A two-hour drive from Medellin lay the towns of El Penol and Guatape. In the middle of the two is a massive rock formation called La Piedra de Penol, or El Penon de Guatape.
From the top of this rock, you will get one of the best views that Colombia has to offer. Visiting the rock along with El Penol and the vibrant lakeside town of Guatape is sure to be a highlight on your trip to Colombia.
This La Piedra del Penol guide will walk you through what a Medellin to Guatape day trip is all about. I hope by the end of reading through, it helps answer any questions you may have about taking this day trip for yourself.
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1) La Piedra de Penol History & Facts
Before talking about the visit, let’s go through a little bit of history about the La Piedra de Penol rock.
→ It is estimated that this rock formation is up to 65 million years old! Before modern times the rock was once worshipped by the Tahamies Indians, who lived in the region.
→ At over 650 feet tall and 10 million tons, La Piedra de Penol is hard to miss. It can be seen from all around the area, and makes for one of Colombia’s most well known natural landmarks.
→ It was not until 1954 that it was first ascended, a process that took five days to complete by three local men – Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopez, Pedro Nel Ramirez, and Ramon Diaz.
→ The rock has had its history of controversy to which town it belonged to – Guatape or El Penol. The people of Guatape took the matter if their own hands and attempted to paint “GUATAPE” on it. They however got stopped by the people of El Penol and all that remains is “GI” on one side of the rock.
→ Today, the rock has a 740 step staircase to bring you to the top (sorry no elevator!), and once up there you can take in one incredible view.
You can find rock located about 2 hours east of Medellin. While it is a bit out of the city, I would highly recommend the day trip. It not only is about the rock itself, but also the two towns on either side – El Penol and Guatape. During a day trip you will be able to enjoy it all and more.
The remainder of this guide will go over the different ways to get to the La Piedra de Penol as a Medellin to Guatape day trip, and give you some helpful info along the way.
2) Guided Tour vs. Do It Yourself
There are a few main options when it comes to how you will go about a day. You can either do it self guided and take care of logistics on your own, or you can opt for a private/group guided tour with someone who can pick you up and take you around the area.
Private Guide Option
The guided option takes a lot of hassle out of your day. No need to figure out where to go or what to do. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel, bring you to La Piedra del Penol with a few stops along the way, and give you some good insight into the history of Colombia.
You will also be more comfortable in a private car vs a crowded bus and have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. The downside to the private guide is the cost of it being ~$75 per person depending on your group size.
→ Book Today: Guatape Private Tour Option
Group Guide Option
Similar to above but just with a group. This will also help ease any travel plans but you will be alongside a group of other people for the day. Costs for this would be around $35.
→ Book Today: Guatape Group Tour Option
Lastly you can opt for the self guided option, which will start with the Medellin Guatape bus route. To do so you will first make your way to the North Bus Terminal of Medellin (starred on the map below).
The bus terminal is right near by the Caribe metro station for easy access. Once at the bus station you will purchase a ticket to get on a bus to Guatape (about $4). Your transportation for the day will look something like this:
(1) Bus: North Bus Terminal -> Base of La Piedra del Penol (walk or tuk tuk to the rock)
(2) Taxi/Tuk Tuk: La Piedra del Penol -> Guatape
(3) Bus: Guatape -> Medellin – buy tickets when you get to Guatape (last bus leaves ~6PM)
When I was deciding between the options with my friends we decided that the comfort of a driver along with the ability to ask questions and learn about what we were experiencing was the way to go.
3) Map / Location
If you are headed to La Piedra del Penol you will most likely be doing so as part of a Medellin to Guatape day trip.
The map below shows the zig zagging route along with the pinned locations of El Penol (+ viewpoint opportunity), La Piedra del Penol , and Guatape.
I have also pinned down the location of the Medellin Guatape bus terminal if you decide to go without a guide.
4) Medellin to Guatape Day Trip
Now that you have some background about La Piedra del Penol, let’s talk through what to expect on a day trip from Medellin.
Of course, you can also decide to stay in Guatape overnight and make more of an experience out of it. If you do so, you can enjoy the rock with few other people around, and have more time to explore the area.
However, if you are going about the day trip, below is an overview of what your day will entail.
The Drive from Medellin
Once you have decided how you will do your day trip it is time to get on the road. No matter what option you choose you will be driving the winding roads of the countryside.
The drive in itself is quite the attraction, zig zagging across the mountains, stopping at local coffee shops, and seeing the vegetation and crops grown around the region.
If you are part of a guided tour you might first stop at El Penol, around 90 minutes from Medellin. We stopped in the town for a bit before making our way to an incredible viewpoint (marked on the map above).
Here you will get to see a beautiful view of the lake along with a replica of the historical town before floods wiped out the region.
La Piedra del Penol
After a quick stop in El Penol, and taking in the views, next up is the rock itself. You will begin to see the rock further out in the distance as you slowly approach La Piedra del Penol.
Depending on the day it can be relatively quiet and not overcrowded. If you are someone that wants to avoid the crowds, you will want to stay away from weekends/local holidays.
La Piedra del Penol Tickets: When you get to the base of the rock you just have to pay a ~$6 entrance fee for a ticket to climb up.
Once you purchase your ticket it is then a hike up the 740 (yes 740!) steps all the way to the top. Below is a video of some of the windy journey:
As you continue on up, be sure to take breaks as needed. The staircase will wind its way back and forth up the mountainside, and it can get dizzying for some. Just take it slow, take breaks, keep hydrated, and continue to make your way further up.
Before you reach the actual summit viewpoint, you will first reach a spot where you can grab some food as well as some souvenirs in a small shop.
Once you are past this point, it is just a few more stairs until you reach the summit.
How Long Does it take to Climb the Guatape Rock: This will all depend on your physical abilities, but expect the climb up to take around 20 – 30 minutes. The hike down should be quicker (but be careful as you head down).
How High Is the Guatape Rock: The rock itself is just over 650 feet tall (200 meters). However, at the summit of the rock, you will be 7,005 feet / 2,135 meters above sea level.
La Piedra del Penol Summit Views
Once you reach the summit, you will be able to enjoy one of the best viewpoints that Colombia has to offer. Out in front of you will be a never-ending display of lakes and greenery all around.
Stay up there for as long as you would like enjoying the view, taking pictures, and resting your legs. Once you take it all in, make your way all the back down to the bottom.
Your next stop is the city of Guatape, one of the most colorful and decorated cities you will come across. If you did not have lunch yet, head over to one of the restaurants by the lake and have a local meal.
Following lunch, tour around the town, learn about its history and enjoy what the city has to offer. There are plenty of great photo opportunities around here. Every corner you turn you will see more colorful buildings with their intricate designs called zocalos.
If you have some extra time you can also explore the lake area. There are plenty of boats that can take you on a short or long tour of the lake and even stop by one of Pablo Escobar’s old homes.
Once your time in Guatape is complete you will either take the bus or head back with your tour along the windy roads to Medellin.
5) Where to Stay in Medellin
Medellin is a pretty large city with numerous neighborhoods sprawled throughout the valley.
My recommendation though would to stay near the El Poblado area, where you will find great hotels, nightlife, and restaurants. Here are some highly rated hotels in the area:
That about wraps up your guide to Medellin to Guatape day trip guide. Take a look at our other Colombia itineraries and guides to help out with any other trip planning. If you have any questions about the experience feel free to comment below!