When we first dropped into Jardín, we thought it was a mighty colourful place. From the hand painted chairs and tables in the streets, to the buildings, and even the flowering trees in the central plaza.
And then we decided to spend a night in Guatapé, which also happens to be a popular day-drip destination from Medellín, for that towering rock called El Peñon.
The first thing you notice about Guatapé is the use of zócalos on almost all of its houses. From simple patterns to animals, flowers, musical instruments and carpenter’s tools.
What’s the story about all of this detail on its houses? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m figuring it has something to do with the story, heritage or interests of the people that live in them.
So what is there to do in Guatapé, other than walk around and take dozens of photos of colourful houses?
Well, you can always start in Plaza Central, check out its pretty cathedral and then take a seat at one of the bars or cafes on the pavement.
Order a tinto or cooling beer, maybe something to nibble on and soak in the quiet ambience of this beautiful town. Ok, if it’s the weekend or late at night it may get a bit rowdy.
Porton de Antaño – great spot for a drink on the central plaza.
Del Porto, Calle 32, #28-71
Guatapé’s waterfront is geared for the tourist, with offers of boat rides, kayaking, a zip-line and a strip of restaurants that take advantage of the view.
If you’re after a simple espresso, drop into Del Porto and they’ll look after your needs. They’ll even cook you up a pasta if you’re hungry, and if you need a bottle of vino to take home, they’ll even take care of that.
Black Hole Cafe, Calle 31, #294
For the best coffee in Guatapé, and I’m talking about espresso here, not tinto, grab one of the few seats available at Black Hole and settle right in.
These guys use beans from Finca La Rivera in nearby El Peñol, and aside from espresso they offer aeropress, French press, chemix and syphon. They have some excellent cakes, muffins, brownies and gorgeous little bonbons, too.
Tea drinkers are also catered for with a nice little selection of loose leaf teas.
Govinda’s, Carrera 28, #31-48
It was the menu of the day that drew us to Govinda’s where, for 13,000 pesos you can chow on a soup and main course, plus a drink of some sort.
It’s a tiny place with very limited seating, and as you may guess from the name, they’re all about the vegetarian and vegan food and some rather repetitive Hare Krishna tunes.
There are some nice looking breads and pastries in the cabinet at the front of the cafe to take away, but if you’re here for lunch, expect the likes of curry soup with barley and rice, and a croquette of lentils and corn with yellow squash salad.
Very tasty, I must say!
La Fogata, Carrera 30, #31-32
La Fogata is predominantly a steakhouse, one of a couple you’ll find facing the lake. Aside from grilled carne, there’s ajiaco (soup), mondongo (tripe) and a bunch of trout dishes to dive into. Be sure to order a refajo, a curious drink made with beer and sangria.
Our choices for the evening were pork belly (20,000) and the trout plate (18,000), which came with beans, rice, egg, plantain, arepa and salad. Nothing outstanding, but simple Colombian fare.
Check the map for location
For a little fix on street food, there’s a husband and wife team that open their front door in the evenings and sell piping hot empanadas to anyone that’s interested.
Find them on Carrera 28 just off the corner of Calle 31, stand in line and choose either the potato or cheese empanadas. They’re cheap and they’re pretty good!
Now, this is what many people come to Guatapé for. That 200 metre high rock that dominates the watery landscape around it.
Pay 18,000 pesos for the privilege to clamber up 659 steps to a pretty smashing view from the top. There are even a couple of cafes up there to take a well-earned breather, scull a boozy drink or chill on an ice cream.
Something you can’t avoid at the base of the rock is the strip of restaurants and tourist tat stores all selling the same things. So if you’re in need of a handbag, sunglasses, fridge magnet or plastic arepa and penis-shaped chorizo mobile, this is the place to head.
Several bus companies head to Guatapé from Terminal de Transport Norte in Medellín. We took the Sotrapeñol bus which costs 13,500 pesos per person and it takes about 2 hours.
Many people get off at El Peñon if they’re doing the day trip, but if you’re heading through to Guatapé, it’s less than ten minutes away from the rock.
To get to El Peñon from Guatapé you can walk for about 45 minutes or get a motor taxi that’ll charge you 8,000 pesos.