As seems to be the case with most of our favourite places, Medellin is a city that we didn’t plan on visiting. Way back when we were planning our four months in South America, Colombia was the one destination I hadn’t given much thought to. Bogota and a few days in Cartagena was the extent of my planning, but as the country’s rave reviews rolled in we decided to shoehorn in a little more time. Medellin didn’t feature in that plan at all though. Like most people I only knew it as the place famous for its drug cartels and for being the stomping ground of infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar. Until very recently it was also ranked as the most dangerous city in the world. Not the sort of place I was in any rush to get to.
I can’t remember what convinced me to give Medellin a chance, but I’m so glad I did. The upscale El Poblado district is ideal for digital nomads, a walking tour of the Old Town is fantastic way to listen to the history of Medellin and the suffering of the paisa people, and of course it’s one of the best places in South America to watch a football match.
We almost ended up staying there even longer after almost missing our flight to Santa Marta, but that’s a story for another day.
I digress though because this story isn’t about Medellin. It’s just that we would never have found Guatape if we’d dodged Medellin. Which would be a shame because it was one of my favourite places in Colombia. We ended up being in Medellin at the same time as a German girl we met in Cotopaxi and she mentioned she was taking a day trip to Guatape. We didn’t have much time to meet up so we decided we’d take a break from the city and join her. I had originally wanted to stay longer, but we were running out of time and I really wanted to see a football match.
We waited for our friend in the bus station and gave up politely declining as a vendor yelled ‘hey! gringos! tickets!’ at us for ten minutes before catching a bus to El Peñon. It was a bit confusing as there’s a stop on the way called El Penol and the Colombian accent is impossible to understand (but maybe that’s just me) but strangely enough, when people tell you that you can’t miss the 700ft rock sticking out of the ground they aren’t lying. When it’s your stop you’ll know.
We hired a tuk tuk to take us to the entrance of El Peñon but it’s easily walkable up the hill too. I had my reservations about climbing 740 steps in 25 degree heat to reach the top of the rock but it was surprisingly easy. Maybe that’s because any form of physical activity seems like a breeze after the likes of Huayna Picchu, Colca Canyon and the Quilotoa Loop. The views from the top across the lush greenery and dark blue pools would have made any challenge worth it though.
Another tuk tuk then took us into Guatape itself, which couldn’t be further away from the crowds at the top of El Peñon. Around each corner is rows of beautiful brightly coloured buildings, hanging baskets and cute boutiques selling homemade jewellery. We ate lunch at a gorgeous vegan restaurant in town, walked along the waterfront and spent the afternoon ambling and admiring the architecture. We could have stayed for days without getting bored but there are also plenty of activities such as watersports and ziplining.
Since staying in El Poblado had chewed right through our budget we decided to shun adventure in favour of a big plate of Bandeja Paisa when we got back to Medellin. We found a restaurant offering a vegetarian option and it would have been incredibly rude not to try the local cuisine we’d heard so much about.
While I wish we’d had longer to explore Guatape it’s ideally located just two hours away from Medellin and is a great place to escape the craziness of the city.A day is plenty of time to explore the town and climb El Peñon but I’d recommend getting the climb out of the way first.
Getting to Guatape
Take a taxi/metro to Caribe station. The bus from Medellin to Guatape costs around 13,000COP each way ticket and tickets can be bought from counter 9 or 14. Get off at La Piedra for El Peñon. Entrance to El Peñon is approximately 15,000COP. It takes around 45 minutes to walk between the rock and the town itself but it’s not a particularly interesting walk and for the sake of a few pesos I would just jump in a tuk tuk.