Welcome to 9 highlights of Villa de Leyva! We spent a few days in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva in Boyaca at the beginning of last year. Surrounded by mountains and rural countryside, the town has a laidback atmosphere and a quaint charm. After Bogota, the change of pace was welcome, and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the streets and surrounding countryside of the area. Villa de Leyva is a popular weekend retreat for visitors from Bogota as it is only three to four hours driving time from the city. Consequently, it gets pretty busy at weekends.
At the town’s heart is Plaza Mayor, the largest plaza in South America. The streets surrounding the plaza brim with gift shops, boutiques and restaurants. With its cobbled streets and pretty white-washed buildings, Villa de Leyva is a lovely place to just hang out and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. However, there are some interesting things to do in and around the town as well. Therefore, without further ado, here are 9 highlights of Villa de Leyva!
1) Sample some Wine at a Vineyard
Colombia isn’t known for its wine and there are no more than a handful of vineyards in the country. One of the most renowned, Vinedo Ain Karim, happens to be located a few miles from Villa de Leyva. There are several options for wine tours and they start at around $8.00 for the most basic, which includes two samples at the conclusion of the tour. The top of the range tour includes a welcome wine cocktail, keepsake glass and a platter of gourmet cheeses, meat, dried fruits and chocolate. All tours include a walk through the vineyard and a visit to the cellar, where a video explains all about wine-making techniques.
2) Explore the Extraordinary World of Casa Terracotta
If you have an appreciation for offbeat attractions, you will love the Terracotta House. Located a twenty-minute walk outside town, this extraordinary house was created by Colombian architect, Octavio Mendoza. Completely constructed from terracotta, the house was baked under the sun and is a fully functioning building. There are nooks and crannies galore to explore and many unique features with a different perspective from each angle. Surrounding the house are an array of sculptures. For us, it was a definite highlight of our time in Villa de Leyva.
3) Take a Trip to a Monastery in the Mountains
For those who have an interest in religious art and history, it is worth a visit to this Dominican monastery. Santa Ecco Homo is a scenic drive from town and is located in a beautiful setting up in the mountains. Founded in 1620, the monastery has a colonnaded courtyard with well-maintained gardens. As you enter the building, there is a floor paved with fossils. Additionally, the small church has a number of artefacts and books on display. A visit to the monastery can be combined with the fossil museum and Arcaeological Site El Infiernito.
4) Learn about the Muisca People at the Archaeological Site of El Infiernito
A visit to this site provides a rare glimpse the ancient culture of the indigenous Muisca people. Although, it is an important Colombian archaeological site, it hasn’t been given the attention it deserves by the authorities. It is a little tricky to find and signage is only in Spanish. Nevertheless, if you have an interest in ancient sites, it is worthy of a visit. The area was used as both an observatory and ritualistic site in ancient times. The most striking feature is the large stone phalluses that are scattered throughout the area. A visit here can be combined with the monastery and fossil museum.
5) Visit the Home of Colombia’s Most Famous Artist
Luis Alberto Alcuna is Colombia’s most renowned painter and sculptor. Museo Luis Alberto Alcuna, situated on Plaza Mayor, was the artist’s home for the final fifteen years of his life. The interior of the house is a showcase for a selection of his paintings and tapestries, but it was the courtyard which impressed us. Full of eclectic sculptures, along with masks and lovely flowering plants, it’s a colourful and characterful space that was both surprising and delightful. It is open every day of the week from 10.00 am – 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm and 6.00 pm.
6) Watch the World go by at Plaza Mayor
The largest plaza in South America, Plaza Mayor, is situated at the heart of Villa de Leyva. The plaza is a beautifully preserved example of colonial architecture. At its focal point is Nuestra Senora del Rosario, a picturesque church built in 1604. Plaza Mayor is an ideal place to sit at a restaurant, have a drink or bite to eat, and watch the world go by. When we were there, a wedding was taking place at the church and we watched the guests walking across the cobbled stones (some of them in high heels!). There is a four-hundred-year fountain at the centre of the plaza.
7) Take a Trip to Pre-Historic Boyaca at Museo El Fosil
The area in around Villa de Leiva was once underwater and was home to prehistoric marine creatures galore. Consequently, it is known for its many fossils. This small, but modern museum is community-run and all profits got towards the museum itself and the local community. The star of the show is the fossil of a kronosaurus, a large sea reptile. There are also lots of plant fossils and ammonites, all neatly displayed and signed in both English and Spanish. Guides are available on request.
8) Go Shopping
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Villa de Leyva. Indeed, the streets surrounding Plaza Mayor are lined with artisan shops and boutiques. There area a particular intensity of shops off Playa Mayor on Carrerra 9, leading to Calle 14. This pedestrianised road is a relaxing place to stroll and peruse the shops. On Saturdays, a market takes place on Plaza Mercado, where local farmers sell local produce. It’s a fascinating place to take in a slice of small town Colombian life.
9) Indulge in Tasty Cuisine
To close ‘Highlights of Villa de Leyva’ we take a look at the food scene in the town. Due to Villa de Leyva being such a popular retreat for weekenders from Bogota, there are an abundance of eateries to choose from. Here are a handful of our favourites:
For local cuisine, try La Feria, where the focus is on regional food. It’s heavy on the meat, but there are also veggie dishes amongst the tapas-style dishes which are served on a board. One of the most popular is Picado, which is suitable for two people and includes creole chips, black pudding, longaniza, chicharron, chatas, ripe banana and choclo arepa. It’s a great way to sample Colombian cuisine in small bites. The restaurant has a great ambience and the décor is as eclectic as the food.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find such amazing burgers in a small town in Colombia, but we did. This small burger joint fuses Peruvian cuisine with classic burgers, along with creative sauces and combinations. The result is delicious. The chicken and shrimp burger is excellent and there are a couple of veggie options – the quinoa burger with hot pink beet mayo is in a league of its own. Don’t forget to add some tasty hand-cut fries. Peru Burger is a cosy venue, where you can either eat in or take out.
This place is unmissable for anyone who loves desserts. It’s a light and airy café (with outside space) which serves spectacular looking (and tasting) desserts. Indeed, everything looks so tempting that making a choice is a challenge in itself. Coffee aficionados will be happy too – the brews here are excellent. The cheerful and friendly staff enhance a visit to BomBon further.
A lovely courtyard setting complete with fairy lights, a laidback ambience and welcoming staff is a winning combination at this café which is located a couple of blocks from Plaza Mayor. It also doesn’t hurt that Entrapanes serve the best sandwiches in town. Although, they aren’t the cheapest of sandwiches, they are substantial, delicious and there are a wide range to choose from.
How to Get to Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva can be reached by bus from Bogota. Buses leave from El Salitre or Terminal Satelite del Norte.
Hope you enjoyed ‘9 Highlights of Villa de Leyva’. Check out Exploring the Street Art of Bogota to read all about the capital’s incredible urban art scene and Ten Highlights of Bogota which covers the best things to the city.