Villa de Leyva is a charming old colonial city in the Boyacá region of Colombia. Calm and quiet on weekdays, it gets flooded by tourists from Bogotá on the weekends. Villa de Leyva is one of the few towns in Colombia that conserved all its colonial architecture. It is 150 km north from Bogotá and has a nice dry and warm weather, although it gets windy and cold in the evening.
Villa de Leyva was founded on June 12th 1572, by Captain Hernan Suárez de Villalobos, as instructed by the first president of the New Kingdom of Granada Sr. Andres Díaz Venero de Leyva. Initially Villa de Leyva was established close to the Indian Astronomic Observatory in a place called Zaquencipá Valley, and then twelve years later was moved to its actual location. During the colonisation, Villa de Leyva was a principal producer of oil olive and some cereals, especially wheat and barley. It was chosen as a favorite place for Spanish families and especially as place to rest for viceroys.
Villa de Leyva was home of the Captain Antonio Ricaurte, a hero in the San Mateo battle during the war of independence. The General and President of the New Republic Antonio Nariño spent his last days in this town. In 1812 there was the meeting of the first congress of the United Provinces. In 1830 the construction of the road to connect Villa de Leyva with Tunja which passed by Arcabuco began. The construction of this road started the development of this beautiful village. In 1954 Villa de Leyva was declared a National Monument.
The architecture of Villa de Leyva has a Spanish style. You can see in the construction of most of the houses in the village, their wonderful balconies, arcs and main doors (it is possible to appreciate this in the old buildings such as Casa del Primer Congreso, Casa de Don Antonio Narioño, Casa de La Real Fabrica de Licores, Claustro de San Agustín). Villa de Leyva is a place of inspiration to poets and writers. They can find peace in its stone paved streets or just contemplating the majestic main square, unique in Latin-America.
Villa de Leyva is at 2.143 meters above sea level, with a lovely temperature of 18 °C and a population of 12,000 inhabitants. Its size is 128 km². Villa de Leyva’s borders are: Arcabuco and Gachantiva in the north, Sachica and Chíquiza to the south, Chíquiza and San Pedro de Iguaque to the east and Santa Sofia, Sutamarchan and Gachantiva to the west.
The Iguaque’s Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna is an ecological reserve (6,700 hectares). It is home to a great variety of native species and is a part of the National Parks Unit. The reserve goes from 2,800 to 3,800 meters above sea level, and it is possible to see different kinds of ecosystems like the Andean high jungle, and the Stunted Jungle which reaches the majestic Moor called Paramo. Apart from these reasons, The Iguaque Sanctuary is also a very important reserve of water for the entire region. Also, it has eight glacier lakes, one of which contains the origins of the Bachue legend.
A variety of fossils have been found around Villa de Leyva. These have been deemed important because of their sizes and their very relevant contributions made to paleontological investigations. Found in 1945, The Plesiosaurus is more than 115 million years old, and is part of the National Geological Museum’s collection. It is also the finding place of The Ichthyosaurus, a marine reptile that lived between 110 and 115 million years ago, which is 8 m long and without a tail, and is very similar to another similar specimen found in Australia. These discoveries show that Villa de Leyva was immersed by the sea before the Andes Mountains were formed.
In agreement with the Muisca’s mythology, the Iguaque lake legend says that a beautiful woman called Bachue, walked out from the lake with a boy of three years of age (Iguaque). They were the origin of the most important Indian tribe in Colombia called the Muisca. Anthropologic research says that the Muisca civilization was a very clever tribe, especially for their knowledge of agriculture, pottery and astronomy. The evidence of this is possible to see in the ‘Infiernito’ (the little hell) well known as the Muisca Astronomic Observatory.
- From Tunja: minibuses leave every ten minutes. (1 hour, COP$8000, 39 km)
- From Bogotá: minibuses leave hourly in the morning and mid-afternoon. Los Libertadores bus line has luxury buses that leave twice a day (4:40AM and 2:40PM). The travel time is about 4 hours and it costs COP$24,000 (180 km).
- From Chiquinquira: Vans leave hourly. Approximately a one-hour trip.
To reach the main plaza, take a right when you exit the terminal and head on that street (Cra.9) for a couple blocks.
- To combine a trip to the Salt Cathedral on the way to Villa de Leyva, take a bus to Zipaquira and then take a taxi to the Cathedral. Then take a taxi to Plaza de la Riena for a minibus to Chiquinquira. The minibus is operated by Transportes Reina Agencia and the departure location is at Carrera 36, 8-532.
Villa de Leyva is small enough to be covered on foot.
- 1 Casa Terracota. Daily 8:30AM-5:30PM. 64-year-old architect Octavio Mendoza literally baked the house he lives in. He named the 5,400 ft² (500 m2) house "the biggest piece of pottery in the world". Casa Terracota was built exclusively by hand using clay and baked in the sun. The architecture, reminiscent of Gaudi's style, is interesting and it's fun to get "lost" inside. COP$10,000.
There are a handful of museums in town. Not all of them are impressive.
- Museo Paleontológico. Tu-Sa 9AM-noon & 2-5PM, Su and holidays 9AM-3PM. A collection of fossils. COP$2,000.
- Luis Alberto Acuña, Carrera 10 No. 12-83 (Located in a corner of the central square), ☏ . Daily 9AM-6PM. Pictures and sculptures collected by this painter. Entrance : COP$4000.
- Prehistorical garden, ☏ . Daily 9AM-6PM.
- Museo del Carmen, Plazuela del Carmen. Sa Su and holidays 10AM-1PM & 2-5PM. Impressive collection of religious art.
- Antonio Ricaurte, Calle 15 No. 8-17, ☏ . W-F 9AM-noon & 2-5PM, Sa Su and holidays 9AM-noon & 2-6PM. Military museum in the former house of Antonio Ricaurte
- Casa Museo Antonio Nariño, Carrera 9 No. 10-39, ☏ . Th-Tu 9AM-noon & 2-4PM. Last house of this independence hero. Displays some of his possessions. Adult COP$1,000, student COP$700, child COP$500.
- Climb up to the mirador named "Sagrado Corazón". It's east of the town on the hillside. To find the path, first head towards the mountain on Calle 12 until you reach the white gateway. Go around it and cross the football pitch. Start climbing through the forest and follow the white arrows. The climb to the top is steep with some portions on rocks and lasts around one hour.
- Taxis offer trips to some of the surrounding attractions.
- Tourism agencies offer day trips to the surrounding attractions, bike and horses rentals as well as extreme sports activities (canyoning, paragliding, speleology, rappeling). Most are on Carrera 9 between the terminal and the main plaza:
- Supermarkets SCOOMEXAOC and Don Manuel are located on Cra 9 between Calle 9 and 10.
Gallina criolla is a typical local dish.
- Panaderia Francesa, Calle 10 No 9-41. Th-M. Tasty French bread and postres.
- Portales, Northwest Corner of the Plaza. Italian food with Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Tartas y Tortas de la Villa, Cr 10 #11-39 (two blocks from the main plaza, walking along the street opposite to the church). Th-Tu. Offers coffee and desserts.
- Some almuerzo place, Calle 10, 9-41 (3 blocks from the Plaza Mayor). daily. Daily set meals for lunch and dinner (soup, main dish and juice), with choice of chicken and meat. They supposedly do breakfasts too. COP$7000.
- La Galleta, Carrera 9, between calle 12 & 13 (one block from the main square). 11AM-8PM. They have good tea and coffee and great cakes.
Villa de Leyva has potable tap water, feel free to drink it!
- Café de la Barra, Plaza Mayor, Cra 9 No. 12- 52, ☏ . All of their coffee is 100% Colombian and prepared with a smile; the owners are a charming Colombian couple who love to chat with their customers. The location is ideal (right on the main plaza next to the bell tower), so you can sit inside the cute little coffee shop and watch people pass by on the plaza, or you can sit out back on their patio and enjoy a great view of the bell tower. They also serve tasty desserts and little sandwiches.
Prices rise on weekends and holidays.
- Dino's restaurant & pizzeria, Plaza Mayor (Next to the Parish church), ☏ . Rents out double rooms for COP$15,000 per person.
- Hospederia La Villa, Calle 12 No 10-11 (SW corner of the Plaza Mayor), ☏ . Great location at a cheap price. No Internet. Single without bath COP$20,000, with bath COP$30,000. Double with shower COP$30,000.
- Duruelo Hotel (Straight up from Plaza Mayor, on hillside overlooking town), ☏ . Nice Spanish Colonial Hotel with many amenities. The rooms are cascading up the hillside surrounded by beautiful flowers and landscaping. The upper terraces require climbing many stairs. 4 pools, spa, gymnasium, jacuzzi, restaurants with room service and wireless internet. Has many local tours available. Horseback riding, Mountain bikes, Mini golf and more. About US$110 per double room/night (weekend in March '06).
- Zona de camping (corner of Calle 10 and Carrera 10), ☏ . Grass field surrounded by walls. Showers and toilets on site. COP$7,000 per person.
- Hostal Renacer (colombian highlands). It is a 15-min walk outside of the city and offers therefore a nice and silent atmosphere. free wifi and kitchen, bike for rent, dorms start from COP$15,000, privates available.
- Hostal Rana, Calle 10a No. 10 - 31, (two blocks from the plaza, down K10), ☏ . Dorms, spacious and clean rooms with and without ensuite. There's a good common area, wifi and you can use the outdoor kitchen to cook. from COP$30,000.
- [dead link] El Solar Hostel, Carrera 6 No. 14 - 06 (southeast area of town), ☏ . Very simple no-frills hostel. The place has a large yard and is more like camping. It has private rooms and dorms. Martha the host makes the place a warm and inviting. No hot water, and outhouse bathrooms and kitchen. A spacious lawn that some choose to camp on. Free Wifi near office.
- 1 [dead link] Hostal Sinduly, cra 11 No 11-77 (One block down from the main square), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. An easy going place with relaxed atmosphere. Wifi, kitchen and garden. COP$15,000.
- Casa de Anny, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Vacation villas for rent, surrounded by mountains of green and brown colors, and a collection of orchids and bromeliads.
- Mirari Glamping, Carrera 4 # 12-51 (Three blocks away from Plaza Principal. Behind the town's market square and in front of Duruelo Hotel), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. A cozy place with open air spaces to sit by a campfire and enjoy a panoramic view of the town. Lodging at tents with double rooms and dorms, each with bathroom. Hot water, kitchen, and a common area with cable TV and WiFi. Check at instagram.com/mirariglamping/ COP$30,000 (USD$9.80) a night and on..
- Hotel Hacienda Santa Cecilia (Santa Cecilia Sáchica), km 0.2 Sachica- Villa de Leyva (take the bus from the villa de leyva terminal with direction to Sachica, it takes about 8 minutes to get to the hotel, ask the driver), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: noon. This hotel has a lot of greenspaces and owners take really good care of the place; the room has breakfast included, and the price is pretty decent considering it is very touristy area. COP$75,000.
Around Villa de Leyva are several attraction which can be visited as a day trip :
- El Fósil (about 5.5 km on the road to Santa Sofía). Daily 7AM-6PM. Nearly complete fossil of a chronosaur. Adult COP$8000, child COP$4000.
- Granja de avestruces (on the road to Santa Sofia, turn left 15 m before El Fosíl). Ostrich farm.
- El Infernito (about 7.5 km down the road to Santa Sofía). A Muisca Indian astronomy observatory and a collection giant phallus statues. COP$8,000.
- Pinturas & petroglifos (around 10 km down the road to Santa Sofía -- the site is hard to find on your own). Rock paintings and petroglyphs.
- Convento Santo Ecco Homo (about 16 km down the road to Santa Sofía). Daily 9AM-6PM. Monastery founded in 1620 now open to the public. COP$3,000.
- Raquira. Village famous for its pottery. With the souvenir shops it's a bit artificial. Bus connections are infrequent and schedules tend to change if there aren't enough people.
- La Candelaria desert. About 7 km east of Raquira.
- Santuario de flora y fauna Iguaque. Daily 8AM to 6PM. Natural sanctuary which is home to Laguna Iguaque and several other lagunas at an altitude of 3600 m. Buses drop you off about 3 km from the entrance. From there to Laguna Iguaque and back takes about 7 hours. At the entrance there is a hotel, camping area and restaurant. Bring warm clothes. Foreigners COP$23,000, Colombians COP$8,000, Students and kids COP$4,000.
- La Periquera (15 km from town, on the way to Arcabuco). A camping site known for its 7 waterfalls. The walking track does a loop, first going down along the successive waterfalls and then coming back up along the mountain edge. Rappel down the waterfalls possible. COP$8,000.
- Pozo Azules (4 km from town). 3 blue-coloured lakes. COP$8,000.