11 Things You MUST Know Before Going Up Guatapé Rock (El Peñól de Guatapé)

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It’s advertized as the best day trip from Medellin, but what exactly is the Guatape Rock and why would you want to go there? It’s actually pretty impressive, and we’re here to show you exactly what you need to now before you climb the big Guatape Rock.

Known in English as the Guatapé Rock, this monolithic marvel is Mother Nature’s StairMaster—a grueling 740-step climb that rewards you with some of the best views in all of COlombia.  It’s hands down the most popular tourist definition in Guatape and one that you absolutely shouldn’t miss.  

During our 2 month stay in Colombia, a trip to Guatape was high on our list.  Unlike most tourist destinations, it exceeded our expectations.  We prefer to travel a little off the beaten path, avoiding crowds and long lines, but despite what everyone told us, we didn’t encounter much of either during our trip to Guatape.  It was perfect for both families and solo travelers alike.  

Why Climb Up Guatape Rock?  

While it’s hard to tell why everyone is climbing up Guatape Rock from the bottom, the real reason is the views at the top.  They are absolutely STUNNING!  Guatape Lake surrounds the rock in all directions and it’s absolutely stunning.  The fingerlike reaches of the lake, contrasted with the steep green mountains make this one of the most beautiful things to see in Colombia.  If you like stunning views, that will literally make your jaw drop, this is the Guatape activity for you!

Is the Guatape Rock the Best Thing To Do in Guatape?

Absolutely NOT!  While we really enjoyed hiking El Penol de Guatape, it was not the highlight of our Guatape trip.  In fact, there were several things that we liked better than hiking the Guatape Rock.  While going up El Penol is the most popular thing to do in Guatape, it’s really not the best thing to do in Guatape.  Read all about the best things to do in Guatape Colombia, to see some of the things that we liked better than hiking El Penol.

Cost for El Penol de Guatape Rock Hike

The fee to climb El Peñón is about as steep as the staircase itself (depending on your fitness level). During our visit in 2023, the cost to hike Guatape Rock was $20,000 pesos per person (about $4.50 USD).  Considering that you can buy a delicious meal in town for that same amount, this is a fairly high price. 

In fact, the prices overall were more expensive at Guatape Rock than in town.  In town, we bought 12 empanadas for $15.000 COP, but at El Penon, we paid $4.000 pesos for each empanada (a little less than $1 USD each).  The drinks were about twice what we paid in Guatape as well.  While none of these prices are actually high, compared to a lot of prices in Colombia, things are just more expensive at this Colombian Tourist destination.   

If you arrive in your own car, you also have to pay by the hour for your parking.  Parking costs $7.000 COP per hour.  

Parking at El Penol de Guatape

There is a large parking lot at the base of the Guatape Rock, and several overflow parking lots just a little bit down the mountain.  If you want to get a good parking spot, plan on getting there early, or going later in the afternoon.  

What are the Hours of El Penol Rock in Guatape?

The hours of El Penol Rock in Guatape are from 8am – 6pm every day.  If you had hopes of seeing sunrise or sunset from the top, you’ll be disappointed since you can’t see either with the shorter opening hours.  

How Long Should I Spend at The Big Guatape Rock?

Most people spend between 1.5-3 hours at the Guatape Rock.  Shockingly, most of them return back to Medellin right after their visit.  While you only need a couple of hours to visit the Guatape Rock, you need at least a full day in Guatape at a minimum (It’s just 2 miles down the road), and the trip is even better if you can stay the night.  While you’re in Guatape there are so many amazing things to do, and it quickly rose high up on our best places to visit in Colombia list. 

Safety For Climbing La Piedra Del Penol 

Safety is paramount when attempting this rocky climb. While climbing to the top of a massively tall rock seems dangerous and risky, it’s actually incredibly safe.  There is a railing all the way up, and even my toddler nephew safely walked up a lot of it.  The biggest key to being safe while climbing La Piedra del Penol is to wear good shoes.  Wear sturdy shoes, folks. Not flip-flops, not heels, and definitely no slide-on shoes.  

The steps up the Guatape Rock are steep and if you’re climbing in the rain, you can plan for them to be slick and harder to climb.  There’s really only one way up, and one way down, so just stick to the proper staircase and you’ll be fine.  

Beating The Crowds at Guatape Rock

The crowds at the big Guatape Rock are VERY REAL and can get VERY BIG!  We arrived as soon as they opened at 8 am.  There were 3 other cars in the parking lot when we arrived. By the time we got back to the bottom, there were 6 tour buses, and the giant parking lot was half full.  In just over an hour’s time. 

The biggest problem with this is that everyone goes up and down the same staircase.  So if you get stuck behind someone slow, everyone on the 700 stairs is stuck behind them since it’s not wide enough to comfortably pass in most places.  The same goes for the way down.  Unless you really want a super slow walk up and down, get there as soon as it opens.  

The other time to beat the crowds at Guatape Rock?  Later in the day!  Head out to hike the Guatape rock after 4pm and the crowds are smaller (though never as small as the morning).  

How Difficult is Climbing La Piedra Del Penol?

The biggest thing that everyone wants to know is how difficult is the climb up Guatape Rock.  Well, for starters, it’s 740 steps. If you’re out of shape. It’s going to be hard for you.  There are a few corners where you can pull off to the side, take a break, and let faster climbers pass you.  

If you’re in good shape, you won’t have a problem.  Our family of 7, did it in about 10-15 minutes, and that was on the faster side of things.  This was with kids ages 6, 9, 10, 13, and 16.  None of us needed a break, we just tried to steadily climb and it was fine.  If you’re really struggling, there are shops at the top where you can get water, sports drinks, and plenty of seating to take a break.  

What is the Name Of the Big Guatape Rock?

The giant rock in Guatape is known by several different names, which can actually be super confusing to people.  In fact, I’ve referred to it by several different names just in this article. Locally, in Guatape, you’ll just hear people referring to it as “The Rock ”.  Here are some of the other names of the Guatape Rock:
The Stone of El Penol
La Piedra
El Penol
La Piedra de El Penol.

While all of the different names can be confusing, they really all refer to the same thing.The town of El Penol which is near Guatape has historically claimed the rock for its own, hence all the different names for the same place.

guatape rock

Getting to Guatape Rock from Medellin

Nearly every traveler coming to Guatape will be coming from the nearby town of Medellin.  Well, it’s nearby as the crow flies, but by road, the journey will take about 2 hours.  It’s the most popular Medellin Day trip, but if you can make it work, it’s worth spending a couple of nights in Guatape.  

Getting to Guatape Rock by Bus from Medellin

Getting to Guatapé Rock (El Peñón de Guatapé) from Medellín by bus is fairly straightforward. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Get to the North Bus Terminal in Medellín: Depending on where you’re staying in Medellín, you may need to take a taxi or a metro to get to the North Bus Terminal (Terminal Norte). If you’re taking the metro, the closest station is Caribe, which is directly connected to the bus terminal.
  2. Find the correct bus: Look for buses heading to Guatapé. The ticket counters you’ll need are either “Sotrasanvicente” or “Transoriente”. Just ask anyone for “Guatapé” and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
  3. Buy your ticket: Purchase your bus ticket to Guatapé at the counter. As of my last knowledge cutoff in 2021, the ticket costs about 15,000 Colombian Pesos, but this may have changed so please check for up-to-date information. The bus ride typically takes about 2 hours, give or take, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
  4. Get off at El Peñón de Guatapé: You’ll want to let the driver know that you want to stop at the rock, “la piedra,” because it’s actually a few kilometers before the town of Guatapé itself. If you’re uncertain, you can also ask the bus driver or any locals – they’re typically very helpful!
  5. Walk to the Rock: After the bus drops you off, you’ll have to walk a bit (about 10 minutes) to get to the base of the Rock.

Remember, the return journey is pretty much the same, except in reverse. Catch the bus back to Medellín from the same spot where you were dropped off. It’s also advisable to check the last bus timings as they might change depending on the day of the week or season.

guatape rock

How Was the Big Guatape Rock Formed?

El Peñón de Guatapé is considered an inselberg, or an “island mountain.” Inselbergs are prominent, isolated residual knobs or hills that often rise abruptly from more gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plains. In simpler terms, they are remnants of the slowly eroded old mountain ranges. Over millions of years, the less resistant rock that once surrounded this area was worn away by weathering and erosion, leaving the more durable rock behind.

guatape rock

It is a huge monolith in Colombia that is composed primarily of quartz, feldspar, and mica, with a few different minerals as well.

As for the origin of the Guatapé Rock, one theory suggests it might have been formed from molten magma that solidified before reaching the earth’s surface. The surrounding softer rock was eroded over time, and the more resistant monolith remained. However, the exact process of its formation is still a topic of ongoing geological research.

What can I see from the top of Guatapé Rock?

From the top of Guatapé Rock, you’ll have a breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. This includes the beautiful, man-made Peñol-Guatapé reservoir, a vast body of water dotted with islands and surrounded by hills. It’s one of the most iconic views in Colombia.

Are there facilities at Guatapé Rock?

Yes, there are facilities at Guatapé Rock, including restrooms, vendors selling food and drink, and a souvenir shop. At the top of the rock, there is a viewing platform with a small shop where you can buy refreshments. Remember to bring enough water for the climb, though you can buy bottles at both the top and the bottom if you need more.  NOTE:  The restrooms at the shops at the bottom of Guatape Rock will all have a charge, except for the bathroom right next to the ticket booth, and the restroom at the top of Guatape rock – those are free.

Can I take food up Guatape Rock?

No food is allowed up Guatape Rock (unless you sneak it up).  Drinks in plastic bottles are allowed, but metal and glass water bottles are prohibited.  If you want to eat something, eat at the bottom, at the small shops at the top, or fore even better food, plan to go to a restaurant in Guatape to eat.  

Do I need any special equipment to climb Guatapé Rock?

No special equipment is needed to climb Guatapé Rock. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, plenty of water, sun protection like sunscreen and a hat, and possibly a light jacket, as it can be a bit cooler at the top. It’s also a good idea to bring a camera to capture the stunning views.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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