Guatape, Colombia is one of the must do day trips from Medellin and one of the first things we planned when deciding to stop in Medellin. Most people do not know where or what Guatape is but they do know a very specific landmark in the town that big rock. The drive from Medellin to Guatape takes about two hours depending on the bus or tour you take but it is completely worth it!
Why should you use a tour company
After a lot of online searching through forums we decided to go with a tour company to maximize our time in Medellin and make sure we made the most of our day trip to Guatape. We use a tour company called Maxi Tours which had great reviews and very reasonable prices for what turned out to be a FULL day tour (10-12 hours). There are options to just take a city bus or taxi all the way out to Guatape but part of me enjoyed being guided and not having to worry about getting lost and wasting time when we only had one day.
After booking through their website we emailed and confirmed our pick-up and drop-off at the hostel in Medellin. I could not rave more about the customer service from Maxi Tours since we booked the trip while still in Santa Marta. We where worried about not booking in person but they promptly replied to emails and make sure we knew what to expect.
The tour company picked us up bright an early at the hostel with a full size charter bus to get our day started. The one downside of the trip was the the bus was pretty full by the time we got picked up so we could not sit together for the entire day. We made a quick trip to our breakfast location which was a lovely restaurant about an hour outside of Medellin. We ate some great local breakfast and they where super attentive to any allergy issues which my travel partner has quite a lot off (AKA allergic to life, eggs, wheat, EVERYTHING).
El Penol Town
After loading the bus we ended up stopping at the town of El Penol which while an interesting stop I partly wish the tour had just skipped this and gone straight to Guatape. We stopped in this town for a little bit which was enough time to walk around, check out the local church and snap a few photos.
Guatape Dam Tour
Once back on the bus we headed to a marina for a boat tour of the Guatape Dam. The boat was definitely not the fanciest thing in the world but not the sketchiest boat I have ever been on. The guide was super informative pointing out everything we would have wanted to see throughout our time on the water.
The boat was also a fun time to get a few cool photos since moving around was pretty free even hanging off the back of the boat and getting on the roof deck.
The highlight of the tour was actually seeing the vacation home of Pablo Escobar which was actually destroyed by a bombing a few months before authorities caught up to him and killed him in 1993.
La Manuela Hacienda is a giant mansion sitting on about 20 acres of land right on the water. Even after the explosion it is quite a site and you can see the scale of how much property Escobar had at the height of his power.
Piedra de Penol
The the main reason you probably are even booking this tour will be to visit the Piedra de Penol. This is the massive rock that stands in the center of Guatape and provides one of the best views in this part of Colombia. Now the price to climb the rock was not included in the tour but if you are visiting Guatape you cannot leave town without climbing Penol.
The ticket was $18,000 Colombian Pesos which at the time came to under 5 USD.
If you are wondering why there is a giant rock with a great view in the middle of Colombia, a quick explanation is that the area was actually flooded on purpose in the 1970s to create a massive hydro-electric dam to supply electricity for the region. The side effect was that is created a boom in tourism for what is a one of a kind destination.
Before we climbed the “giant rock” we got to enjoy a lunch included in the tour price with an amazing view of the flooded town. The lunch view really was worth the trip alone and the meal was rather good especially for something included in the trip price.
The climb up the rock is exactly 740 steps and let me tell you that you will feel each and everyone of those steps. Depending what time of year you are climbing you can expect a pretty pack climbing experience and depending on your fitness level you might be having to go around a lot of people. We are not the fittest peope but did have to say excuse me a lot of we passed a lot of slow people on the way up and down.
The pretty fun part is once you arrive at the top you do find a few shops and they sell BEER! No better way to celebrate the climb and enjoy the view than with a nice cold Colombian beer.
Coming down sometimes felt sketchier than going up since the steps are pretty steep in some areas and the fear of falling down definitely hit a few times.
Town of Guatape
After climbing and enjoying the view the next stop of the tour is to the actual town of Guatape. This has town is probably the most colorful town in Colombia and the most colorful town I have ever seen.
We could not find an actual reason for why the town was so bright and colorful but do remember our guide mentioning something about the kids in town. Either way we truly enjoyed touring this town and getting a chance to eat some italian ice cream which while odd was delicious!
The Plaza de Zocales was a great stop in town and probably a bit touristy but it gave a chance to enjoy some local coffee and sit in one of the most colorful plazas I have ever been in.
The tour took us all over the colorful town and even gave us a chance to explore on our own to get to truly get a feel for Guatape. If you do not take a tour to Guatape or Penol you must still make a point of stopping at both locations to enjoy these amazing locations.
Old Penol Replica Town
Once you wrap up at Guatape and board the bus you have one last stop before heading back to Medellin. The last stop is a small replica of Old Penol town and is probably the fastest stop of the tour. The main reason for this stop seems to be more of a tourist trap than anything and nothing truly worth going out of your way to see.
It was nice to be able to grab some refreshments and go to the restroom before we headed back to medellin.
The bus ride home is pretty long and at this point you are probably exhausted since it would be rather late. You can expect this to be a pretty much full day tour and I would recommend not to plan anything else even when you get back. The best part is that the tour bus will drop you right back off at your pick up location so for us we got right back to our hostel and straight to bed.
If you want to know more about Medellin check out my last blog post about how I fell in love with this city and its people. HERE!
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