The first question that our hotel receptionist asked after the check-in in our hotel in Medellin, was how we are planning to visit Guatape. It was a bit of a surprise, but yes, we planned to visit Guatape for sure and do it using public transport. The receptionist was happy to hear about our choice. I think a Guatape day trip from Medellin is the best one you can take.
So why Guatape?
Guatape is a small town about two hours from Medellin with just around 5000 inhabitants. Guatapé is located next to a huge man-made lake that was created for a hydroelectric dam in the late 20th century. The new landscape with the lake made Guatape popular as a travel destination. So, it’s now a lakeside village with many restaurants and cafes plus water activities in the area. But first and foremost, it is known as one of the most colourful towns in Colombia, mostly because of its colourful zocalos.
There is one more interesting attraction in the area and it is Penol stone, located a few kilometres before Guatape.
So our first stop on the way to Guatape was the Penol stone. If you want to follow our lead, you have to get off at the Zeus gas station next to the stairs to ascend the Penol stone area. First, we missed it because we thought that everybody would be getting out there, which was not the case, so we had to walk back a bit but we were rewarded with great photo opportunities for the rock because of that. Also known as Peñón de Guatapé, it is a huge 220 meter high monolith located a few kilometres from Guatape. The monolith stands out in the landscape, surrounded mostly by grassy plains and lakes. The stone was worshiped by the Tahamies who lived in the area before the arrival of the Spaniards. It is uncertain what the 70 million year old rock is, or how it formed. It is mainly composed of quartz, feldspar, and mica minerals.
To reach its peak, you have to climb 675 marked steps and then some more to reach the very top of it. I assure you that it is worth climbing each step to observe the beautiful landscape and at its highest point you will find a truly impressive 360 degrees view. If there are some reasons why you can’t make it to the top, there is an observation deck halfway to it so you can stop there and observe the views. Luis Eduardo Villegas López was the first person to climb the monolith in 1954 and on the grounds you can see a statue in his honour. Take your chance to buy souvenirs in the shops at the bottom of the rock. Then take a short tuk-tuk ride to get to Guatape to be impressed by its zocalos.
Zocalos of Guatape
The zócalo is the most outstanding architectural element that attracts the interest of the travellers who visit Guatapé. The word zócalo in Mexico means “town square” but in several regions of Colombia, it has been used to refer to the lower part of a wall of a house. It stands out slightly from the rest of the building, it is painted in a different colour from the rest of the wall, and it is made with cement, resistant to humidity and therefore also protecting the building. It all started in 1919 when local homeowner José María Parra Jiménez, also known as Chepe, painted on the front and in the hall of his house some sheep to protect the walls. Now we see many different zocalos on the houses of Guatape, including simple geometric ornaments, scenes of the daily life of its inhabitants, farmers with their donkeys, marine scenes, flowers and birds, even Don Quixote with Sancho Pansa, Pink Panther and of course, sheep. So take your time and explore the streets of Guatape to find the most attractive zocalo for you. I hope you will not miss the interesting fountain with figures of men while strolling the streets of the town. When visiting the main square of the town, pay attention to the Church of Our Lady of Carmen.
Church of Our Lady of Carmen
Church of Our Lady of Carmen, built at the end of the 19th century, is located in the town square of Guatape. Admire the striking facade of the building with gleaming white paint with red stripes. It certainly fits well in this colourful town. The interior of the church is mostly made of wood and even the religious figures are depicted in bright colours. It is also a place to spend some peaceful moments in contemplation. By the way, I was not surprised to find the image of the sheep in the church.
Taste the trout of Guatape
Guatape is well known for its mouth-watering local specialty, freshly caught trout (trucha)! I'd recommend trying Guatape's signature fried trout dish. We did that at the Kennedy restaurant and bar and were not disappointed. So delicious even for me who is known as a non fish eater.
Buy souvenirs in Guatape
There are a lot of shops selling arts and crafts in the town. The souvenirs are colourful like the town itself and made in good taste. Buy them here. It will be too late when you browse the shops at the airport when going back home. You will find that the prices are completely different and much higher than in Guatape.
Guatape is a two hour drive east of Medellin. If you can choose your time for the visit, choose weekdays because there will be much fewer tourists and you can have the town to yourself. If you like me you decide to go to Guatape by bus, it departs from the North Bus Terminal (Terminal Norte) of Medellin. The bus terminal is a short walk from the Caribe metro station. Then just go down one level and look for a sign for Sotra San Vicente & Guatape la Piedra window to buy your bus ticket.Like it? Pin it?
What did you think? Have you been to Guatape? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.