From the sun-soaked beaches of Cartagena to the rich mountain air of the Andes that encapsulates Bogotá, Colombia is a country that has something for every traveller. Its rich history as one of the crown jewels of imperial Spain has brought countless visitors to South America’s northernmost country. Though Bogotá, Cartagena, and Medellín are the country’s most popular destinations, there are plenty of hidden gems off the radar. The small town charm, picturesque panoramic views, and captivating terrain of Guatapé are a testament to the benefits of going off the beaten path to discover how much more the country has to offer.
Guatapé is situated about 2 hours east of Medellín in the Colombian state of Antioquia. The town was inhabited by indigenous people nestled in the shadows of Colombia’s mountain landscapes until Spanish settlers discovered it in the 16th century. The city’s name is derived from the Quechua language of those natives. Guatapé roughly translate to “stones and water” which is a fitting moniker for the pristine nature of lush greenery situated between channels of freshwater lakes. This backdrop offers visitors a lot to enjoy from hiking its verdant rolling hills to floating in its calm waters.
Getting to your destination is usually half the battle on any trip. Since Guatapé is somewhat of a hidden gem, arriving isn’t as simple as flying into other more popular (read: touristy) destinations in the country. The most direct route for international travellers is to fly into the nearest airport in Medellín. From there, reaching Guatapé is fairly simple. Buses from Medellín run every half hour between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. Tickets for a one-way trip cost 15,000 Colombian Pesos but relax, the international exchange rate means that turns out to be about $4.50. Alternatively, travellers can rent a car at Medellín’s José María Córdova International Airport for the two hour drive hearing eastward.
El Peñón de Guatapé or the Rock of Guatapé is the focal point of the small town’s scenery. Situated on the outskirts of the town, the 7,005 ft inselberg is one of Guatapé’s most iconic landmarks. Visitors will be surprised to learn that the Rock of Guatapé is just that — a rock, despite its looming and imposing mountainous appearance. El Peñón de Guatapé was revered by the indigenous Tahamí people of the area for centuries before it was finally climbed for the first time (officially, at least) by Luis Villegas, Pedro Nel Ramirez, and Ramón Díaz in 1954 after the site was declared a national monument by the Colombian government in the 1940’s. The crew reached the peak at the conclusion of their 5-day excursion using only minimal climbing equipment.
Fortunately, visitors of the Rock of Guatapé face a much less perilous path to reach its summit. For just 18,000 Colombian Pesos (approximately $6.50), hikers can buy a ticket to climb the steep, 740 step path to arrive at the apex. The breathtaking views overlooking Guatapé’s unique lacustrine landscape are an essential experience for any visitor.
Though the Rock of Guatapé imposes itself across the skyline of the small town, the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir is perhaps its true epicenter. The lake covers a quarter of the square mileage of Guatapé and is the largest in the state of Antioquia. The lake is one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in all of Colombia and the hub of the small town.
The prominence of the lake makes it one of Guatapé’s top destinations. Visitors can paddle board, jet ski, swim, or traverse the lake on a boat tour to revel in its serene watersand marvel at the nature it breathes life into. To really immerse oneself in the sapphire tinted scenery, visitors can rent a kayak for a full day for only about $12. Kayaking the lake offers an intimate experience with one of Colombia’s true marvels.
Getting away from the congestion of urban life is one of the most appealing aspects of visiting Guatapé. The town has a designated camping zone for visitors who want to spend as much time as they can reconnecting with nature. One unique option to stay immersed in its robust landscape is to rent a luxury camping dome. Campsites are nestled atop the hills overlooking the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir while offering guests amenities like king sized beds, private bathrooms, open air showers, Wi-Fi, and an onsite restaurant. After hours of exploring the fertile terrain, these accommodations are a perfect haven for a good night’s rest before exploring more the following day. At around $195 per night, renting a camping dome is an unforgettable way to get in tune with Guatapé’s all but untouched natural landscapes.
Whether you’re planning an extended escape on vacation or visiting broadening your horizons during a visit to nearby Medellín, Guatapé is a true hidden gem of Colombia’s scenic countryside. Exploring the town on foot is an amazing way to immerse into the town’s close knit community and to enjoy every aspect of its hospitality. From the climbing the Rock of Guatapé to kayaking in the lake that envelopes it, the sights and experiences offered by one of Colombia’s under-heralded destinations are a perfect way to commune with nature. Being able to have that kind of escape is what keeps travellers coming back to what is becoming one of the country’s most sought after destinations.