Villa de Leyva
Nestled in the hills of rural Boyaca, Villa de Leyva is one of Colombia's treasures. The vast majority of this small town consists of cobbled streets and plazas lined by quaint white colonial buildings. The town backs on to steep hills giving it a lovely isolated feel.
The climate is fresh, sometimes a little hot in the early afternoon sun and a bit chilly at night, so be sure to bring warm clothes for evening strolls. There are also some interesting spots in the countryside to be explored. The town and surrounding area is still relatively untouched by tourists at most times due to its distance from large urban centres.
The heart of the Villa de Leyva is the huge Plaza Mayor (the largest plaza in Colombia). On the south-east of the plaza is the Iglesia Parroquial. The other buildings bordering the plaza include hotels, restaurants, bars and a couple of small banks with cash machines.
From the plaza simply walk off in any direction and allow yourself to be enchanted by the historic, charming feel of the town and its frienly people. As you pass along the quiet, cobbled streets keep an eye out for entrances to small courtyards of cafes and handicraft shops.
Another of the town's churches is the Iglesia del Carmen (photo, above) a block north-east of Plaza Mayor. It has a small park in front it. Continue one block further and then walk a block to the right to reach Parque Ricaurte with La Iglesia de San Agustin just behind it.
Around Villa de Leyva
To the north-west of Villa de Leyva lies a small desertous area. About 3km along the main road leading to Santa Sofia on the left are a series of small lakes of a striking sky blue colour (photo, left).
A couple more kms down the main road brings you to El Fosil (a museum dedicated to a dinosaur fossil) and a couple more to El Infiernito, an archaelogical site.
All of these places can easily be visited on foot in a few hours, but bikes and horses can also be rented in the town. This area is quite exposed to the elements so be sure to slap on some sun cream if you're heading out in the middle of the day as the sun can be strong and catch you unawares.
This national park is located about an hour from Villa de Leyva and covers some 67 square kilometers. The park's ecosystem is predominantly páramo, but also contains cloud forest and a lake called Laguna de Iguaque.
There are some delightful hotels in Villa de Leyva, most of which are situated in attractive colonial buildings with large shady coutyards. A selection of the best:
Hotel Antonia Nariño Carrera 9 No. 10-34 Tel. (8) 7320211 website
A terrific hotel with large comfortable rooms. I've stayed here on several occasions and have always been impressed.
Hotel Boutique Villa Roma Calle 8 No 10-166 Tel. (8) 7321343 website
Hotel Villa Lina Avenida Circunvalar Tel. (8) 7321742 website
Hotel Plaza Mayor Carrera 10 No. 12-31 Tel. (8) 7320425 website
For cheaper budgets there are also several good hostels and guesthouses:
Colombian Highlands Av. Carrera 10 No. 21-Finca Renacer Tel. (8) 7321862 website
One of the first backpacker hostels in the area. Located on the outskirts of town. The also offer some excellent tours.
Hostal Sinduly Carrera 11, No. 11-77 Tel. (8) 3204294050
A small cosy backpackers located just a block from Plaza Mayor.
Casa Viena Carrera 10 No. 19-114 Tel. (8) 7320711
A small family-run guesthouse on the edge of town.
The bus station is about 3 blocks from Plaza Mayor. To get to or from Bogota there two options.
You can take a direct bus - the trip takes about 4 hours (although traffic jams in Bogota mean it can often take longer).
Another option is to go via Tunja. The mini-buses to/from Tunja leave more frequently and from there you can easily get a bus to Bogota. This route takes slightly longer than the direct route, but allows for more flexibility in terms of when you want to travel.
El Dia de las Velitas is celebrated all over Colombia, but there is probably no better place to celebrate it than in Villa de Leyva. In fact the celebration here is even known by a different name: El Festival de Luces (Festival of Lights).
It is celebrated on the nights of the 7th and 8th December each year. During these two nights displays of lights and candles adorn the streets and balconies of this quaint town and spectacular fireworks pierce the darkness of the cool night sky.
Locals and tourists alike pour out onto the streets to celebrate this festival and the result is a wonderful family atmosphere.
Be warned though that this is the busiest time of the year for the town and hotels tend to fill up quickly, so try to book well in advance.
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