“So, what did you do in Guatapé?” our friends inquired.
It shouldn’t have been a hard question to answer. We surely had something to show for a four-day trip.
“Uhhh…not much.” The looks of skepticism shot back at us were clear indicators that our answer was not satisfactory. These friends would be visiting Guatapé themselves the following week, and they wanted information. Our best (and only) recommendation? A coffee shop.
Had we really been that lazy all week?
El Pueblo de los Zócalos
Guatapé, Colombia, nicknamed “El Pueblo de los Zócalos,” is the perfect place to do…nothing.
It’s a great place to do a lot of things, but it’s also a great place to stow your cares away and pretend for a couple of days that life in this tiny, colorful pueblo is all there is. The world outside of Guatapé did seem to fade from conscious thought for awhile, and it was oh-so-relaxing.
I had been craving a Guatapé getaway for quite some time. I love Medellín dearly, but I sorely missed the quietude of nature; after so many months, the constant din of frenzied traffic was beginning to wear on me.
So, a little more than a week after returning from hot and dusty Barranquilla, I said goodbye to my friends at Yellow House Hostel (where I’d been living since losing my Envigado apartment prior to Carnival) and, with fellow blogger Jeremy in tow, made my way to the mountains.
Literally speaking, there’s actually quite a lot to do in Guatapé. The town is situated on the edge of a man-made reservoir known as Embalse Peñol, little more than an hour’s drive outside of Medellín. Aquatic activities abound, as you might imagine. On the bus ride in, we spotted what looked like a large, inflatable waterpark and agreed, rather ambitiously, that we would DEFINITELY go there during our stay.
Cruising into town along the waterfront, we could see boats of every size, every color, every speed. Jet skis careened across the water; we’d DEFINITELY rent jet skis one day, too. As we looked toward the sky we noticed tourists dangling from what appeared to be the world’s most boring zip line. We definitely wouldn’t be doing that.
Once off the bus, we made our way to the far end of town where Lake View Hostel awaited us. This hostel, a fairly new construction, was charming if not a little rough around the edges. I found “lake view” to be a slight misnomer, as the property sat facing a partially dried up inlet and not much of the lake itself, but otherwise it seemed like the perfect place to relax.
We both desperately needed to get some work done in the days that followed. We’d DEFINITELY be productive at the hostel. It had a kitchen where we’d cook our own meals, and a rooftop restaurant (serving Thai food, of all things) set to open during our stay in the event that we were too lazy to shop for groceries.
What we failed to realize, though, was just how relaxed we’d feel in little old Guatapé. Time seemed to move more slowly and, as a result, so did we. It only seemed appropriate to sleep as long as we needed each morning. We weren’t staying out late partying; there’s not much nightlife to speak of in Guatapé, and that wasn’t what we’d come for anyhow.
This lack of urgency followed us around for the next few days. We’d make plans each evening, hoping to be productive in the morning so as to free up our afternoon for one of those activities we were so sure we’d do, and each morning we’d fail. We’d blame the hostel WiFi (which, in our defense, was very hit-or-miss), we’d blame our hunger, we’d blame our caffeine withdrawals. We really didn’t mean to be so lazy, it just sort of…happened.
Breakfast usually took place no earlier than 11am. We’d then head to Plazoleta de los Zócalos (I’ll get to the zócalos in a minute) to Cafe La Viña, a coffee shop owned by the world’s sweetest woman and serving up arguably the best coffee in town. It had been an arduous task to find anything other than instant Nescafe that was more milk than coffee, so when we stumbled upon this place, we instantly became loyal customers.
One afternoon, we did finally hit the town with cameras in hand; Guatapé is immensely photogenic, known for its vividly painted buildings, ornate zócalos (wainscots, or baseboards), and cobblestone streets. In the main plaza and surrounds, the only traffic you’ll see comes in the form of pedestrians, moto-taxis, bicycles and the occasional stray dog.
The following day, on what would be our last full day before heading back to Medellín, we realized we needed to offset all the eating and drinking we’d been doing with a little bit of physical activity. Luckily we knew just where to rent bicycles–in the very same plaza as our cherished coffee shop. Of course, by the time we got our act together it was already late in the afternoon; we’d have to rent by the hour and make sure to return before the shop closed.
Our rentals, beach cruisers painted as brightly as the city itself, looked to be in excellent condition. Appearances deceived us though, and within minutes we discovered problems with both bicycles that rendered them unrideable. It was rather comical, especially when our coffee lady poked her head from her shop window, brow furrowed in concern, to make sure everything was alright.
By the time we finally left, we decided to scrap our original plan of cycling to a nearby river (too many hills and too big of a time commitment seemed to be involved) and instead pedaled in the direction of a Benedictine monastery. We rolled past green countryside and sprawling fincas, and even caught a dazzling sunset over the town’s famous monolith on the way back.
Eventually, the day came to pack up our things and say goodbye to Guatapé. It was now the weekend, and we’d promised our friends one last Saturday night out in Medellín. We still had one task left to accomplish, though. That day, we’d be climbing 740 steps to reach the top of La Piedra (The Rock, pictured above). Apart from Guatapé’s unusual color scheme, La Piedra is typically the main attraction for tourists. I’d visited during my first trip to Colombia in 2013 and could confirm–the view from the top was DEFINITELY worth the climb.
So, what exactly did we do in Guatapé? We stayed long enough to make friends with locals and receive warm smiles every time we walked through town. We slept when our bodies demanded it. We enjoyed the scenery and forgot about our worries for a short time. We took some pretty photos and enjoyed each other’s company, and in the end, that was enough.
“Not much,” we repeated, this time just to drive the point home. “Not much.”
Read more Colombia posts:
- What to do in Medellin, Colombia
- Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia
- The Revitalized Urban Landscape of Medellin
- Back to the Caribbean: Revisiting Santa Marta
- Day Tripping in Santa Fe de Antioquia