I’ve had a hard time starting this post because I feel nervous about my ability to portray in words what an amazing feeling Guatape gave to me. I know I’ll have run on sentences because I can’t fully complete my thoughts on such a magical place. So, I’ve decided I can’t give you this feeling, you’ll have to experience it yourself and I hope I can convince you.
Getting there from Medellin:
If you’re in Colombia for a longer period of time then definitely take the city bus, it’s about 13COP and leaves every 30 minutes. Be warned the city bus to and from Medellin takes so many stops you want to punch yourself. People are constantly getting on and off taking up every ounce of space; in the aisles, on the steps or sitting on your feet. These people are also using this bus as a means to sell snacks, breads, “platino” necklaces. So, it can be like walking through China Town except there’s no escaping.
You can book any tours through the hostel you’re staying at in Guatape but many of the tours can be done on your own. Like, don’t pay for a tour to The Rock at El Penol, you can walk it and pay the 10,000COP entrance fee. If you walk up from the city of Guatape and then walk up the 740 steps you should count that as a life workout, you’ve earned it.
If you only have enough time to stay one night in Guatape and are planning on a Pablo Escobar tour it will be less of a headache to just use the tour transportation on the way up. You’ll have to use the city bus on the way back down so just make sure to leave plenty of time to get back to Medellin as it took us 3 1/2 hours with all the stops and traffic.
As I mentioned in my Medellin, Colombia post, you can book this tour through your hotel/hostel the day before you’d like to take the tour.
There are numerous tour companies offering a Pablo Escobar tour and generally offer the same thing. We chose the one that spent the most time at Guatape versus the other tours that spent the beginning of the day in Medellin. The one that was available for our day was Pablo Escobar and The Rock which includes paintball, breakfast and lunch.
I would suggest not going out the night before to The Happy Buddha Tree Bar for Ladies Night like we did. You’re in a couple of jumbly moving vehicles/vessels throughout the day. First one being the two hour bus ride up to Guatape. Breakfast was a deep fried cheese bread ball, a perfectly round golf ball sized carb with no cheese. Eat/drink/pee/puke before this tour starts.
Oh Hayyyy Guatape:
You arrive at Old El Penol which is a tiny replica of the town of Viejo Penol up on a hill. Here you can buy beers, finally pee, take pictures and see the lake that covers the old town. In 1970 the town and its people were moved to higher ground to create a dam, you can still see the top of the cross sticking out of the lake. This gave new opportunities in tourism ultimately creating more jobs.
IT’S BEAUTIFUL HERE! The pictures can’t do it justice.
It’s now time to get on the second jumbly mode of transportation, the beers you just bought will definitely runneth over. And you’ll definitely make friends at this part as it’s hard not to laugh when everyone’s boobs are looking like helicopters while trying to get beer in the mouth.
Pulling up to Pablo’s all white building with a balcony overlooking the lake with the colorful hills in the background is not what you’re expecting and you’re all like, “Wait, where the fuck am I!? Am I in Greece? Am I as posh as one of those instagram famous girls on a yacht while Papi pours champagne over my perfect, bikini clad body!?” (That’ll never be me because I would have to work out too much and drink less beer). No, but this place is GOT DAMN PHENOMENAL and they sell beer for like 3COP and then the angels sang down from the heavens a hallelujah chorus.
Next, your guide takes you to the house the government bombed thinking Pablo and his family were inside sleeping.
LOL @ this guy ^^^
This girl from our hostel who had previously done the tour was all like, “It’s not worth the money if you’re not going to paintball.” Bitch please, be my guest if you want to be a walking bruise for the rest of your trip but don’t tell me how to live my life. I’m an extremely adventurous person but that just sounds fucking stupid. Naturally, I’m sure it’s fun for boys.. and for girls who have something to prove but THAT AIN’T ME.
Behind the house is the paintball field where they use Pablo’s original ass cars as body shields
The other option is to drink 3COP beers by the water in front of the Paradise mansion. I went with this option. We get such little time off in America that we feel the need to pack so much shit into our days while on vacation. Laying on that grass waiting for the crazies to finish shooting death balls at each other was a dream and I think about that moment often.
Homie in the middle has a gun shot scar on his face as a result of being a security guard for Pablo Escobar… Or is it a paintball scar!?
Taking speed boats from Pablo’s house to the new town of Guatape, this is the moment that really gave me all the feels. There isn’t a building that’s not covered in a rainbow of paint, everyone is happy and not trying to pick-pocket you! Your guide will take you to Plaza De Zocalos and you literally can’t help but take pictures of everything on your walk there. This is the kind of place you ponder life choices and wonder why everything has to be so damn complicated. And then all of a sudden you’re ready to quit your job and ship your dog @Big_Booty_Bruce to meet you in Guatape.
Next you get on a bus to visit the rock where you halfway die on the 740 steps you have to take to overlook the dam.
Those stairs can go to hell but the view was pretty!
Internal Sea of Antioquia
If you’re staying in Guatape for the night ask your tour guide to drop you off in town before heading back to Medellin. Technically they don’t have to do this for you but 1) it’s on their way and 2) included in the tour price is transportation and you aren’t going back to Medellin so it’s the least they can do. If for whatever reason they won’t, there are plenty of taxis and tuk-tuks waiting. But fuck that, make your guide take you.
Where you should stay in Guatape:
Once you’re on the edge of the town make sure to walk to your hostel vs. a tuk-tuk. It’s a great walk and it’s a small town so nothing is ever far. Like I mentioned it’s beautiful so it’s over-stimulating your eyeballs. If I were a child, this is the type of town I would design. Half expected some sprites to flutter out from an alley, whisper the meaning of life in my ear before giggling and flying away.
We stayed at Lake View Hostel and I highly recommend it, especially for $9USD/night! There’s a beautiful view of the lake and it’s so clean you can swim in it, lay around, just gaze at all of the beautiful shit around you. The guy who runs it is loud, European and will gladly drink many beers with you.
Our hostelmates, Ilse and Eric from the Netherlands, suggested Pizzeria Del Luigi for dinner, they had heard nothing but good things and y’all I’m happy to tell you it was the best pizza I’ve ever had. Also the little waitress is so sweet, it’s dimly lit, there’s a back terrace area, side balcony seating and inside feels like you’re sitting in an Italian grandma’s living room.
It’s very close to the hostel and across from the soccer field you’re bound to walk past earlier in the day.
Heading to the pool hall with our new friends we were passing by the plaza and we noticed a big screen had been set up for the town to watch a movie. It ended up being CORALINE, my favorite movie of life! Of course it was in Spanish but it just added to the perfect moment with all the sweet street dogs looking to be pet. On top of that Ilse and Eric noticed people they recognized, they had actually met them while backpacking through Ecuador and just happened to be in Guatape at the same time.
This was one of those moments when the earth spins just perfectly and everything was right with the world.
The pool hall was packed but had zero tourists, the only people you’ll find here are the people who call Guatape, “home.” The men gambling and the wife standing behind him with a baby on her hip. This is the kind of place where you can talk about Trump freely with people from different countries. People who share your concerns of him being elected and will take shots of Aguardiente with you to forget.
And fuck, was the aguardiente flowing… as were the public restrooms.
After we bought beer, my favorite throughout the trip was Club Colombia Rojo, and sat in the town square by the Church of Our Lady of Carmen where the Ecuador group found us again. We drank and laughed and smoked and listened to music with strangers that weren’t strangers at all. That’s one of my favorite things about travel is the accelerated level you get to know like-minded people. You don’t have your guard up and you aren’t an onion like you are with even the people that know you best.
There are clubs and more lively bars than the one we chose but I generally like to do what locals would do.
Back at the hostel we went up to the roof top away from all the city lights and laid under the sky. We drank beers with our new friends and took some real artsy pictures of stars you can’t see with the naked eye. Next day everyone is hungover as fuck.
Paragliding & Getting To Cocorna:
So I had booked a paragliding, waterfall tour with my hostel and we woke up to them letting us know the tour fell through but we could still go if we rented a scooter. My friend was too hungover to partake and I was slightly nervous to navigate to this place having not ridden a scooter since that one College Spring Break in Panama City Beach, FL. Yikes.
The desk attendant at my hostel hands me a helmet and says,
Even if you had GPS this place doesn’t show up on maps and should take you 4 hours total. Go straight until you’re in Marinilla, you’ll take a left and just keep going until you get on the highway to Bogota and then you can’t miss it!
COOL, that sounds safe and accurate! (turns key in the ignition and rides off into the sunset with no mistakes)
I was just so damn stubborn and wanted to paraglide here because
- It’s cheap as hell compared to the US or anywhere else for that matter
- This was my trip, one that I bought myself for making it through some serious surgeries, if I could make it through those mountains then I was determined to run off of one.
It was the most emotionally and physically beautiful thing I have ever done. In the beginning you’re riding through winding mountain roads of the most colorful countryside and people carrying baskets of produce on their backs. Then you’re going through a city center of honking scooters and typical Latin American style driving, aka no rules. Next you’re dodging dogs and a shit load of cows and it seems you have arrived in the land of livestock trade. This is where I get lost.
I stopped off on this random street and thankfully a guy was washing his car outside. I am telling him where I’m attempting to paraglide and he says it isn’t close by, I have to “go to the town of Cocorna but it’s not safe for a girl to go by herself.” Had I any sense, this is probably where I should have turned around but my ass already hurt from being on the damn scooter dodging aforementioned dogs and cows that I wasn’t going to give up because someone said I couldn’t do it.
I’m so glad I let my stubbornness win this one because now I get to give you this map that’ll show you how to get there without a tour guide which will cut down on your price and the annoying group activity shit.
From Lake View Hostel:
- Head north on Cra. 22 toward Cl. 20 in Cocorna
- Left on Cl. 32/El Penol-Guatape
- You really will stay straight for a long time. The roads will just keep winding until you’ll see a highway on your left.
- Take a left on Cra. 25
- Then take the left exit for Autopista Medellin-Bogota/Route 60
- The sign for Bogota was scratched off and covered by a tree when I was there. If that’s still the case when you’re looking at the highways just make sure you take the left route.
- Your next landmark will be the toll booth and you’ll wonder when the hell that will present itself.
- Once you see the sign for Santuario you’ll keep going and the toll booth will come up shortly after. Motorcycles and scooters don’t have to pay this toll and you can go straight through.
- You’ll go all through the mountains and probably not see another car. For a second you might panic and think about turning around, keep going you’re almost there.
- A restaurant will be hanging off a cliff and appear out of nowhere. You’re there! You should probably see people paragliding as well. I went in the later afternoon so there weren’t any people or large bus tours.
SO WORTH IT! I never felt like I was in danger
The safety/instructional period is about 5 seconds, then he and what I can only assume is a 16 year old boy, makes these hand motions trying to explain that on the count of 5 I need to run off the mountain. This mountain air stream generally always has perfect paragliding conditions. I really did try to run but my feet were already off the ground because we had gotten so much air. My ass wasn’t even in the seat, they scoop that under you AFTER you jump off. At one point he was like, “this helmet isn’t doing anything,” (in Spanish) and took it off my head.
Then you’re gliding past waterfalls, and right as you’re going over the town he asks if it’s okay to go fast. I consider myself pretty adventurous and generally say yes to everything, and all of a sudden you’re spinning over the city. A real vagina in your throat kind of a moment.
Then you land at a soccer field and you’re in a neighborhood where some guy is telling you to get in a shady car with strangers. Do it unless you want to walk your ass all the way back up the mountain and your legs are already jello from running off a mountain with only a GoPro in hand.