Having heard so much about a weird-looking giant rock (Piedra del Peñol or El penon de Guatape) in the middle of a colorful bustling town, I knew my Medellin itinerary would be incomplete without a day trip to Guatape.
There are many cool things to do in Guatape but these 2 take the cake – the big fat rock and colorful cute houses decorated with bas-reliefs. Situated just 1.5 hours from Medellin, visiting Guatape is high up on travelers’ bucket list.
Even though a Guatape day trip from Medellin sounds pretty easy on paper considering back and forth time of just 3 hours (79 km) – in reality, it can be quite a nightmare, considering the popularity of this cute little Guatape town. Traffic on this route is hence, just plain annoying. If you happen to take the last few buses back to Medellin, be prepared to spend approx 3+ hours extra on the road.
All my Colombia travel mates had either been to Guatape or had it planned for another date. So I did a solo DIY trip to Guatape which was just fine – safety wise. However, considering the long bus ride, some company would’ve been nice – I, however, used it to catch up on sleep.
I was so exhausted taking a day trip to Guatape from Medellin, that quite honestly, I would recommend booking one of these nice hotels in Guatape and simply spend a night or two there instead. The town is certainly charming enough to hold your attention.
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What to Expect at Piedra del Peñol?
Well for one, expect maddening crowds and long queues no matter what time of the day you get there.
After you pay the entrance fee of around $6 (COP 20000) to climb the epic La Piedra Del Penol, be prepared for a long slow climb as there would be hundreds of people in front of you.
To be honest, just looking at the mad rush, I wanted to head back but considering it took me 3+ hours of a back-breaking bus ride (stunning views en route though), I was determined to make it to the top of the rock. I mean climbing Piedra del penol is the top attraction of Guatape so missing it after getting to the town was simply not an option.
The 750 step climb was surprisingly not tiring – maybe because I had to climb at a tortoise pace. These signs were a bit intimidating though –
There are viewpoints after literally every hundred or so steps and the landscape from each level is breathtaking. I even spotted a cute little cafe with a view and in fact, made a mental note to enjoy a hot cuppa there on my next visit.
Once at the top, the 360-degree birds-eye view of Guatape with its lovely scattered inlets is indeed surreal. However, if you are dreaming of that perfect Instagram shot, think again as the crowds barely give you a chance to get a solo shot in without someone else’s arm, leg, bag, etc photobombing your cool click.
Reality shots of Piedra del Peñol – (Forget the drool-worthy Insta pics)
For me, it took around 7 hours on road, an hour to climb at snail’s pace, thanks to the long queues and in actual just around 10 mins gawking at the lovely views from the top, before I decided to cut my losses and climb back down.
Visiting Guatape – Is Guatape Worth It?
The short answer is – Yes! Guatape is stunning and definitely worth a visit.
However, a day trip to Guatape is less than ideal as you spend a lot of time commuting and waiting in long queues. I would recommend spending a weekend in Guatape to make the most of your time there. This way you can even climb the rock at off-peak hours, before the day tour traffic pours in.
If you only have a day and want good pictures (at least minus the crowds), try some view points on the way back down. The views aren’t as good but I will take this over the crowded deck any day –
Plus, the giant rock Piedra del Peñol is surely not the only tourist draw in Guatape. The city itself with its stunning waterfront, cute cafes, and colorful bas-relief houses, is to be included in any Medellin itinerary.
Interesting info about Piedra del Peñol –
One of my favorite music channel on Youtube – Cercle which is famous for shooting in the most amazing destinations of the world, recorded a DJ set for Above and Beyond at this iconic destination. I was so happy to relive my trip to Guatape via these sensational visuals. Check it out for some inspiration to visit Piedra del Peñol –
How to Reach Guatape from Medellin?
Simply take a bus from Medellin’s Terminal Norte. To reach take an Uber (Recommended) or Metro. All ticket booths are on the ground floor and you can buy your bus ticket from Medellin to Guatape from booth #14.
It was quite chaotic when I went. So much that I could not even see the booth number and had to ask around for help. Luckily, I did find the correct ticket counter and bought a one-way ticket for COP 15000 (approx $4.5).
Make sure to get to tell the bus driver you want to stop at the rock so the drop off is around 10 mins prior to the main town bus stop. On your way back, however, take the bus from the main town to get a glimpse of Guatape.
If you are wondering how far is Guatape from Medellin, then follow this map – it’s barely 1 hour 45 mins distance even though travel time takes much longer.
Tip – Finding the rock from where the Medellin bus stop was a little tricky but if you know basic Spanish or can use sign language to show a big rock, you can get there easily. On the way back to the bus stop in Guatape town, I took a tuk-tuk. This was a great idea as the town is lovely and colorful and simply should not be missed either.
If you prefer guided tours and want to avoid the perils of DIY tours, then this day tour to Guatape is highly recommended.
Best Time to Visit Guatape
Guatape experiences a similar climate throughout the year so really there is no best time or worst time to visit Guatape. However, best months to visit Colombia are December to March. Temperatures are cool throughout though and the destination can be enjoyed all year long.
While in Medellin, definitely don’t miss the lovely artsy ghetto neighbourhood of Comuna 13, which inspired my latest travel ink too! I would say there is enough to see in and around Medellin to keep you busy for weeks – this city is an absolute must visit if you happen to be in South America.
So have you visited Guatape and especially El Penon de Guatape? If not, book your day trip to Guatape or if you have more time then squeeze in a weekend in this colorful little town.