Getaway to Guatapé... with detours to the authentic Colombia

travel date: 05/2023  –  published: 12/04/2024


A must-see... augmented

Without a doubt, Guatapé and the Piedra del Peñol are an unmissable day trip from Medellin, where you can enjoy the calm of tropical nature, the stunning scenery and the traditional architecture of these wonders.

Ok but... what if we added a second day to this getaway? All it takes is a few detours, to a few small towns ignored by mass tourism, in order to discover the authentic, smiling Colombia, a blend of calm and a touch of craziness, on these high plateaus of the Antioquia region.

Another strong argument: the last night is in Rionegro, i.e. close to Medellin airport; perfect for a stress-free end of the stay in the region, with a flight the next day.

How's that for a concept?



  • The base is to go to La Piedra del Peñol and Guatapé, so we're on very solid ground 🙂
  • The towns we're aiming for (Rionegro, La Ceja, Marinilla) aren't touristy, so they're authentic. And cute. And quiet. This adds an "authentic" dimension to the trip, almost for the same duration, and without having to add long distances: it's conveniently coupled with a visit to the must-see Guatapé and La Piedra, because it's "on the road".
  • We're discovering a region that differs "for the better" from Medellin, with its serenity, its cleanliness (no more garbage anywhere), and with its omnipresent and breathtaking nature.
  • It costs "next to nothing", travel is not expensive at all, everything is done by bus or colectivo, and the hotels (of very good quality) are modestly priced.
  • It's "rootsy " (as there are several buses and colectivos to be taken), but not too much so: the roads are in very decent condition (for mountains in a tropical region), transport works very well, people are driving... a bit better than in Medellin.
  • If you plan this excursion for the end of your stay in Medellin, you'll find yourself in the immediate vicinity of Medellin airport the morning after the end of the escapade; so it's all good for a smooth continuation of the trip.

Beware though

  • Many changes of bus or colectivo are necessary, which is the opposite of letting yourself go. But that's precisely what makes it possible to enjoy the "stopover" towns on the way back. So you have to like, and want, this kind of adventure.
  • You need to talk to people (the bus driver, for example). Here again, this is rather a "strong point", unless you don't speak Spanish at all; then, either you need to be comfortable with google translate (and also have an app that works offline, if no network), or it's a no-go.
  • You need to be somewhat comfortable with google maps, or have some Spanish language basics for requesting explanations. For example, in order to understand where you are and how to get to another bus station located a few blocks from here.

The tour

  • day 1 : Medellin → La Ceja
  • day 2 : La Ceja → Rionegro → Piedra del Peñol → Guatapé → Maranilla → Rionegro
  • next day : back to Medellin, or go to the airport.

Below is the general map, followed by the detailed step-by-step instructions (with cross-references to the steps indicated on the map: -A-, -B- etc.)

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Day 1: From Medellin to La Ceja

From Medellin -A- (south bus terminal, TransUnidos company), go to La Ceja -B-.

Note that although La Ceja is located on the same plateau as the airport, you get there by a different road. The road is fine, the trip takes a good hour.

If you arrive early in La Ceja, you can book an excursion to Salto del Buey, a superb waterfall literally in the middle of the jungle. It's close to La Ceja as the crow flies, but much less so in a 4x4 on the side of vertiginous green cliffs.

End of the day, evening and night in this charming little town, peaceful and tourist-free. Charming from every point of view: its magnificent preserved colonial central square, whose recently refreshed green park invites contemplation; the friendliness of the people; there are "all amenities" (a typical market, but also modern supermarkets, that synthesis you find here in Colombia). All the more peaceful as La Ceja is anything but a crossroads: situated "at the southern end" of the Rionegro plateau, the town is almost a terminus, beyond which lie the mountains and the rainforest.
The hotel Aures is really very good, at 20€ per night.

La Ceja
La Ceja
La Piedra with its stairs entrenched within the rock crack
La Piedra with its stairs entrenched within the rock crack

Day 2: Off to La Piedra, then Guatapé, then back via Marinilla, and finally Rionegro.

  • Leave early to make the most of it: 7 a.m. is good.
  • Bus to Rionegro -C- (TransUnidos again) - 30 minutes, approx 5.000 pesos = 1€.
  • In Rionegro, drop off your luggage at a hotel - for example, the Valle de San Nicolas, very very good for 35€ a night (and located next to the bus terminal where you've just arrived 👍).
  • Take a colectivo or taxi to Marinilla (it's not far, about ten minutes). The "Sotramar" colectivo starts here. Be sure to tell the driver that you're going to Guatapé, so he has to stop at one of the bus stops on the Medellin-Bogotá expressway (it's in the direction of Bogotá), before reaching Marinilla. In theory, the official stop for the "next step" is "punto de Belen", but there are others. I was here -D- :
  • Track a minibus marked "El Peñol" or "Guatapé" (many are red), hail it to stop, and pick it up.
    • The bus soon leaves the expressway, and it's off for a short hour's drive through the mountains.
    • If the terminus is El Penõl, then yet another hop is needed to reach La Piedra! At the terminal, take a pickup converted into a colectivo, and wait a few minutes at most before setting off again.
  • And here is La Piedra! -E-
lake El Peñol, from the summit of La Piedra
lake El Peñol, from the summit of La Piedra

Lots of steps (up and down) and photos later, direction Guatapé -F-.

  • It's not far; this can be done either with luck by hailing a pick-up/collectivo coming from El Peñol, like you a little before. Or, by taking a three-wheeler colectivo, there are plenty of them there and just waiting for that.

The way back: it's easier!
Because now we know; because there's no stop at La Piedra or El Peñol; and no stop along the expressway either.

  • In Guatapé: at the bus terminal, there's only one company, and all the routes lead to Medellin, and therefore also (along the way) to Marinilla.
  • The return trip is now "downhill", one hour or so.
  • Get off the bus at Marinilla -G-, right before the bus enters the expressway to Medellin! I think I got off here:

Marinilla in the late afternoon: veeery nice.
Enjoy its central square and its countless café terraces (with zero tourists, as you'd expect).

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Finally, return to Rionegro.

Rionegro -H- late afternoon and evening: veeery nice.

Late afternoon, evening and night in Rionegro.

Rionegro (main square, with music and dance session)
Rionegro (main square, with music and dance session)

Et voilà !

The next day: you can return to Medellin.
Or you can go to the nearby international airport -I- to continue your journey elsewhere.
From Rionegro to the airport is by minibus; you can take it on the road (but it seems the bus stops are not marked 😀), for example here:
The bus is white and blue, with "aeropuerto" written in front.
I don't know its frequency, but it seems reliable: I ask a driver of another bus if I'm in the right place, answer yes, it will be there in 3 minutes, and indeed, 3 minutes later, it was there.

All photos by us (©

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