Fourth stop: Guatapé
Spoiler alert: you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with Guatapé. Colombia is colorful in general, but Guatapé certainly takes it up a notch. This cute small town is full of bright colored buildings, and surrounded by beautiful nature. A visit to the viewpoint La Piedra del Peñol is pretty much a must-do when you’re here (don’t let the 659 steps scare you off – you can take some breaks to catch your breath in between). Guatapé is a relaxed place to be – you can go hiking, biking, do watersports, kayaking, paragliding or simply enjoy strolling and shopping around the town. We had two full days here, and it was lovely! A lot of people only do a day trip here from the city, but I would recommend to spend a bit more time here.
STAY – 3 nights at Hostel Mi Casa Guatapé. Even though it’s not in the center of Guatapé, it’s a total recommendation! You can easily catch a bus or tuktuktaxi to go there, and you’ll be able to enjoy more of the nature side of Guatapé. The room with the view on the water is an added plus, and the owners are really friendly & sweet. Also, the famous Piedra del Peñol is also basically at your doorstep!
TIPS – When you’re arriving at Medellín airport (depending on your travel itinerary), it makes more sense to first go to Guatapé. It’s only an hour from the airport – so you save an hour of travel time compared to going there from Medellín city (because Guatapé is two hours by bus from Medellin). If you’re heading to Medellín anyway afterwards, I’d recommend to travel like this. However I should note that I’m not sure how the public transportation works from the airport to Guatapé because we booked a private driver via our stay (for a decent price). You can always check for this option via your ho(s)tel, or have a look at the bus options.
NEXT, WE TRAVELED TO… Medellín by bus. Easy, fast (only 2 hours) and cheap! You can catch it from the center, or just standing on the road where it’s going. If you’re staying at Mi Casa Guatapé, that road is just at your doorstep – doesn’t get easier than that! The bus will drop you off at Terminal del Norte in Medellín, so you will have to catch another bus, taxi or Uber to get to your stay.
Fifth stop: Medellín
Our time in Medellín was limited to about a full day and a half. Because I didn’t do a lot of research beforehand, we went for the easy (read: lazy) option and explored a bit of the city via two walking tours. The first one was through Comuna 13 (once Medellín’s most dangerous neighborhood) – which was a bit meh to be honest, mostly because our guide wasn’t very good. You could definitely go alone during the day & explore it for yourself – it has really become a tourist hotspot. The next day, we did a “copy” of the Real City Tour (since the real one was fully booked) and went to points like the Teleantioquia or “french fry” building, the Antioquia Train Station, Monumento a La Raza, Parque de Las Luces & Plaza Botero. I liked the last one the most, here you can see lots of different Botero sculptures and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture – a beautiful building designed by Belgian architect Augustin Goovaerts in 1925. The tour ended around 1PM so we wanted to go to parque Arví afterwards, but the metro stop to get there (Santo Domingo) was closed off and it wasn’t clear at all what we actually had to do to reach the cable cars. We went back to Universidad instead, and walked around the Botanical Garden, which is free and you’ll see a lot of iguanas wandering around here, pretty cool! To make the most of our left time, we took an Uber to the Memory House Museum. This is also free & showcases the difficult history that Medellín went through – the design & set-up is nice, but unfortunately a lot of the info is not translated to English so it’s a bit pointless if you don’t speak Spanish. I think Medellín has a lot more to offer than what we experienced, but our time here was a bit too short.
STAY – 2 nights at Cocobamboo Hostel. Our room was basic, but okay. Breakfast is included here, and it was a cheap stay. Most ho(s)tels will be in the El Poblado neighborhood, which is where all the tourists are (nicknamed “Gringoville” by the locals). This area is full of super nice restaurants, coffee spots, shops, bars & places to stay – so while it might not feel like the most “local” spot – it’s definitely a really nice and convenient place to be.
TIPS – Use the modern and cheap metro system to get around Medellín. You’ll save some pesos and you’ll get a good look of the city already. Make sure to ride the metro cable cars – I’m bummed this didn’t work out for us because it looked like they offered some amazing views! Try a self-guided tour of the city, this blog post provides a lot of info about that.
NEXT, WE TRAVELED TO… Salento by bus. You can book tickets online via Flota Occidental. Make sure to be at the departure spot around 30 minutes in advance – you need to queue with your printed tickets at a counter (a sort of check-in where you’ll receive your confirmed tickets), and can then proceed to the bus but it’s all rather unclear. The bus ride takes around 7 hours in total, and it makes a stop in Pereira. Be prepared for motion sickness, there are a lot of winding mountain roads (especially in the first stretch of the ride).
Sixth stop: Salento
I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I loved Colombia, but Salento might even take the number one spot out of all the places we visited during this trip. The nature, the coffee, the colorful houses, the relaxed vibe – what’s not to love? Most people go here for the famous Cocora Valley with the wax palm trees, and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful hike and you can do coffee tours, horse riding (which I did for the first time – hello sore body!), or just enjoy the colorful vibes of Salento. Now, about the Cocora Valley hike – I read some articles beforehand that made it seem like it was quite difficult, or that it was sometimes unclear to know which path to follow. That was not at all the case for us. We did have good weather conditions (sunny & dry) & came prepared (hiking boots, check – direction instructions, check – lunch package from Brunch de Salento, check) but still I’m not sure what the fuss is about. When it’s raining a lot and things get really muddy, I can imagine it slows you down quite a bit though. To figure out your route, you can find more detailed instructions here or here – but I should note that some details have changed. The “Willy pick-up” to get to the valley was not at the main square. Just ask some locals where to go, because I didn’t pinpoint the exact location – Salento town isn’t big, so don’t worry it won’t be too far from the square. The prices have also gone up a bit (not a lot). Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay entrance fees at different points – so make sure to carry some cash on you. We did the big loop in opposite direction, meaning you’ll end your hike in the palm tree forest – which I think is the nicest way to do it. We also did the extra “trek” to the Acaime La Casa de Los Colibris – it’s nice to see them, but not super wow because it’s a bit crowded with other hikers / tourists (we were spoiled by our previous experience in Panama though). It will add about an hour to your hike. All in all, if you’re not going in completely clueless and have somewhat of a stamina I think it’s all fairly easy to find your way & do the hike.
STAY – 3 nights at Hostal El Zorzal. This was a nice stay, they have a lovely garden & serve breakfast outside (which is included in the price). We opted for the budget room with a shared bathroom, which means you won’t be able to sleep in because of the fact that it’s located close to the lobby. This was fine for us, but might bother other people. The location was good, it’s within walking distance of the center, and the bus station is across the street.
TIPS – If you’re looking for a different experience than hiking or coffee farm visits, go horse back riding! Even though it’s a bit scary if you’ve never done that before (not to mention painful as fuck for your entire body afterwards), I can recommend booking a trip at Cabalgatas San Pablo. Other than that, of course spend some time exploring the colorful town, shops & restaurants of Salento – you’ll love it!
NEXT, WE TRAVELED TO… – Bogotá before we went back home (boo). We took the bus back to Pereira (about an hour) & headed to the airport with a taxi.
Gracias Colombia for being so amazing! Read the first part of my travel guide here.