There are regular buses from Medellín’s main bus terminal to Guatapé, so get up nice and early and jump on one. Ask to be dropped off at El Peñol rock instead of Guatapé itself (that way you can save time retracing your steps later on). It should take around two hours to get there, and once you arrive you can enjoy the area’s biggest tourist attraction right away, by climbing the surreal and beautiful El Peñol rock.
This huge boulder sticks out of the mountains like a sore thumb and offers incredible panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and islands of the Guatapé reservoir. It’s a short and steep climb to the top – the exact number of steps from bottom to top is 740! – but it’s well worth the effort for the views.
Take some time to enjoy all the different angles, and grab a cup of coffee from one of the cafés atop the rock. You will need a couple of hours in total for the round trip, including the walks up and down and the time you will inevitably spend posing for selfies on top!
Once you’ve walked back down, you can jump on any passing bus to continue on to Guatapé itself, a journey of no more than 15 minutes. By now it will be around lunchtime, so pick one of the many restaurants on the lakeside strip and order some fresh trout, a local speciality (no surprise given the incredible number of lakes and rivers surrounding the town). Once you’ve finished your meal, walk further along the main strip to Lakeview Hostel, the best place to stay in Guatapé town.
Once you’ve dropped off your bags, head back down to the main strip for some activities on the lake. Exactly what you decide to do here depends on your level of energy and taste for extreme sports. You can simply book passage on one of the many cruise boats that take trips around the sparkling waters of the reservoir, or you can go a bit further and hire a pedalo, rowing boat or kayak. If you’re feeling really energetic you could even rent out a jet ski for a few hours and enjoy some high-speed fun on the lake.
Once you’re done with water sports, it’s time to explore the town. Guatapé is famous for its beautiful colourful streets, so take a couple of hours to simply wander around the town, stopping for coffee at the especially bright and cheery Zocalos Plaza. The zocalos, or plinths, of Guatapé are famous for their paintings of traditional local scenes, and you can practically learn the history of the town simply by walking around and checking them out.
In the evening you can enjoy a delicious dinner at Lakeview’s excellent Thai restaurant, and meet some of your fellow travellers at their lively and sociable bar, before getting up the next morning and catching your bus back to Medellín.