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Villa de Leyva

The perfectly preserved colonial town of Villa de Leyva (pop. 12,000) was named a national heritage site by the Colombian government in 1954, and ever since, it has become a popular weekend hangout for Bogotanos looking for a break from hectic city life. The cobblestone streets, Spanish-style villas, and small-town pace give the town a charming, lost-in-time feel. Villa de Leyva and the surrounding countryside are among the safest places in Colombia to wonder off the beaten track and do a bit of exploring -- and with multiple waterfalls, a nearby desert, adventure-sport opportunities, and even a couple of vineyards, there's plenty of exploring to do.

Even though the town's main sights can easily be explored in 1 day, most visitors end up staying at least 2 to 3 days, drawn in by the town's irresistible charm.

Essentials

Getting There -- Libertadores (tel. 1/423-3600) offers two direct daily buses from the Bogotá bus station to Villa de Leyva, at 4:30am and 2:20pm. Trip time is about 4 hours. Several other bus companies also offer direct routes, especially on weekends and holidays, but they often stop for passengers along the way, making for a long ride. If you can't make one of these two routes, take one of the buses to Tunja, which depart every 5 minutes or so, and from Tunja you can catch a 45-minute colectivo to Villa de Leyva. (At the Tunja station, head upstairs, and then outside and board any of the large vans labeled VILLA DE LEYVA.) In all, getting to Villa de Leyva should cost between COL$16,000 and COL$17,500. Take a taxi to the Bogotá terminal module 3, or head to the Portal del Norte, as buses headed for Boyacá and Villa de Leyva pick up passengers there, too. All buses and colectivos will drop you off 3 blocks from the main plaza in Villa de Leyva, walking distance from most hotels. If you have a lot of luggage, you may want to consider taking a short COL $4,000 taxi ride, especially if you're staying in one of the many farms or inns around town.

Visitor Information -- The Villa de Leyva tourist office is located right off the main plaza at Carrera 9 no. 13-04 (tel. 8/732-0232; www.villadeleyva.net) and is open daily from 8am to 5pm. If you plan to be in town for at least a couple of days, you might want to invest in the English/French Villa de Leyva Tourist Guide, available for COL$12,000 at the tourist office and in some hotels.

What to See & Do in Villa De Leyva

Villa de Leyva's main attraction is its large cobblestone plaza, supposedly the largest town plaza in Colombia. There are also a number of decent museums and sites in town worth seeing.

Located on the main plaza, the Iglesia Parroquial De Villa de Leyva was constructed in 1604, and it's here that independence hero Antonio Nariño lived from 1823 to 1846. Also located on the main plaza is the Casa Museo Del Maestro Luis Alberto Acuña, dedicated to the life and eclectic works of the eponymous artist; it's open daily 9am to 6pm. (If the museum appears closed, simply knock and someone will let you in.) Admission is COL$2,000 adults, COL$1,500 children.

In the Casa Museo de Antonio Nariño, Carrera 9 no. 10-21 (tel. 8/732-0342; Thurs-Tues 8am-noon and 2-6pm; COL$3,000), you'll find documents and items belonging to Antonio Nariño. The house was built in 1600, and the independence hero spent a few years here prior to his death.

The Museo de Arte Religioso, Plazoleta del Carmen (tel. 8/732-0214; Sat-Sun and holidays 10am-1pm and 2-5pm; COL$2,000), houses one of the country's best collections of religious art (17th-20th c.). At press time it was closed for renovation.

If you're in town on Saturday, be sure not to miss the Saturday market, when peasants from Villa de Leyva's rural sector come to town to sell their fruits and vegetables. The market is located 3 blocks from the main plaza, walking toward the Hospedería Duruelo .

In addition to the sights listed below, walking tours and day-trips into the Boyacá countryside are available with tour companies. Colombian Highlands, Carrera 9 no. 11-02 (tel. 8/732-1379 or 311/308-3739; www.colombianhighlands.com), is run by bilingual biologist Oscar Gilede and offers many eco- and adventure tours that can be done by car or horse. He also runs the clean Renacer Guesthouse, a pleasant hostel about 1km (a half mile) from town. Terra Touring, Calle 13 no. 7-63 (tel. 8/732-0241), provides tours in Spanish, French, and English. Guías y Travesías, Calle 11 no. 8A-50 (tel. 8/732-0742), also provides excellent, relatively inexpensive day tours, as does Aventourese (tel. 311/877-4338).

If you're looking for horseback-riding opportunities, contact Hacienda Flamingo (tel. 310/480-539; ask for Rafael Orejuela or Patricia Delgado), Criadero El Olivo (tel. 315/324-9832; elolivo@sinva.com.co), or Yeguada Alcazaba Del Viento (tel. 310/223-3955; alcazabadelviento@hotmail.com). They all rent out horses by the hour or day. Your hotel should also be able to provide you with information.

Where to Stay

Villa de Leyva has about 150 lodging options. Unless you're going to be in town in December, January, or during a holiday weekend, it should be pretty easy to find a hotel room -- though since Colombia seems to have more holidays than any other country, it's best to book in advance. It's imperative that you make advance reservations if you'll be here during the Astronomical Festival in the beginning of February, Holy Week in March or April, Villa de Leyva's anniversary on June 12, the Gastronomical Fair in July, the National Kite Festival in August, the National Tree Festival in September, or the Festival of Lights in December. Most hotels and posadas here are charming, colonial-style places, so it's hard to make a bad hotel choice. A good website to check out for Villa de Leyva lodging options is www.villadeleyva.net. Information is in English, Spanish, and French.

The Hospedería Duruelo, Carrera 3 no. 12-88 (tel. 098/732-0222; reservas@duruelo.com.co), is the poshest (and most expensive) place to stay in town, and it's easy to see why. The sprawling, 86-room Spanish-style residence is surrounded by beautiful, well-kept gardens and offers a gorgeous three-tiered pool, full spa service, and spectacular views of Villa de Leyva and the surrounding countryside. Guest rooms are standard, if not particularly impressive, though a splurge on one of the "Especial" rooms will get you a great view of the orange thatched roofs, unspoiled nature, and impressive mountains of Villa de Leyva. If you can't afford to stay at the Hospedería Duruelo but still want to be pampered like the rich and famous, the hotel offers day-use plans, which allow for use of the pool, bar, Jacuzzi, gym, sauna, and Turkish baths for COL$45,000 with lunch, COL$25,000 without lunch. In high season, a standard double will cost you COL$258,909. The hotel is a short but uphill walk from the main plaza.

For a truly unique lodging experience, head to the Hostería Molino La Mesopotamia, Calle del Silencio (ask for directions; tel. 8/732-0235), a more-than-4-centuries-old residence that once served as the town's grain mill. The mill was built in 1568, 4 years before Villa de Leyva itself was founded, and for the last 45 years, it's been a hotel. In high season, a double will cost you COL $150,000. The hotel is an easy 4-block walk from the main square. Note, however, that you shouldn't expect five-star comfort here, and there have been complaints that the hotel isn't being kept up as it should be, so pickier travelers may want to head elsewhere.

If you have a low budget, check out the ecofriendly Hostal Renacer. Run by biologist/environmentalist Oscar Gilede (who also runs Colombian Highlands), the hostal is about a kilometer from town and offers dorm and double rooms from COL$60,000 to COL$120,000 per room. The hostal is located in a beautiful, colonial-style farmhouse on a hill with beautiful views of the Villa de Leyva countryside. Breakfast is available for COL$5,000, and a kitchen and two common areas are available for guests. If you're traveling alone, Renacer is a good choice as you're likely to meet more solo travelers.

Where to Dine

For a small town, Villa de Leyva has a decent dining selection. Monday through Thursday, hours can be limited and many restaurants close down. When possible, call in advance to check hours. El Centro Gastronomico Casa La Quintera is located to the right side of the church on the main plaza and houses Villa de Leyva's best (and most upscale) restaurants. The restaurants on the plaza tend to be a bit more expensive (COL$10,000-COL$25,000); head to the side streets for better deals. For breakfast in town, head to La Tienda de Teresa, Carrera 10 no. 13-72, where you can have arepas with almost anything you can imagine -- cheese, chicken, beans, and even hamburger. If you're here later in the day, try one of their great desserts, starting at COL$1,000. You can even leave your mark by signing the wall, as many visitors have.

A beautiful little restaurant, Rincón del Bauchue, at Carrera 9 no. 15A-05 (tel. 8/732-0884), specializes in typical Boyacá dishes including mazamorra chiquita (well-cooked corn, often in a milky broth), cuchuco de trigo con espinosa (wheat/potato vegetable soup), and cocido boyacense (a sort of sampler platter that includes soup, potato, beef or pork, and rice). Rincón del Bauchue has its own minigreenhouse, a ceramics workshop, several dining rooms -- including an outdoor eating area -- and even offers guest rooms during high season.

Pastries in Villa de Leyva -- Villa de Leyva is well known for its charming, popular pastry shops. La Galleta, Calle 13 no. 7-03 (tel. 8/732-1213), is famous for its milojas, a typical Colombian dessert made with a cookie base, cream, and arequipe. This cozy little coffee-dessert shop plays jazz and blues and is open from noon to 7pm on Monday to Friday and 9am to 9pm on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. The newly opened Tortes y Tortas, right off the plaza, is open Thursday to Tuesday from 10am to 8pm and makes low-fat, low-sugar desserts, in case you're watching your waistline. This comfortable pastry shop is owned by a friendly couple from Bogotá and specializes in Colombian desserts. Finally, La Pastelaria Francesa, Calle 10 no.7-03 (no phone), owned by Frenchman Patrice Rio, bakes delicious bread and serves up a variety of quiches and European-style pastries, jams, and chocolates, and is always crowded on weekends.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.