Villa de Leyva: a City Frozen in Time
One of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia, Villa de Leyva is a city frozen in time. Declared a National Monument in 1954, the photogenic village has been preserved in its entirety with cobblestone roads and whitewashed buildings. We were so lucky to have traveled to Villa for two of our best friends' weddings. Charming and quaint are the first two adjectives that come to mind when describing this colonial town. The town is surrounded by hills and mountains and is a stunning backdrop to everything. There is no way that the photos will do this place justice.
WHAT TO DO
Wander the Streets
The main reason people flock to Villa de Leyva on the weekends is simply to relax and enjoy the peaceful setting of this quaint town. That’s why I’m listing wandering the streets as a must do while in this village. The architecture is so well preserved and is meant to be admired. I couldn't resist taking photos of all the beautiful balconies wrapped in greenery and flowers.
Plaza Mayor is the most popular destination in Villa de Leyva and is the reason most people flock to this little colonial town. Plaza Mayor is a 14,000 square meters and it's the largest square in Colombia and believed to be the largest entirely cobbled square in South America.
As mentioned, the plaza itself is massive and is home to Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, the dominating church that most visitors gather around. In the morning the plaza is nearly empty, but by 4 pm, people start flooding the area.
Little Shops Everywhere
Villa de Leyva is most certainly a shopping destination, with little shops lining almost every quaint street throughout the village. Although Colombian style ponchos and sweaters are the most popular items to buy here, there all types of handicrafts like pottery, handmade stationery and postcards, shoes, and little souvenirs to bring home. We came across a local and home-made chocolate store we couldn’t resist. I’d recommend taking a stroll past all of the artisan shops in early in the morning to enjoy the town's quietness and fresh air.
Due to lack of time, we didn't get to experience all the activities in Villa De Leyva, but as usual, I did my research and this is what I found!
TOUR THE TOWN'S MUSEUMS
Villa de Leyva has an important place in Colombian history and was home to several important figures associated with Colombian Independence. Colombian Independence hero Antonio Narino was born there and his childhood home now houses an interesting museum; Similarly, Antonio Ricaurte – who famously blew up himself and a group of Spanish soldiers to protect an important munitions store – died here and there’s a lovely museum in his honor. The Museo del Carmen is also one of Colombia’s best museums of religious art.
TOUR A VINYARD
The Ain Karim winery – formally known as Marques de Villa de Leyva – is famous for producing some of Colombia’s award-winning wine, in a country not exactly famous for its fine wines! Ain Karim, however, has been internationally recognized for the quality of its red, white and rose wines, and offers a walking tour of their vineyard, followed by a tasting. It’s a beautiful spot and a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
VISIT THE "INFIERNITO" ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE
Another spiritual Muisca site, El Infiernito is an archaeological site located in the rolling hills outside Villa de Leyva. However, it’s not like any old archaeological site: El Infiernito was apparently a Muisca solar observatory, and is also the home of many giant statues representing fertility (they’re giant rock penis statues basically!).
VISIT POZOS AZULES
Just five minutes from Villa de Leyva are the Pozos Azules, a series of artificial pools which, due to the effects of natural salts and minerals in the soil around them, have taken on a remarkable blue color, such that they almost seem like fluorescent pools in certain light.
Photo credit to Instagram accounts, @lorenitaev, rene.r.contreras, and juanbbillep
THE FOSSIL MUSEUM
The countryside around Villa de Leyva is famous for its palaeontological discoveries, and the best place to see some of these ancient bones up close is the Fossil Museum. This interesting museum is home to many skeletons, bones, and fossils, but its pride and joy is the giant skeleton of a Kronosaurus (a sort of giant crocodile) – it was discovered in the same spot it lies today, and the museum was built around the remarkably well-preserved bones.
VISIT THE LAGUNA DE IGUAQUE
The Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary lies in the mountains above Villa de Leyva and is the home of the Sacred Lagoon of Iguaque which, according to the Muisca Indigenous people who once lived in the region, is the cradle of all humanity. The mother of the Muisca people, Bachué, emerged from the lagoon, and a visit is supposed to purify the spirit.
WHERE TO STAY
Something I quickly realized while being in Villa de Leyva is that there are many different hotels and hostels to stay all throughout the town. When there aren't any major events or festivals happening in town, Villa de Leyva is a tranquil place to stay with options at every price point.
We stayed at Casa Cantabria right off the main Plaza. The hotel is an old house that has been renovated as a hotel, offering cozy rooms with Wifi, flat screen TVs, private bathroom, and a beautiful terrace with excellent views of the town. The location is perfect to go walk the beautiful cobbled-streets and visit the craft shops, cafes, and restaurants. At the end of the day, you can watch the sunset over the roofs of the town.
HOW TO GET HERE
Get the Reina or Valle De Tenza non-stop bus straight to Villa de Leyva: The bus ride is about three hours, but with traffic, it could very well be more, and costs 25,000 COP ($8.50 USD). The only problem with this option is that the buses are sporadic and are often very spread out. So if you miss one, you are likely to wait for at least two hours for the next one. This, of course, would be the easiest/most efficient option if the times work for you, but if not, resort to option number two below.
Get the Libertadores bus to Tunja: The bus ride takes 2 hours and costs 20,000 COP ($6.50 USD). When you arrive in Tunja, go up the stairs inside the terminal and catch a bus to Villa de Leyva from the second level of buses. This bus costs 7,000 COP ($2.50 USD) and you can buy it right on the bus. Ask someone if you’re confused, but it’s hard to miss the bus drivers yelling Villa De Leyva over and over again until they fill up their bus.
Special thanks to WanderLulu for these tips
Find out what makes this high-altitude desert so magical and how you can experience this magic for yourself. Have you been to Villa de Leyva, what's your favorite spot?