An 80km bus or taxi ride east of the Colombian city of Medellín sits the colorful lakeside town of Guatapé. Surrounded by rolling green hills and on the edge of one of the largest lakes in Colombia, it’s an excellent location to escape the city and lose yourself wandering the cobbled streets of vibrantly painted houses or touring Guatapé Lake with its seemingly endless interconnected waterways and islands.
All of this is overlooked by El Peñón de Guatapé, a towering monolith standing 650ft above the ground and offering 360° views of the mesmerizing landscape. Brimming with traditional Colombian charm, distinctive scenery and a range of activities both on and off the water, Guatapé really is a perfectly unique place to visit.
Guest post by Daisy Clark
What’s the best time to visit Guatapé?
In Guatapé, the climate is warm and pleasant for most of the year with temperatures averaging 18°c (65°f). As with the rest of Colombia, the high and dry season is December to April with the wettest months being September through November. Even in the high season expect an occasional torrential lighting storm to light up the night sky.
Good to Know About Guatapé
Guatapé Lake is a man-made lake created in the 1970s when the Colombian government allowed the flooding of around 6000 hectares of land to create a hydroelectric dam. Today, this hydroelectric complex has made Guatapé the most important centre for production of energy in the country, and the resulting lake is a totally unique sight to behold.
Guatapé was also once home to one of Colombia’s most infamous cartel bosses, Pablo Escobar. His now graffiti-covered lakeside mansion “La Manuela” was bombed by a rival cartel in 1993 and currently stands in ruins. When visiting, the damage caused by people on the hunt for Escobar’s missing millions is hard to miss with walls smashed and holes dug out in the sprawling grounds.
One Day in Guatapé Itinerary
Top things to do in Guatapé
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Guatapé.
Paintballing at La Manuela
After breakfast, take a leisurely stroll to the lakeside and catch a water taxi through the twisting waterways of Guatapé Lake to La Manuela, the lakeside residence of cartel boss Pablo Escobar. On the way, spot the lakeside homes of some of Colombia’s rich and famous and take in the unique geology of the lake from the water.
When you arrive at La Manuela, grab a bottle of water from the bar (probably served by one of Pablo’s cousins or relatives) and set off on a guided tour of the grounds, taking in the sordid but fascinating history of the property. You’ll pass swimming pools, football grounds, tennis courts, stables and even its own night club. When you get a moment, take a peek in the ruined walls for some of Pablo Escobar’s missing millions said to be buried and hidden on the estate.
After the tour, it’s time to grab some overalls and split up into two teams to battle it out in a cartel style paintball war in the grounds of the mansion. For anyone who loves an adrenaline rush and good (but painful) laugh, this is one activity on offer in Guatapé not to be missed. For those who’d prefer to skip the bruises there is the option to take a more in depth tour of the estate instead.
**Paintballing excursions and La Manuela or Lake Tours can be arranged with local operators at most hotels or hostels in Guatapé.
A Lakeside Lunch
Once you emerge victorious from your cartel battle, it’s time to jump back on the water taxi and meander back through the waterways to the main town for a lakeside lunch at one of Guatapé’s many restaurants and bars. You could try local dishes and traditional Colombian food served at La Fogata or for a lighter bite there is always a wealth of street vendors on the waterfront to fulfill your snack requirements.
Top of the Rock
After lunch take a stroll down the colourful streets of Guatapé town and flag down a moto taxi to take you to El Peñón de Guatapé. El Peñón de Guatapé stands 650ft above the town and is sometimes referred to as the stitched rock because of the arrangement of stairs built into a crack in the rock. A pass to climb the rock can be bought from the ticket office in the carpark at the bottom and costs around 18,000cop (roughly £4.50).
Then it’s time to tackle the 740 steps to the top of the rock to get the best 360° view of the area you could wish for. When you reach the top, you can visit one of the few cafes and shops and treat yourself to a well-deserved ice cream or beer before you get those insta-worthy pictures of the lake from the uppermost tower. No trip to Guatapé would be complete without a trip to El Peñón.
Siesta before the Fiesta
Now it’s time to head back to your accommodation for a quick siesta after an action-filled day before freshening up and going out to catch sunset over the lake and tuck into some Colombian BBQ at the Charcoal Grill Bar or a not so traditional pizza at Pizzeria De Luigi. Both provide excellent food and service.
For the rest of the night you can take your pick of kicking back and watching the world go by with some people watching at one of the lakeside bars or grab some rum and head into town to party the night away with fellow travellers and locals alike.
Where to stay in Guatape?
Hotel Los Recuerdos
Hotel Los Recuerdos offers stylish and relaxing stay in a beautiful lush ambient overlooking El Peñol Reservoir. The hotel features a large outdoor heated swimming pool, gym facilities, a Turkish bath and an on-site night club and bar. The rooms have modern and elegant decor and provide great comfort.
Hotel Santa Maria de las Aguas Peñol
Hotel Santa Maria de las Aguas Peñol is another one next to the lake property surrounded with lush tropical nature. The hotel features a garden, a fitness center and a playground. Ski equipment rental and bike rental are available. Some of the rooms offer stunning lake views.
Extra tips for visiting Guatapé
– As in all of Colombia, the main language spoken in Guatapé is Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry as you will come across locals who speak a little English and everyone is very welcoming and happy to help you should you need it.
– Guatapé can be reached from Medellín by bus and the main bus station is right in the middle of the town. Pre-book bus tickets to avoid an 80km journey to or from Medellín sitting on the floor as most of the time buses will be full and often overcrowded. Taxis can also be taken to and from Guatapé but this can be quite expensive.
– There are 3 ATMs in Guatapé, and it is always a good idea to carry at least some cash to pay for moto/water taxis as they will not accept cards. All major credit cards will be accepted in most of the hotels and restaurants here.
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