Greetings from Guatapé! In this post, we’ll discuss how to get to Guatapé from Medellin, what to bring, what to expect, and what to eat. As always, bring your extra camera battery – there’s so much to see in this Burano look-alike!
While staying in Medellin, Colombia, I made a day trip to the small town of Guatapé (/wha-tah-pay/) ❤️😻❤️ My hosts recommended that I head to the Medellin bus station at 7am. (I def went much later, but learn from my mistakes! Haha)
The bus station in Medellin was a huge building with cubicles for many different companies. There was no main, official desk, so I had to ask at some of the small windows which companies had tickets for Guatapé. The tickets were $6 each way and it was 2 hours from Medellin. It’s not very far in terms of distance, but because there are mountains and valleys everywhere, it becomes quite a trek. (PRO TIP: Bring Pepto 😂😩)
On the bus, I sat next to this friendly older lady with a super long braid and a pretty shall. She grabbed my purse and stuck it over the seat in front of me, nearly choking the gal sitting there haha, but she did the same to her seat. No one seemed to think it was weird, so we had a little laugh, each giggling and commenting in our own language that the other couldn’t understand. 😂❤️
The bus slowed down a bit and this little man got on with a small – but loud! – boombox. HE STARTED SINGING!!!! I asked if I could take picture of him and he sang me a whole song! Everyone gave him a few coins and he thanked us and got off at the next available corner 😂😂😂
We drove through the mountains, seeing the lush greenery, palm trees and small towns with little kids and food stands and dogs lounging in front yards and horses grazing on whatever was available.
Most people in Colombia own a motorcycle, which is how they transport themselves and their families to and from daily activities. In one of the pictures, you’ll see and entire family – mom, dad and baby – on a single motorcycle 😂😂😂 This seems to be fairly normal in Colombia, but to my US-eyes, this was so surprising (I’m sure people do these crazy things in the States too…but it’s common practice in Colombia in the way that driving a car is normal in the suburban parts of the US)
After two hours, we finally arrived!! ❤️😻
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Guatapé used to be saturated with violence and death and sadness. However, the country and the locals saw the potential of Guatapé, with its massive touristy rock and quaint small-town appeal, and covered the entire place with color – and that’s what I saw. The town reminded me of Burano, Italy. Basically, a tangible rainbow. This brought tourists and Colombians alike, creating a wildly different – and very safe – version of Guatapé. Now, it’s just like every other small town in terms of safety, but a heck of a lot more beautiful!
So many colors! Each building was a different shade of yellow, red, green, orange or pink. There were small, permanent decorations on the bottom half of each house’s facade, showing a different aspect of this town or what life is like in Colombia. There were llamas, churches, families, farmers, the big rock, children, suns, flowers and symbols representative of Guatapé and/or Colombia. There were sheep, farmers, and farmers thinking about sheep.
WHAT TO EAT:
You will be at no loss for amazing food. Some good, some just expensive, but most restaurants had friendly servers and English translations. But, like all foreign languages, sometimes things can be confusing….for both parties 😂😂 I had a little giggle about one specific menu – one of the more popular touristy places had mistranslated one of the items on the menu into “French dads” and then crossed it out 😂😂😂
Guatapé is, in general, very touristy. However, because the town is still quite difficult to get to from Medellin, or anywhere else for that matter, prices are normal – and for people with US incomes: very cheap. There were souvenirs hanging from balconies, purses displayed by hanging off the roof, and each door was painted with a different color. Uber-colorful, large & small, bright and well-made. There were purses, shirts, magnets, jewelry, cups, key holders, furniture, paintings, dolls and everything else (but strangely, no postcards haha). I wanted them all!
The big square had locals and tourists, souvenirs and food, fountains and colorful steps to sit on. Curious children were everywhere, munching on fruit and playing ball with their siblings. Not all the dogs in Guatapé have permanent homes, but they do have lots of people to take care of them and a local “money for dog food” container (brimming with cash) attached to bowls of food and water. Dogs hung out by the shops and restaurants, waiting for a fellow doggie or a friendly tourist to come by and play or snuggle.
This small town was colorful and full of life. You could sit down on any stool and someone would appear out of a window and ask what you’d like to eat. (Who knew that it was even a restaurant! Haha) People would gather around at a local church up on the hill that doesn’t even look like a church.
The big Cathedral in the main square stood in front of a foundation and that was as white as it is pristine. Inside, there was almost always a mass going on and people dressed nicely and greeted each other warmly. The wooden benches smelled comforting and the sounds of the fountain could be heard all throughout the square.
I had some delicious tacos at a small Mexican place, lounged in the main square and explored every small street. I felt totally fine traveling solo and didn’t encounter any creepers. But, being whiter than a piece of paper, some people were curious. A boy asked his mom if I was eating enough. A little girl played with my skirt and her brother pointed at my hair. I leaned down so he could touch it and they ran away. Mind you, there are plenty of super pale folks in Colombia. In this small town, however, I might have been the only one, haha.
Also, check out these doorways! 😱😱😱 Every single house looks like this. Amaaaazing!!! Also, the super famous street that everyone takes pictures on? Wait for after the rain for Insta poses lol… before the rain: crazy crowded. After the rain: almost empty 😂😂
There was a fountain and so many pretty things on the street! I asked a local guy at a cafe which dessert was the best, and he said the vanilla passion fruit panna cotta. 👅👍🏻😻👍🏻 Because rain was absolutely drenching the little town, there were no free tables. There was, however, one empty chair next to these two old men. I did a lot of hand gestures asking if I could sit. They smiled at the strange, pasty-white girl with green glasses, looking way too excited about a dessert they’ve surely been eating since they were children, and made room for me at their little table. With a polite nod, they continued their heated conversation about how awful the weather was. 😂😂
About half an hour into our departure from Guatapé, the bus started moving backward when it was supposed to be moving forward lol. We’d stalled 😩😭 The driver’s started eating some snacks but no one seemed worried. We waited for like 20 mins and finally another bus showed up – just as old as the first one – and we filed onto the new bus and continued back to Medellin. People kept getting on but no one was getting off, so everyone ended up standing. At some point, the driver grabbed a random folding chair that was hiding in the back of the bus for an older lady lol When we got back to Medellin, it was super dark outside so you could see all the city lights on the mountains. So pretty!
Guatapé is like a dreamy rainbow. So beautiful, highly recommended – solo or with people. I felt totally fine by myself, & there were plenty of hostels and small B&Bs to stay in (I just came for the day though, so I can’t recommend any specific accommodations).
Plan an entire day, and leave early in the morning – especially if you want to climb the big rock (with something like ~720 steps to the top!) to see the expansive view of the amazing man-made lakes…apparently one of the best views in all of Colombia. Because of my schedule, I had to choose between the town and the rock, but I’ve seen some incredible pics from fellow travelers!!
Go to Medellin’s North Bus Station and – if you don’t speak Spanish, like me – ask people “Guatapé?” The locals will help guide you to the right part of the station. It’s 18,000$ pesos ($6 USD) one way and buy your return ticket from the desk as soon as you arrive in Guatapé, because they only sell a certain number of seats for each bus, and the buses are often very full, so don’t bank on just buying a ticket when you’re ready to leave. Also, I wouldn’t recommend taking the last bus on the way back (it leaves at around 6-7pm, I believe) Just in case something happens…you don’t want to be stuck in the mountains haha.
Plan to get on an early bus and BRING AN UMBRELLA!!!!! It rains every day in Colombia – insane amounts of water and very suddenly, like Florida haha – so be prepared. The souvenir shops take credit card (visa, MasterCard, AmEx) but most people prefer that you pay cash. I’m sure there’s a bank, but I didn’t specifically see one there with an ATM, so make sure to get cash in Medellin before you go. English is not spoken almost at all, so brush up on your traveling Spanish with Duolingo and download the google translate app. Bring an external battery for your phone bc it will probably die from all the pictures you’re going to take, and make sure to bring very small change for the entertainers who sing and dance and give out treats on the bus. Have so much fun!!!
Have you been to Guatapé???
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Thanks for reading!