Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries
Colombia

Guatapé, Colombia: Where Everything, And Nothing, Is Possible

“So, what did you do in Guatapé?” our friends inquired.What to do in Guatape, an adorable colorful town near Medellin, Colombia

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.

Embalse Peñol, Antioquia, Colombia

Embalse Peñol. Relaxing, no?

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.

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

The quiet streets near Lake View Hostel

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

The view from the hostel rooftop

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

Color everywhere!

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.

Plazoleta de los Zócalos, Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

Plazoleta de los Zócalos

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 cobblestone streets of Guatape, Colombia

Lovely cobblestone streets

The main plaza

The main plaza

The streets of Guatape, Colombia

No cars in sight

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. Benedictine Monastery, Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia Benedictine Monastery, Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

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.

View from La Piedra del Peñol near Guatape, Colombia

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.”

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30 Comments

  • Reply Jason March 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    I loved this post! As far as I can remember, I’ve never even heard of Guatape before. Now, it’s high on my fairly long list of places to visit in Colombia! Getting away from the”constant din of frenzied traffic” and doing “not much” for a few days in a place as colorful and scenic as this sounds pretty damn good.

    • Reply La Mochilera March 26, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks Jason! When are you going to Colombia? Or is that just a hypothetical future trip? You must get to Guatape, it’s pretty amazing. 🙂

  • Reply Justine March 26, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I will forever regret not going to Guatape when I was in Medellin! I have to go there… I couldn’t help but laugh while reading this. I can’t even tell you how many cities across the world I’ve managed to do nothing in. But sometimes being lazy and not doing much is the best thing ever. And Guatape looks like the perfect place to do just that. At least you two got it together and climbed La Piedra…I dream of the day I get to do the same thing. Oh, and your photos are amazing 🙂
    Justine recently posted…The Lowdown on Indonesia’s Visa RequirementsMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera March 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Haha same, there are actually tons of places where I’ve “done nothing” and it always ends up being just as great (better, in a lot of instances) than rushing around and trying to do EVERYTHING. I’m hopeful you’ll make it to Guatape someday! 🙂

  • Reply Ashley March 27, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Lovely photos! The view from La Piedra is beautiful! I believe it was a blog post about Guatapé that first piqued my interest in Colombia.
    Ashley recently posted…The Best Things I Ate in IndiaMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera March 27, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Thank you! Yeah, that view is pretty stunning. There’s actually a sign on the way in that calls it “The Best View in the World!” A slight exaggeration probably haha but it’s still good. An article I read about Medellin is what originally caught my interest!

  • Reply Dennis Fahey March 27, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Another lovely post! And a nice reminder of the pleasures of doing very little!!

    • Reply La Mochilera March 27, 2015 at 10:00 am

      Thank you, Dennis! It was so nice to do so little for a few days, sometimes city life can make me feel a bit frazzled!

  • Reply Travelwith2ofus March 29, 2015 at 4:08 am

    WOW! I’d be lazy there too. Guatapé is beautiful. The vivid colors and no traffic. Makes for a perfect couple days of rest and relaxation.

    • Reply La Mochilera March 29, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      It was the PERFECT place to be lazy, for sure. And it was so necessary 🙂

  • Reply christine March 29, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I love he bright colors all over the streets! I wish my city looked like that, so cheery.
    christine recently posted…Photo Essay: Costa Rica’s beautiful sunsetsMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera March 29, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      I know, I could have just wandered the streets for days snapping photos 🙂

  • Reply Dariece March 29, 2015 at 10:13 am

    There’s nothing wrong with doing “nothing”! haha. We find ourselves doing that quite often. Sometimes you just need some downtime and not be a tourist everywhere you go. We often find it’s nice to just stroll around and see what we find 🙂

    Guatape looks lovely though. We plan on visiting Colombia next year and will keep it in mind.

    Cheers.
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  • Reply Aileen March 29, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Amazing place! I especially loved how you captured the colors perfectly. Do you mind if I ask what camera do you use?

    Anyhow, I hope to be in this place in the future! 🙂 It looks amazing. And it’s definitely great to be friends with the locals.
    Aileen recently posted…Top 10 Free Things to Do in Brussels, the Heart of Europe!My Profile

  • Reply Sophie March 29, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Oh wow. Those photos are incredible. I think i’d want to stay there forever!

  • Reply Jenna March 29, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Guatapé sounds fantastic–I love all the bright beautiful colors, and now I really want to visit! It sounds like a great place to relax and recoup. We had a similar experience in Italy recently–so many things to we wanted to do, but we just ended up relaxing and taking in the scenery instead. Sometimes it ends up being the perfect thing to do!
    Jenna recently posted…A Photo Essay: Colorado in the WinterMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      I’m sure Italy has some towns like this that would be perfectly relaxing 🙂 You’re so right, sometimes it is really the best way to spend a couple of days! I hope you do visit Guatape, it’s wonderful!

  • Reply Jessica O'Neill March 29, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    I must confess I know so little about Colombia – I also didn’t realise how beautiful it’s cities were! The colours here are just so vibrant and fresh. I love that view from the rooftop of your hostel 🙂

    • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Ahh Colombia is just SO beautiful, everywhere you go. This is easily one of my favorite spots. And yeah, the view from the roof was awesome! Wish it had been a bit warmer, we’d have been up there all the time!

  • Reply Alli March 30, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Love the colours in these photographs! So fun and vibrant 🙂 I would love to get here one day!

  • Reply Stacey Valle March 30, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Beautiful photos! It is okay to have some relaxing days, especially after being exhausted from the busy cities, because I would be too! The climb does look worth it! That view is astonishing!!
    Stacey Valle recently posted…Lost in thoughts: Hiroshima Peace Memorial MuseumMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you! It turned out to be perfect, even if it wasn’t exactly what we had planned for 🙂

  • Reply Vicky and Buddy March 30, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    What a lovely post! Your relaxation came through in the writing, which I loved. And the pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know how you left!
    Vicky and Buddy recently posted…5 Ways Being In The Army Made Me A Better TravelerMy Profile

    • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      Thank you so much! I don’t know how we left either 😉 It was bliss!

  • Reply Oscar March 26, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Me and my wife lived in USA for 45 years, last year we went to Guatape and it was love at first sight, we are Colombians and to make a long story short, we are leaving for that beautiful town to live our retirement. Our house is 2 miles away from the Monastery. This town is paradise. GUATAPE HERE WE COME. New Year’s Eve carnival was a blast. Holly week was live and people are adorable.

    • Reply Leah Davis March 28, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      That’s awesome Oscar! I really love Guatape too. Enjoy!

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