Thinking of visiting Guatapé? Here’s how to plan the perfect day trip from Medellin.

As we drove from Medellin to Guatapé, I felt like I got my first real glimpse of Colombia

I’d seen pictures of the colourful town that would be my final destination – it looked incredible! But I can’t say I’d given much thought to what lie between there and the busy city streets of Medellin. 

The journey from Medellin took around an hour in total. An hour of moody skies, reggae-ton beats and colourful village after colourful village that I soaked up with both excitement and apprehension.

It was only my second day in Colombia and the mixed reactions I’d heard wouldn’t escape my mind. Still, I focused on the excitement and tried to ignore the fear.

Guatapé was high on my list of places to visit in Colombia. And I’m so, so glad I visited.

Here’s everything you need to know about planning your own day trip to Guatapé. 

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Why you should take a Guatapé day trip

Guatapé often gets called the most colourful town in Colombia – and it may be!

It’s certainly a unique little place. 

Guatapé is perhaps most famous for the zócalos that adorn its colourful residences. These panels can be found on every building in the Andean town, and every one is different.

Some have simple graphics – a sheep or a sunflower, perhaps – while others tell complicated stories.

It’s these colourful zócalos that draw people into Guatapé, but the pictures never do them justice.

There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by so many colourful buildings at once – something you can only experience by visiting Guatapé.


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A purple wall with two zocolos in Guatapé Colombia

And then there’s the journey to Guatapé itself. Surprisingly, this was one of the (many) highlights of the day.

As the bus rolled past village after village, I was mesmerised by rural Colombia. I felt like I understood this misunderstood country a little more with every turn of the wheel. 

It was a special experience in itself and one that I wouldn’t have had without taking the trip to Guatapé.

If you only take one day trip from Medellin, it’s hard to go wrong with Guatapé. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Guatapé from Medellin.

A house on a hill in Guatapé Colombia

Getting to Guatapé

Guatapé is around 1-1.5 hours east of Medellin. It’s easy to get to, which is why it’s ideal to visit as a day trip. 

Many travellers stay overnight in Guatapé, but you definitely don’t need to. If you only have a short time in Colombia, like I did, it’s much better to visit on a day trip from Medellin.

Travelling to Guatapé on public transport

If you’ve been travelling South America for a while or speak a good level of Spanish, it would probably be easy to make your own way to Guatapé.

Buses leave every 30 minutes from Medellin’s Terminal Norte. The journey costs 15,000 COP, which is around $4.40, and you can book tickets online

If you want to take the stress out of visiting Guatapé, though, I recommend hopping on a day tour.

Taking a tour to Guatapé

I chose to join an organised tour for several reasons:

  • I’d only just arrived in Colombia. I took my day trip to Guatapé on my second day!
  • I wanted to feel safe taking my camera and wouldn’t have done so on the public buses.
  • As a solo traveller in Colombia, I wanted to meet people to share the experience with.

The tour I booked was very reasonably priced and ended up being fantastic value for money. In fact, the low price made me a little sceptical!

But I needn’t have worried. I trusted the 5* reviews and I’m SO glad I did. 

The tour included a filling breakfast at a rural finca en route, as well as a hearty lunch in the middle of Guatapé. There were several options to choose from, including ones for both vegetarians and vegans!

Lunch in Guatapé with chicken, rice, beans and salad
Lunch in Guatapé was delicious (and included!)

Once you add up the cost of a return journey plus food for the day, the organised tour didn’t work out to be much more.

For an extra $10 or so, I also had a knowledgeable, new friends to hang out with and the reassurance of travelling in a group with my camera gear.

Plus, with pickup and drop off included, it saved a lot of time! With only 10 days in Colombia, my time was pretty precious.

For all of the reasons mentioned above, I highly recommend taking a tour to Guatapé if you only plan to visit for the day. Tours aren’t always the best way to get an immersive travel experience, but in Guatapé it was.

This is the tour I booked and, for such a great price, I can’t recommend it enough.

A building with a fully painted wall and a scooter driving past

Tips for taking a tour from Medellin to Guatapé

While I highly recommend a tour for visiting Guatapé, you don’t want to be completely passive! Here are my tips for making the most of a Guatapé day trip from Medellin.

Look out the window: I often find getting to know the smaller villages and rural areas a great way to understand a country.

And while you won’t get to know any of the passing towns intimately, it will give you a good taste of Colombia. Plus, Colombia’s nature is incredible.

READ NEXT: Why Colombia is great for ecotourism (and how to enjoy it!)

Take snacks: Breakfast is included on the tour I took, but it could be an hour or two before you get to dig in.

If you travel to Guatapé independently, there are arepas, tamales and other local Colombian food on the way, but you will only be able to stop if you travel by car or taxi.

Wear comfortable shoes: No trip to Guatapé is complete without climbing La Piedra (see below). But you’ll definitely want to wear comfortable shoes for it!

I wore a pair of Nike running shoes and they were perfect for both the heat and the climb.

Check in with your tour operator: Colombians like to use Whatsapp to organise pretty much everything – including tours!

Don’t be afraid to send a quick message to your operator ahead of your trip to check pickup location, time, etc. In fact, I’d recommend doing it every time. 

Somebody on our tour got left behind, which made me glad I sent a second Whatsapp message on the departure morning!

A woman exploring a square with colourful steps

What to take when visiting Guatapé

As with anywhere in Colombia, I recommend packing as light as possible.

Not only will it make you less of a target for theft, but it’ll be easier to carry in the humidity.

Wherever you’re heading, I recommend taking a small, theft-proof day bag. This backpack by Pacsafe is a great option because it still looks cute in photos!

When visiting Guatapé, you’ll definitely want sunscreen. I packed this Nivea SPF 50, which is small and light but does the job. 

It’s also a good idea to carry cash – but no more than you need. If you need to withdraw some, there was a stop after breakfast at an ATM. It’s also good to have some smaller change for coffee, snacks and souvenirs. 

Unlike Medellin, I felt confident carrying my camera in Guatapé. As long as you have camera insurance for your travels, you won’t want to leave the camera behind for this day!

Since most things are organised by Whatsapp in Colombia, it’s a good idea to have a SIM card that works here. If you don’t, I recommend renting a portable WiFi device.


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What to do in Guatapé

If you’re planning on visiting Guatapé independently, here’s what you won’t want to miss while you’re there.

Note: Some of these things are a short distance from each other, so you might need hire a tuk-tuk.

Climb Piedra el Peñol

You’ll probably find this on every list of things to do in Guatapé but for good reason.

This unusual monolith isn’t just a magnificent sight to behold. It’s also a great workout with rewarding views.

It might not be the best view in the world (as Colombians will tell you it is) but it’s well worth the steep, 740-step climb.

It costs 20,000 COP to climb La Piedra, which is a little overpriced but still worth it. At the top, you can enjoy an equally overpriced michelada, ice cream or fresh fruit while soaking up the 360-degree views.

A 1.5-hour stop at La Piedra was included on my tour, but the entry fee wasn’t.

A view over blue lakes from La Piedra del Penol
It’s a challenging climb, but worth it!

Take a trip on the lake

Whether you hop in a kayak, rent a boat or join one of the regular boat tours, a trip to the lake is a must. From here, you can enjoy a moment of tranquillity while spotting several famous homes.

The buildings you might spot include the former home of the sunken town’s doctor, Dr. Dimetrio. It’s the only original house that wasn’t destroyed in the late 70’s

You may also spot Pablo Escobar’s mansion, still in ruins after a bombing in 1993. It’s an eerie sight to behold, having been left in its post-bomb state.

RELATED READ: Pablo Escobar tours and other things to avoid in Colombia.

And, finally, if you head a little further beyond that, you can also see the current home of a famous footballer. James Rodriguez, who is originally from Colombia, has a very swanky looking black and white home.

My tour included a 40-minute boat trip with guided commentary (and bonus singing!).

A boat on Lake Guatapé Colombia

Get your camera out

Guatapé is an incredibly photogenic town thanks to its colourful walls and the zócalos that adorn them. Thankfully, it’s also a town where you’ll feel safe to pull out your phone or DSLR.

Of course, you’ll want to keep your wits about you – just as you would anywhere – and make sure your camera gear is covered with an appropriate insurance policy.

Otherwise, though, feel free to get snap happy in this camera-ready town.

READ NEXT: 31 Must-know Colombia travel tips.

Get out and walk

Guatapé is one of those towns where wandering the streets is part of the fun.

Rather than darting from attraction to attraction, its charm lies in wandering the streets and soaking up the energy that fills them.

My tour included around 2 hours of free time to explore its colourful streets.

A hotel in Guatapé Colombia
The best way to experience Guatapé is on foot

Sip a coffee on the street

When you need a break from walking, stop at one of the many street side coffee shops.

Coffee is always a good idea in Colombia, and it’s super affordable too.

Outdoor seating means you can continue enjoying the street life from a different perspective.

Go shopping

If you want to buy souvenirs in Colombia, Guatapé is a great place to do it.

As well as the usual tourist fare, you’ll find some unique buys. From fashion forward accessories to home trinkets, Guatapé has plenty of unique pieces of Colombia to take home with you.

TIP: When you’re planning your trip to Colombia, make sure you leave enough space in your suitcase for souvenirs!

Head to Guatapé’s street with umbrellas (connected to Plazoleta de Los Zócalos)  for some of the best shopping spots.

Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Guatape

Step inside the Parroquia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen Guatapé

This iconic church is one of the most subtly decorated, yet impressive buildings in Guatapé.

Entrance is completely free and will give you an extra glimpse into Colombian daily life.

Watch the street performers

Spend any length of time in Guatapé and you’re sure to come across the town’s singers and performers.

In true Colombian style, they’ll make you want to sing, dance and forget all your worries for a while.

Horse in Guatapé
If you’re lucky, you may just see a horse running through Guatapé!

My day trip to Guatapé wasn’t just a great day out. It was the best introduction to Colombia I could have hoped for and made me feel much more comfortable for the rest of my solo trip.

Plus, it was incredible value for money! If you’d like to take the same trip, you can book it here.

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day trip from Medellin to Guatapé