Guatape (pronounced Gwa-ta-pay) in Colombia was an absolute gem of a destination and somewhere that instantly stole my heart. Usually a day trip for travellers from Medellin to visit the colourful town, play paint ball at one of Escobar’s old mansions and climb the mighty Piedra Penol rock but for us it was a two day break from busy Medellin and it turned out to be one of our favourite spots in all of Colombia.
We were reaching the final month of our year long journey and burnt out didn’t come close to how we were feeling. We craved a slower pace of life, good food, nice coffee, good company and at this point literally no plans and Guatape delivered on all of these.
From our hostel in Medellin we caught the metro to the main bus station. Whilst travelling through the hustle and bustle on the metro it was great to see the city and take in just how huge it was and I was looking forward to returning to immerse myself in the infamous city.
The ticket booths are clearly sign posted for Guatape and we got on a bus that was leaving in the next half an hour. The bus was small but luckily the journey was only two hours and upon arrival we then caught a tuk tuk to Galleria Hostel which very quickly became one of our favourites in all of South America.
We were graced with remarkable views over lake Penol instantly and the huge rock of Piedra Penol loomed above us. The couple who ran the hostel were so welcoming and it felt more like a home than a hostel, the sun was shining and it was good vibes all around.
That evening the heavens opened and we were unable to leave the hostel to go and grab some dinner but the hostel cook offered to cook us a breakfast for dinner. It was a hilarious night of sitting around the table eating breakfast whilst the storm lashed outside.
The thing to do in Guatape is to climb up the 690 steps to reach the top of the rock to gain excellent views over the tiny surrounding islands. We were able to walk there from the hostel and begin our climb early morning as it was a super hot day. There are hundreds of little islands dotted all over the lake with mansions and holiday homes on them. It was truly stunning and we spent about half an hour up the top enjoying the views.
This town is so quaint, the cobblestone streets were filled with colourful doors, windows and every house was painted and decorated in loud colours and patterns. It was an absolute joy to wander around, nothing to do but a lot to see.
The town wasn’t too busy as the day trippers were yet to arrive so it was a lovely stroll around the tiny town. Each house had an image on them as well which we couldn’t work out why but we later found out that a long time ago families just started painting their homes bright colours and it is a tradition that just took off and hasn’t wavered over the years.
The town is filled with great restaurants, craft shops and cafes that served flat whites! I was over the moon as it had been awhile since a proper cafe was serving up proper coffee.
Kayaking on the lake
The following day Dan and I hired a kayak from the hostel and took an early morning kayak on the lake. It was a beautiful day and we saw some incredible houses on the lake. Huge mansions dotted the shore line with every toy imaginable for the rich to enjoy on their weekends on the lake.
It is well known that Escobar had a holiday home here called La Manuela, a huge mansion that had a football pitch, tennis court, pool and even a disco. But the mansion was bombed just under a year before his death in Medellin. A shell now stands there where tourists can go paint balling. We skipped this activity as we had planned on doing some ‘Escobar tourism’ in Medellin.
One of the best things about staying at the Galleria Hostel was that Nana who was running it was also a yoga teacher so she did sunrise classes. As the hostel was perched up on a hill and overlooking the lake it was just the most perfect place to practice yoga and a great way to start our days.
On day three it was a hard decision to leave but we had to head back to Medellin to continue to Colombian adventure. We caught the bus back to Medellin but this time there were no seats so I was up the front with the driver which was interesting without a seat belt!
I would definitely recommend staying in Guatape rather than taking a day trip as there is actually quite a lot to do and you would be missing it if you just popped in for the day.