Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


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Villa de Leyva & Boyaca Department


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 Leyva

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 December.

Villa de Leyva Hotels

Renacer 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.

Hotel 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.

Bahia Olivo - a cozy boutique hotel with more modern, comfortable rooms.

Hotel Getsemani - 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 of money/time.

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.

Tunja

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.


Colonial Villa de Leyva:
Villa de Leiva plaza
Villa de Leyva has the largest plaza in Colombia.

Villa de Leiva, Colombia
Villa de Leiva

Villa de Leyva, Colombia
Laid back and peaceful.


Villa de Leyva Video

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