kayak, paddle boards, jet skis, and boat rentals
- A guided, in depth tour in English of the Pablo Escobar mansion for 45 000 ($16.00).
- A full day bike tour to San Rafael secret waterfall as well for 120 000 COP ($42.00)
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