La Piedra del Peñón and the town of Guatapé
El Peñón de Guatapé or La Piedra del Peñón or simply, La Piedra, is a massive rock, rising up some 7,000 ft (2,135 meters) above sea level. It’s located in department of Antioquia in Colombia and is part of the Central Andes mountain range.
A giant cracked formed in the center of this massive rock, and over the years steps were built into it so that people could reach the top. La Piedra is easily accessible by bus from Medellín and is one of the best day trips you can do in Colombia.
How to get to La Piedra (and Guatapé) from Medellín
The bus ride from Medellín to La Piedra is pretty straightforward.
Make your way to El Caribe station on the Medellín metro. From here, you can directly access Terminal del Norte, which is where the buses depart.
Use the pedestrian bridge to the west, which spans across the Medellín River.
Once you’re in the station, you’ll see ticket counters below. Head down and find the counters between 1-15 that list Guatapé as a destination. I can’t remember, but my counter was 11 or 9.
There’s two windows I saw that listed Guatapé as destinations—one was COP 14,000 and the other was COP 12,000. I went with the cheaper option.
The bus company I used was SotraPeñol. The first bus leaves from the north terminal at 06:45, and the next is at 08:00. After 08:00, the schedule fluctuates and buses run between 20 and 50 minutes one after the other. Check the schedule here, under the horarios section.
I would follow this as a suggestion, however, because my bus left at 7:15 in the morning—this was also printed on my ticket. But, this is not a time listed on their website. Be flexible and expect to wait 20-30 minutes.
After you buy your ticket, either look at it and find the number listed next to plataforma or ask the person at the ticket counter which one you should be leaving from.
Grab something to eat or drink or just head through the metal detectors in front of you and wait by your platform.
I hopped on the bus and we left a few minutes late. The driver didn’t check my ticket, so make sure you hand it to him if you’d like to double check the destination.
Someone riding up front with the driver checked tickets about 30 minutes after we left—probably a bad time to realize you’re on the wrong bus.
The bus makes frequent stops along the way, picking up and dropping off people. Be nice and move over to the window seat if it gets crowded.
Don’t sleep. The people and scenery are much more interesting
One woman aboard got up from her seat, approached the driver and quietly asked him a question. Two minutes later we stopped at the end of a long driveway, along the side of the highway. The door opened, she handed a package to the man waiting there and then took her seat again. This seemed strange to me, but appeared perfectly normal to everyone else.
A person selling chips and other goodies came aboard about an hour into the trip. Unlike the other passengers, however, the bus didn’t stop to let him off. We were still cruising and going at least 10 mph when the door opened, and he jumped off. He landed awkwardly and almost wiped out on the highway. Who knew that selling food aboard the mini-bus was dangerous business.
Getting off at La Piedra
If you have GPS, you can check after an hour and a half or so to see how close you are to La Piedra.
The guy verifying tickets and collecting money only said, “La Piedra?”, when we were nearing the rock. I raised my hand, got up and hopped off the bus when we stopped.
If you’re prone to falling asleep, don’t feel like paying attention, listening to music, have bad Spanish or whatever, let the driver know ahead of time that you’d like to be dropped off at La Piedra.
I say this because I was the only person to get off at the stop, as the others went on to Guatapé or further. Depending on the time of day, you may be the only one getting off.
After exiting I checked the time. It was 09:15. So just about two hours to arrive at the rock base.
I’d suggest getting off at La Piedra stop first. If you visit the town of Guatapé first, you’re going to run into more crowds on your way back to the rock.
As soon as you get off the bus and your feet hit the ground, people are offering a tuk-tuk ride up the road to reach the base of La Piedra. I think it’s something like COP 5,000, but I’d avoid it. Walking up only takes 5-10 minutes and is a good warm-up for climbing the stairs.
According to Google, the park opens at 05:00 and closes at 22:00. I forgot to check. The only thing I’m certain of was that it was open at 09:15 when I arrived.
The entry fee is COP 18,000 to climb up the rock and is worth every peso.
There’s something like 740 steps to the tippy-top. Of those, 625 will get you to the larger lookout spot, where you can take a breather and take out your camera. The other hundred-and-some steps will take you up to El Mirador. This was closed for maintenance when I went, but I wasn’t too disappointed, as you have almost 360-degree views from the lower one.
If you’re in decent shape and take a handful of breaks for pictures and to see the statue of the Virgin Mary, the climb to the top shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes.
Two reasons you want to arrive early is to avoid the heat and to avoid climbing the stairs behind others..
The stairs are narrow and passing would be a little awkward, but there are a number of “rest spots”, aka small places off to the side to stop along the way up, so no worries if you’re not use to a lot of physical activity.
The other reason you want to arrive early is to avoid the jam that builds up around the lookout spot. Just look at TripAdvisor pictures for proof that the prime photo-ops are often super crowded.
When I made it up, some 20 minutes after arriving, I was nearly the only one there. Besides a French family of four and another tourist, I had plenty of time for unobstructed views.
Just 15 minutes later a group of 20 or so University of Michigan students made their way in and the lookout started to fill up. Bottom line is to get there early.
You can soak in all the wonderful views with a drink, too. Even though the mango michelada sounded really good, I passed it up and had plans to eat and drink in Guatapé.
When you finally do pull yourself away from the awesome views, you head down the other set of stairs. You won’t be fighting against the wave of people who are sure to be coming up.
Pro Tip (well, not really)
Don’t be a dumb-dumb like I was and forget to take a take a selfie or have someone else snap your picture at the top. I was so caught up trying to get the perfect picture of the landscape that I forgot to take one of myself. I got back down to around the 100th stair, felt like an idiot, turned around and did the climb all over again. Because pics or it didn’t happen…amiright?
Getting to Guatapé
There’s unmarked taxis and tuk-tuks waiting at the base of the rock, and further down toward the road. I hopped in with a taxi and paid COP 10,000. I’m sure you probably could negotiate lower or see if the tuk-tuks were less, but I didn’t.
The only advice I have here is to refuse their additional COP 2,000 for “entrance/gate fees”.
I was already in the car and once we started moving the driver asked for additional 2,000. I told him that we (me and the other guy who offered the ride) agreed on 10k and I wasn’t going to pay more.
Yeah, 2,000 sounds petty, but I hate this tactic and always refuse to give more after reaching an agreement.
The driver was cool the rest of the way and didn’t have a problem with my refusal. He did try to sell me on a Pablo Escobar tour, which after listening to his pitch, I politely declined.
Alternatively, you could walk to Guatapé and reach the town by foot. The drive is less than 10 minutes so a walk might only take a half hour.
Guatapé has heaps of colorful shops and houses, perfect for all your Instagram needs. It’s fairly small and requires only a few hours to walk through the main streets.
There’s a nice plaza in the center, Parque Principal, which provides a good resting spot, along with WiFi access.
Walk through the stores. Take pictures of the all the colorful casitas. Then grab a tinto, maybe a donut and sit around the plaza. You can watch the tuk-tuk drivers interact or see the little kids of Guatapé running through the town.
Back to Medellín
The way back to Medellín is pretty much the same, only in reverse. From Guatapé, you can stroll over to the lakeside and find the ticket window to purchase your journey back.
The office is less than a five-minute walk from the main plaza, and borders the main road which passes along Guatapé, Calle 32. This time I went through a different company and paid COP 14,000. The ride back took approximately two hours and drops you off at the north terminal, next to the metro.
The trip to La Piedra is seriously one of the best day trips you can take in Colombia. The views are spectacular and the neighboring town of Guatapé is a vibrant display of Colombian life outside the big city.