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If you’re headed to Medellin, Colombia, with kids you definitely need to make a day trip to one of the most popular surrounding pueblos: Guatape. There are lots of things to do in Guatape that the whole family will love!
Guatape, Colombia, is a small pueblo outside of Medellin in the Colombian mountains. The town is becoming a popular tourist destination for it’s many unique things to do and colorful decor. People flock to the small pueblo to escape the bustle of Medellin, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and be surrounded by natural beauty.
What was once a 4-hour drive away, Guatape used to be designated an overnight destination. Visitors originally came to the area to climb the famous La Piedra del Penol and take in the incredible view of the surrounding reservoir. To make the long trip worth it, hotels, stores, and restaurants flooded the town to cater to tourists during their visit. The result of a grassroots effort from locals to make their town a full-fledged tourist destination worked, and Guatape has now garnered the reputation of a must-do place to visit in Colombia.
Thanks to a new tunnel unveiled in August 2019, however, the route from Medellin to Guatape became much more direct- cutting the drive time in half. Now that Gutatape is easier to access, day trips to the area are becoming more and more popular. A simple day trip to Guatape is more economical, makes for an enjoyable mini-holiday during the one day a week Colombians are typically off of work, and is small enough to accomplish in just a few hours.
If you’re visiting Medellin you, too, need to make a stop in this gorgeous town! Considered one of the best trips to take in Colombia, Guatape is a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.
1. Climb Piedra del Penol, the Rock of Guatape ($)
This giant granitic rock will likely be the first thing you see on your way into Guatape from Medellin. It serves as a border between the small neighboring pueblos Guatape and Penol, a perfect landmark as it rises over 650 feet into the air.
The rock was first climbed in 1954, after which locals would take to wooden staircases built along the northern face to gain access to the top. Today the wooden stairs have been replaced with 650 cement stairs (including a tall guardwall on the open side) and a 3-story viewing platform, a small souvenir store, and snack shops have been added to the top for the convenience of tourists.
A walk up the stairs feels grueling at first, but signs stating your stair progress serve to motivate those who become weary. It only takes 20-30 minutes to reach the top, depending on the speed of the crowd in front of you. Once at the top, visitors are rewarded with truly beautiful views of the surrounding lake formed by the Guatape-Penol hydroelectric dam. You’ll see fingers of dark water wind around pockets of green land, which creates a truly unique sight. It’s widely considered the “Best view in the world” by proud locals, and, though we disagree, we do feel it’s well worth the short walk up and down.
Tickets to climb La Piedra must be purchased from the kiosk below the stair case entrance for 18,000 COP/ person (around $5-6 USD/ person)
2. Take a Tuk-Tuk from La Piedra to downtown Guatape ($)
Tuk-tuks, small, colorful vehicles, wait at the base of La Piedra to take visitors to the center of Guatape in Colombian style. These little cars are now a fixture in the area, and help you get in the spirit of this fun, colorful, vibrant town. There’s nothing better to transition you from exhausted rock climber to happy selfie photographer than a Guatape tuk tuk!
The tuk tuks are generally new and well maintained, and easily navigate the windy, 15-minute drive from La Piedra to Guatape, since the roads are not very congested with other traffic. As long as you keep an arm around your kids 3-5 people can fit in one tuk-tuk for a fun, unforgettable ride!
For 10-12,000 COP (around $3-4) the drivers will take you to any landmark you wish to go in Guatape. If you don’t have a spot in mind, simply say “El Centro” to be driven to the center of town where you can easily manage on foot.
3. Walk the Colorful Streets (FREE)
If you’re looking for the traditional, colorful flair of Latin America, you’ll find it in Guatape.
Second to climbing La Piedra, the most popular thing to do in Guatape is to simply take in all of the color and decor of the festive town. If there’s one thing Guatape knows how to do it’s cater to their clientelle. This is largely a tourist town, so the storefronts have been decorated to be the most pleasing to visitors. Because it is a small town, getting from one side to another is quite fast and easy. Whether your tuk-tuk drops you at the waterfront or in the center of town, you can safely walk the mostly-pedestrian streets without getting lost.
You’ll notice decorative tiles along the bottom half of store facades. These tiles are custom designed by the store owner to depict what they sell, their beliefs, or to reflect the farming and agriculture of the area. It’s just one way to take in the local culture and pride when visiting Guatape from Medellin!
Make sure to keep your camera handy as you wander the streets. There are so many opportunities for photos and selfies that there’s no shame or judgement for tourists carrying cameras around their necks here!
4. Eat Cinnamon Rolls and Other Traditional Colombian Foods ($)
If you arrange your day trip to Guatape to begin with a climb up La Piedra del Penol, you’ll most likely arrive in Guatape in time for lunch. There are many delicious restaurants serving up traditional Colombian meals, platos tipicos, which you should try. For the record, we recommend you stay away from the crowded restaurants along the waterfront, as their prices are higher and food isn’t as good as you’ll find in a restaurant on a more quiet street.
You may want to order such delicious traditional meals as chicharrones, which will arrive with rice, salad, an arepa shell, and beans, or ajiaco, a traditional soup made with chicken, potatoes, and corn.
After you’ve had lunch, follow your nose to find the most popular dessert in Guatape: cinnamon rolls!
That’s right, cinnamon rolls. How did that become such a common dessert in this tiny town? I have no idea. But it is!
You’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants advertising their cinnamon rolls, and, for the low price of under 5,000 COP ($1-2 USD), you can try cinnamon rolls from multiple places to find the best ones!
5. Hang out in the Central Plaza (FREE)
In the center of Guatape is a gorgeous plaza. At the base of the plaza you’ll find souvenir shops and cafes, and stairs and a ramp leading up to a wide platform with statues, flower arrangements, benches, and shopping. Sit or walk up the stairs for a great view of the buildings across the plaza. It’s all painted and artistic, of course!
We loved hanging out on the stairs of this plaza, people watching while we ate hot cinnamon rolls. There’s a word they frequently use in Colombia: tranquila. It means to calm down, be tranquil. And this spot in the friendly town of Guatape encompasses the sentiment better than any other place we’ve been!
Guatape borders the reservoir formed by the hydroelectic dam, which has become a recreational lake for locals and tourists. Walking along the lake you’ll hear activity hawkers offering boat tours and jetskis for rent. For around 90,000 COP (around $30 USD) you can rent a 2-person jetski for 30 minutes to ride around the lake.
While this can be a fun thing to do, beware that the view from the water isn’t as beautiful as the view of the reservoir from the top of La Piedra.
7. Visit the Church of Our Lady of Carmen
Near the waterfront you’ll find Guatape’s largest Catholic church, Church of our Lade of Carmen, at the edge of a large plaza. The plaza also features a giant fountain with alternating water shoots. The circular plaza is surrounded by the characteristically colorful buildings and souvenir and snack vendors, but is much quieter than the central plaza in the middle of town.
Your day in Guatape will be busy and exhausting, so come here to relax a bit on benches. Maybe buy some local snacks and enjoy the calm fountain and beautiful scenery.
8. Walk Along the Waterfront (FREE)
While the giant rock and colorful buildings get the majority of attention in Guatape, the waterfront is an area not to be ignored. Enjoy the fresh air and some less crowded spots by taking a stroll along the waterfront!
A clean, wide, smooth sidewalk follows along the waterfront and passes administration offices, a huge playground, a spray zone, bathrooms, souvenir and snack vendors, and a GUATAPE sign. From this sidewalk you can watch boat tours and jetskis in the reservoir on one side, and colorful tuk-tuks and passerby on the other side.
A stroll along the waterfront would be a perfect end to your day, as it’s across from the local bus depot for public transportation back to Medellin or makes for an easy meeting spot for Uber and InDriver rides.
Heading to Guatape, Colombia, from Medellin? Pin this article on fun things to do for later!