Sometimes you need to get lost to truly discover the magic of a place.
Sometimes it might seem like life is taking you way off course but in the end it’s exactly where you need to be. I needed to get lost in Guatapé.
Thursday morning I stumbled into the airport for my flight to Medellín. I was still a little drunk from celebrating my birthday the night before. I went without a plan and wasn’t even sure what I had packed in my backpack.
While Medellín was an experience in itself, I’ll save that for another post. This post is for Guatapé. Everyone in Medellín will tell you that you have to go to Guatapé. So of course, I had to go.
Saturday morning I woke up from a night of tequila, about to bail on my plans of Guatapé. Luckily, I was traveling with my trusty sidekick Veronica and she forced me to go (after brunch, of course).
The plan was to hike up La Piedra during the day and head back to Medellín at night (and, believe me, my hungover-self was thrilled at the idea of hiking over 700 steps).
The bus ride from Medellín to La Piedra (AKA El Peñol) is an easy two-hour bus ride. So, imagine my confusion when five hours later I was still on the bus. Why? Did I get on the wrong bus? Was I lied to? Nope. I saw the rock. I saw it big and clear. But I thought the bus would get closer to the rock so I waited and I waited.
Pro tip: When you see the rock, get off the bus.
“Doesn’t it concern you that we can’t see that rock at all anymore?” asked my trusty sidekick.
“I think it’s behind that mountain…”
One hour later the bus driver called out that we were at our final destination…San Rafael.
It would’ve been pointless to go back to Medellín at this point, so we took a bus back to Guatapé. With one debit card between the two of us, our cell phones, and the clothes we had on our backs. Let’s do this.
At this point my hangover was gone and I was ready for an adventure anyways. Based on my experience, here’s how you should spend 24 hours in Guatapé, Colombia. But keep in mind that the best way is to create your own experience. Go completely off course and get lost once in a while. You might learn a thing or two.
Step 1: The first thing you should do is stay at the first hostel you find
20,000 pesos? That’s cheap enough for me. It seemed normal. How would I know that in 5 hours I’d be throwing back some cold ones with the owner? How was I supposed to know that I would have to listen to his devoted praise of Pablo Escobar? Did I ever think he would be doing cocaine in front of his own sign that said No se permite narcóticos en el hostal?
No. I never thought those things would happen. Would I recommend this hostel (even though I can’t because I don’t remember the name)? I’m neutral. The stay wasn’t bad and it gave me some good stories to tell. Did it have a typical hostel vibe? No, definitely not.
Step 2: Take the hostel owner’s bar recommendations
Bar Baroja is a super chill bar with an even chiller bartender. It’s right in the plaza and has different specials every night. It has a relaxed vibe and, even though I only spent one night there, it seems like it’s a wildcard every night. Could be chill or could be crazy. The bartender has some super awesome suggestions about what to do in Guatapé as well. Which takes brings us to the next step…
Step 3: Definitely take the bartender’s suggestion and rent a scooter to visit La Manuela
Guatape Motos is your place to go. Head there to rent a scooter or motorcycle. Then, follow the directions to La Manuela, one of Pablo Escobar’s many haciendas. The property is privately owned (by an ex-employee of Pablo Escobar himself!). It’s open to the public but it’s NOT promoted, so keep in mind it’s a little difficult to find. There are no signs and you’ll probably have to ask for directions.
Once you’re on the property you’ll have to pay 5,000 pesos (less than $2 USD) for a tour book or buy a drink at the bar. Yes, there’s a bar.
La Manuela was destroyed by los Pepes, which were part of the Cali Cartel. It’s a cool chance to see some Colombian history and catch a glimpse into the life of the infamous Pablo Escobar.
The motorcycle/scooter ride there is absolutely stunning and I recommend it. The more common way to get there, however, is by water with an organised tour.
Step 4: Definitely try Bandeja Paisa
You might not want to eat anything else for the rest of the day but it’s totally worth it. (Best served with Club Colombia).
But really…you can’t go to Medellín and NOT eat Bandeja Paisa.
Those are my basic suggestions, but Guatapé offers so many more activities!
Even though I didn’t get the chance to do it, you should definitely hike up La Piedra. It has some amazing views.
You can also practice water sports on the lake, enjoy the scenery, enjoy the people, enjoy the colourful houses and the small town feel. You might not want to leave…you wouldn’t be the first!
Have you been to Guatapé or is it on your list? What are your recommendations? Share below!