On our third day in Medellin, we decided to book a day tour to Guatapé. Located approx 2hrs east, it is home to a famous rock, lakes and incredible views.
The tour was recommended to us by one of my friends who we met up with in NYC; she had done it a few months prior and really enjoyed it. The same tour was also came recommended by people we met in Casa en el Agua, the hostel island off Cartegena.
The tour is called ‘Van por Colombia’. It’s a full day tour taking you around the mountains of Medellin, penol, the Guatapé rock and the town.
The group picked us up near our accommodation, and as we were many people, we ended up in a car following the van with an Irish couple.
Our guide, Davi, was awesome. So full of energy and a great person to talk to about the history of Colombia, and Medellin specifically. Whilst Escobar is a taboo subject for most in Colombia, he made it clear from the start we could ask anything and talk freely. Having lived in Comuna 13 and experiencing the terrors of the drug wars in their prime first hand, he had some terrible but incredible stories.
We made a couple of stops on the way to enjoy the views over the mountains, before stopping at the other guide’s house where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast with different types of omelettes, home baked bread, spreads and coffee (also, pineapple tea!).
After breakfast it was time to carry on towards Guatapé. They got us on the roof of the van and the car so that we could get the best views driving through the little streets of the village.
Indeed the view from up there was magnificent, but I must say it’s quite terrifying to sit on top of a moving car in steep and narrow mountainous roads. Not many photos from the roof took place, as that would involve taking a hand off the roof rack!
We continued the drive towards penol (back inside the car this time), an old town that the Colombian government ended up moving because of the creation of a dam in the lake area. You can now find the ‘old’ penol, the replica of the village that used to be where the lake now lays, and the ‘new’ penol where the new town is now. Very nice.
The tour then continued to a bridge where some guys of the group jumped from (12m high), and where the rest of us simply decided to swim. They offered us beers whilst having a dip too, a nice little break in the sun before continuing to the Guatapé rock.
When you get closer to the rock, you can notice the letters ‘GI’ written on it. Apparently the owner of the rock decided to paint the word ‘Guatapé’ on it, but after spending a lot of time and money on paint, he realised the rock was porous making the paint disappear overtime, so consequently gave up. Typical Colombian, and so hilarious.
We then painfully climbed the 659 steps to take us to the top of the rock, from where an absolutely magnificent views awaits. You can see the whole lake region and the different islands. It looked incredible. Well worth the steep stairs.
After that, the guides took us to a hostel (that they own) nearby where we had the most delicious Colombian buffet lunch, including dozens of tasty dishes. We tried most of them and enjoyed them all before heading to the town of Guatapé for a stroll.
This town is so gorgeous! Every building is so colourful and has a story painted on the front.
A few years ago the council made it compulsory for houses to have these paintings on the outside of their buildings to make the city look consistent. Stunning! It all started by a few families doing it and evolved from there.
We then drove for another 2 hours back to Medellin and enjoyed some great conversations with Davi who gave us some crazy stories about Medellin back in the dangerous days. It seemed to really have been pretty mad.
For our final day, we decided to visit a coffee farm. One of my big regrets for Colombia is that we haven’t been able to visit the coffee region around Salento. It was planned originally, but our flight got changed which reduced the time we could spend there, so we decided to drop it and stay in Medellin longer instead.
As I still wanted to check out a farm, we searched online and found this one only 30min away from El Poblado via Uber, Finca La Leona. All other tours were very expensive and took you quite far out of the city, but this one was only 60,000 pesos per person (less than $30) so we thought we’d check it out.
Well we’re glad we did, as it was awesome! Fabian, the owner of this family-run farm, was so passionate about what he does and loves to share his knowledge with tourists.
He took us on a tour of the farm, explaining the different steps that go in to making a great coffee. From the growth of the coffee tree, harvesting, to the grain selection and drying process.
He, and most Colombian producers, don’t have to worry about the export part of the business. They sell their beans to a centralized commission, who then organize the roasting and export.
To finish, we enjoyed some great coffee tasting of Fabian’s own coffee, going through the proper filter process. He went on to explain the different tools you can use to make coffee, but for him, a good old filter, proper measurements and 80 degree water is the best way to reach coffee perfection.
We left the farm absolutely delighted by our time there, and basically coffee experts.
As we struggled to get an uber from where we were up in the mountains (not far from where Escobar was imprisoned for a while, in fact), we decided to walk down to the town to get a taxi instead. But as this was our last day, the amount of cash we had left was minimal and not enough to get a cab to take us back to El Poblado. So we decided to continue walking down for a while until we reached the out skirts of Medellin, and a Cafe from where we requested an Uber whilst snacking.
We finished our day by browsing the streets of El Poblado, and got a drink at a touristy bar who sneakily charged us more for an artisanal beer instead of the normal beer we had ordered. This caused an annoying argument and dampened our last Colombian night a little.
Overall, we loved Medellin and Colombia in general. We know it used to have bad reputation but Colombians are so welcoming and happy to see tourists, and the country is gorgeous. We never felt unsafe, maybe apart Medellin’s center which is a bit dodgy, and are truly happy Colombia made the cut on our list. Would love to go back!
- Van por Colombia was an awesome day tour to Guatapé. Both guides were awesome, views amazing and the food delicious. At $55 per person it was an amazing activity! I can’t recommend them enough.
- Finca La Leona coffee farm in Medellin is a great place to visit near the city. Fabian the owner is so nice and welcoming and truly passionate about what he does. Well worth going.