Villa de Leyva is one of Colombia's most
beautiful and charming small colonial towns. Villa de Leyva's
cobblestoned plaza is the largest in all of Colombia (some say the
Americas), and the small town looks like it's straight out of a Clint
Eastwood film. Villa de Leyva is a very special place to amble about
the cobbled streets or shop in many of the interesting Colombian
artesian shops. What is remarkable abvout this sleepy town is the
complete lack of any modern buildings. Villa de Leyva can get very busy
during the weekends and festivals, so our advice would be to visit
mid-week for a more tranquil travel experience.
Elsewhere in Boyaca Department, there's
various under-visited small colonial towns and villages - see latter
sections for details.
Tours from Villa de
A couple of days is enough time to visit
Villa de Leiva and it's surrounding travel attractions, but one could
easily spend longer. "El Fosil", a huge preserved
7 metre fossil of a marine dinosaur and the Dominican
Convent of Ecce Homo are two highlights. An ostrich farm is
found a few kilometres outside of Villa de Leyva - on the weekends the
restaurant there serves ostrich meat. There are also ancient monoliths
at the archaeological site of "El infiernito", an
ancient observatory. Local taxi drivers can take you on tours to these
destinations - bargain hard (consider that to charter a taxi in Bogota
costs 15,000 pesos per hour).
There's excellent trekking and horseback
riding possibilities in the paramo of Colombia's Iguaque National Park
- consider visiting the impressive Periquera waterfalls and the various
small mountain lakes found in this park. There are a variety of
hikes to a variety of lakes possible, the shortest being a 3 hour trek
to Laguna de Iguaque, which is the birthplace of humankind according to
the local indigenous Muisca culture. There's a visitors centre with
simple accommodation (or the choice of camping) in this National Park -
best to book in advance at the National Parks Office in Bogota. It
rains a lot (drier months are apparently January, February, July and
August) and it can get pretty cold at
night so come prepared. To visit from Villa de Elyva without your
own transport would involve taking a bus and walking 3km.
Not far from Villa de Leyva, the town of Raquira
is an excellent place to buy some fine Colombian pottery (or other
Colombian crafts). A few kilometres beyond Raquira is the tiny village
of La Candelaria, where one can visit the beautiful Monasterio
de la Candelaria, which was founded in 1597 by Augustine
monks (I've heard there's a couple of suites with jacuzzis at this old
monastery, which is an amazing place in which to soak up the
tranquility). Those with their own transportation might also consider
stopping off for the famous chorizos known as Longaniza
at the crossroads at Sutamarchan, which is 30km
West of Villa de Leyva.
Those travelling overland onwards to/from
Bogota should definately take time out to visit the amazing salt
cathedral of Zipaquira, a huge cathedral carved
into a salt mine. This marvel is a real travel highlight of Colombia -
try to avoid the busy weekends though.
August's Kite festival (Fiesta de
las Cometas) sees expert kite flyers from all over the world
gather in the main plaza of Villa de Leyva for a quite unique
spectacle, and there is also a well known firework festival in early
Villa de Leyva Hotels
Guesthouse - (website in Spanish) is a lovely hostel a little
outside of town, that's the best option for backpackers and budget
travellers. (Alternatively for backpackers, there's a couple of
campsites, both in and a little outside of town).
Plaza Mayor - right on the main
plaza is the well known colonial hotel. The rooftop restaurant has
lovely views of the plaza.
Plazuela de San Agustin - a boutique style colonial hotel
full of antique furnishings. There's 20 or so rooms surrounding a
lovely, peaceful courtyard. I believe that this is the most expensive
hotel in Villa de Leiva.
Olivo - a cozy boutique hotel with more modern, comfortable
- a hotel and spa that suggests you'll have a "Mediterranean
experience" if you stay. There's a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna etc.
Del Molino la Mesopotamia
is an extremely beautiful very old building (built in 1568) that used
to be a monastery but is now a hotel. The hotel oozes charm and
character (I loved it), but bear in mind this is a very, very, very old
building, and it's not to everyone's taste. Tourists can look around
this ancient building, and if you pay a little you can use the lovely
spring-fed natural bathing pool. Well worth a visit.
There's many many other hotels in Villa de
Leyva - the peaceful town is full of them. Turn up mid week without a
reservation and it's easy to look round a few (bargain hard!) Camping
is also possible.
Paipa & Other
Towns in Boyaca
Paipa is nearby
to Villa de Leiva, and many Colombia tour operators offer an overnight
in a spa hotel in conjunction with a package to Villa de Leiva. There's
also some good trekking options near Paipa. A highly rated is the Hacienda del Salitre, which is
also a National monument dating from the 18th century. Note
- beware cheap imitating spa hotels in Paipa - when I visited (as a
package including Villa de Leiva) we stayed in a place whose name I've
rapidly forgotten as it felt like a hospital and was a complete waste
The peaceful colonial town of Iza
is nearby and has more hot springs as well as one of Colombia's most
beautiful small town centre parks (Parque Principal). Beyong Iza the
road rises into the mountains, and by the time one has arrived in the
indigenous village of Tota, the scenery is one of paramo. The pretty
lake Lago de Tota, with it's white sand
beaches, is nearby - a great spot for camping (there's a restaurant
nearby too) and there are also some scenic 8km nearby hikes through
tropical forest and/or paramo.
About 10km from the industrial city of
Sogamos is the beautiful colonial village of Mongui.
This village claims to be the most beautiful in Boyaca department - and
considering the lovely whitewashed buildings and beautiful plaza, it's
easy to see where this claim to fame comes from. There's various
beautiful walks with stunning views nearby the village.
There are various places to stay in each of
Iza, Tota and Mongui - one of the best places to base yourself to
explore this area is at Finca
San Pedro, which is a short drive outside of Sogamoso.
Between Villa de Leiva and Paipa lies the
town of Tunja. Most travellers simply
pass through Tunja without stopping, however the student town
(apparently 20% of residents are students) does have some lovely
colonial architecture and many beautiful churches. If you're a real fan
of colonial era churches or you want to soak up the student vibe do
stop off - otherwise best to just head onwards. The Puente de Boyaca is
closeby - this is one of Colombia's most important battlefields, with
various monuments to Simon Bolivar erected since. As for
hotels in Tunja, the choice is quite limted, consider staying at Hotel
Casa Real. From Tunja it's a scenic drive to the town of Samaca,
which is famous for it's traditional delicacy cheese bread.