Skip to the bottom of this article for the practical information
I had to take time to share my love for this beautiful “pueblo”. Before coming to Colombia l was not even aware of its existence. I came without a set itinerary and simply let myself be inspired by stories of other travellers l met and planned my journey accordingly.
Guatape lies just east of Medellin and is a valley dotted with lakes. Towering high above it all is “el penon” the Rock. You can climb over 700 steps to reach the top and enjoy the beautiful panoramic view. But besides this attraction. There is hiking, fishing, canoeing, horse riding and so much more to keep you occupied in the beautiful eternal Summer which is characteristic of this region. I also got the chance to visit the infamous Pablo Escabars lakeside villa where l played my first paintball game!
There are many organised tours to Guatape from Medellin but being the adventurer cheapass lady that l am l decided to do it the good old fashioned way and chicken bus it! So the adventure started at a bus station as all good adventures do. Navigating my way through the ticket touting mob and using my excellent Spanish signlanguage l got myself a first class seat right over the wheel and next to a dubious looking woman clutching what looked like a years worth of arepas (colombian flat cornbread) Two hours and several unofficial stops later, so the bus driver could eat at his local roadside stand, I arrived in the town of Guatape. It is a beautiful quaint town with rambling roads, brightly painted houses and a horse hitched at every street corner. I already knew l was going to love this place.
The town is situated on the banks of the lake and with the pleasant weather and surrounding forest it is a country lovers dream. I checked into my hostel and then decided to walk the 5 km to El Penon, because buses are for pussys! Ok fine, buses are for people with money…. Well with a bottle of water and a spring in my step l set off, as confident as a girl can be in rural Colombia. Four km later and one bottle of water lighter, the mild 25 degrees did not seem so mild anymore. I finally managed to drag myself to the base of the rock and without a second thought spent 2 dollars on a overpriced bottle of water, which basically was the price of the bus ticket…. So much for saving money….
Now however comes the real work, 740 steps to the top, that’s easy right? NO!! NO it is not easy! And l like to consider myself somewhat of a super woman, but NO IT IS NOT EASY! As I am sure you have gathered, I struggled a little up those steps. Is it worth it? Absofuckinglutly! (That happens to be my favorite word).
The view is stunning and I just sat at the top and felt like the queen of the world. While sitting there I struck up a conversation with a Colombian couple who were busy doing the obligatory kissing selfies at the top, after introducing myself l treated them to a full on photography shoot with their camera which led to their undying love and gratitude. They expressed the usual shock and horror that l was travelling on my own and almost had a heart attack when l told them l had walked here from the village. They convinced me that l should let them drive me back and we spent the rest of the evening talking about love, football (it was the copa americana after all) and travel. What they didn’t realise was that it was because of people like them that l am able to travel on my own. There is always someone who is kind enough to give me a lift, buy me a beer or even offer me a place to stay.
The next day I went to see Pablo Escabars lakeside villa, it was listed as one of the must do activities on the hostels reception wall, and who am I to go against the wise and learned opinions of the sacred ones known as hostel staff.
We went in a group to the dock where we got on a speedboat that took us straight to his bombed out villa. The place was in ruins but for a game of paintball it was perfect. This was the first time I had ever played paintball before. The night before one of the men staying at the hostel had proudly taken off his shirt to display his battle wounds. I cant say if I was more impressed over his six pack or horrified over the angry welts that covered his chest. I almost chickened out but I had my reputation as a badass loudmouth to maintain. Needless to say l was nervous, like sweating uncontrollably nervous. Safety standards were not quite up to par to european standards and l wanted full body armour at this stage. So I took my lifevest from the speedboat and brought it with me. I was of course caught when they handed out the light prison overall suits, but I proceeded to cry and plead and pull the handy female card. I was met with firm shakes of the head so I gave it back, but then took it from behind the counter and went to the bathroom to hide it under my suit and boldly walked back out. It was terribly obvious of course but I gave my best impression of fragility and blonde innocence and he turned a blind eye.
After a short tour the game began, there would be four rounds, with both teams on opposing sides, one was capture the flag and the second was capture Pablo Escobar.The first team was situated in the building and the second team spread out in the grounds. Now a little word about the teams, in this group there were four very fit looking swarthy men, during our conversation it came out that they were from Israel and had just finished their military service, oh and they were well used to paintball having used it in training. Just the type of people a teamplayer crazy competitive women such as myself would like on their team.
Too bad they weren’t on my team… My team was literally a motley assortment of the type of people you wouldn’t want on your team, the first 5 minutes of the game showed that we were going to be ruthlessly beaten. It was a paint bath. Even situated in the building with ample cover these Israeli supermen manged to shoot us through our pallets landing killing shots straight to our foreheads! Thankfully we had masks but Dhammmmmmm, these guys were good! They captured our flag after barely 10 minutes and it was time to switch. Now it was our turn to be on the outside. The flag lay in the middle of the courtyard the building overlooking it filled with Israeli snipers, around the courtyard lay a assortment of buildings and a low wall. Now I am not one to accept defeat, and I did not travel all the way to Guatape to taste it in Paoblo Escobars courtyard. So I decided to make a mad dash for it, I ran across the courtyard and grabbed the flag, silently screaming Victory in a very Braveheart inspired moment. I had the flag!!!! I HAD THE FLAG!! And now as if it slow motion I felt the first bullets hit, not one not two but a full on volley of bullets pelted my back and arms, I flung the flag as I fell to the ground dead. Out of the game.
But all was not lost, I had flung the flag far enough that my fellow teammate could reach it from the low wall he crouched behind and in the ensuing confusion he managed to bring it back safe! We had won! Good had triumphed over evil! The underdog had bitten! And I was a mess! The lifevest had managed to deflect the bullets from my back but my arms were a mess of welts two of which were bleeding. But It was all so worth it. The next two games we tied in as well and we came away with no victor which suited me just fine.
The next few days were filled with hikes and cold beers, arapeas and bandeja paisa the local cuisine. I also learnt how to make shakshuka a traditional Israeli dish, probably a peace offering when they saw my bruises.
And thus ended my sojourn in Guatape and I made plans to catch a bus to the mountains of Salento. But that will be another story!
Now for the practical part
How to get there
There are many local buses that go to Guatape from the northern bus terminal just follow these simple steps.
From Medellín take the metro COP 2000 to Caribe station, which is connected to the Northern Bus Terminal.
Once at the bus terminal head to ticket booth number 9 0r 14 and ask for a ticket to Guatape, this should cost around COP 12,000-15000 one way, bus tickets in Colombia are subject to haggling so you might get a different price. Buses run every hour and take about 2 hours to get there. Don’t get a seat over the wheels unless you want a bumpy ride as must small buses have zero suspension.
Where to stay
I stayed at the LakeView hostel, mainly because it was cheap at 8 euros a night and because they organise tours to play paintball go kayaking and hiking etc.
The accommodation was pretty basic with probably the worst kitchen cleanliness of any hostel I have been but the staff were laid back and it’s ok for a budget stay.
If you want to be a bit more posh why not rent a private apartment on airbnb?
What to do
This famous rock has stunning views from the top and is what draws thousands of tourists, well worth a visit.
From Guatape you can walk for free for about a hour, catch a bus (all the buses going toward medellin go by the rock) or you can grab a cab. At the top, you can buy your entrance ticket for COP 10,000 and start climbing those steps!
Outside the Lakeview hostel there are cowboys with horses all along the road, you can rent a horse per hour and go riding in the absolutely beautiful dirt roads that surround the place. Perfect way to spend a afternoon. Prices start around COP 10,000-20,000
A full day starting with a boat ride to the lakeside villa, a short tour and then a action packed game! Not for the fainthearted. I booked this with Lakeside Hostel and paid COP 80,000
Visit the town
The town is absolutely beautiful with multicoloured buildings and quaint cafes.
You can rent jet skis, kayaks, scooters or go swimming in the beautiful lake, there really is no end of things to keep you busy in Guatape.