Back in July 2017 we decided to go to Villa de Leyva in Boyacá for a long weekend. A trip to this beautiful little colonial town set in the picturesque countryside of Boyacá is one of those trips everyone visiting Bogota will try to make if they have time. That said, it took me four years to make the journey there! But it was well worth the wait!
How to get to Villa de Leyva
By bus from Terminal de Transporte, Salitre
A common way to travel in Colombia, especially if you’re only travelling for a few hours or don’t have the means to fly, is by flota. A flota is an intercity bus service. There are many different companies of varying quality, from air-conditioned buses with a toilet and a film to watch during the journey, to chicken buses (I don’t think I need to say anything else about those). Online we found a webpage where people were recommending the bus company Libertadores, so we called to check the timings. There was a bus leaving at around 2.30pm, so we headed over to the bus station (the Terminal de Transporte, Calle 22C # 68F – 89, in Salitre) on a Friday afternoon, bought our tickets and headed off to Villa de Leyva.
By bus from Terminal del Norte
If you live nearer to the north of Bogota, you might prefer to take the bus from the terminal up there (the Terminal del Norte, on Calle 192 with Autopista). There are a couple of disadvantages though. First, many buses start out from Salitre, the best seats will go to those who buy first – usually the people boarding the bus at Salitre. Buy your tickets the day before if possible to get decent seats. The second disadvantage is that if the bus is held up in traffic travelling from Salitre to the North Terminal, you could be hanging around for an hour or more waiting for it to arrive. It took our bus 2 hours to get from Salitre to the north because of an accident on the route. Finally, Salitre is a proper bus terminal (with shops and places to eat). The North Terminal looked more like a large bus shelter when we stopped there.
Hire a car and a driver
I once met a Swiss couple on a tour who had recently been on a day-trip to Villa de Leyva. They had set out early and got back late, but the great thing was that they had the driver to take them to all the places they wanted to visit in Villa de Leyva, and they could spend as much time at each place as they wanted. I didn’t ask how much this cost, but I guess it would cost around £200/$300 to hire a car and a driver for the day.
Where we stayed in Villa de Leyva
After a 5-hour journey (which was supposed to take 3.5 hours) we arrived in Villa de Leyva. We stayed at the Hotel Bahía Olivo Boutique and Spa, which was quite nice. We chose the Master Suite with the jacuzzi, which was lovely on a Saturday night after a long day exploring Villa de Leyva! I wouldn’t recommend getting a massage at their spa though. I was literally left with bruises all over my body!
What we did in Villa de Leyva
I confess that I did what I usually do before I visit a new place, and checked out the top places to visit in Villa de Leyva on TripAdvisor! But this article by Chris Bell for the Culture Trip also gives a good summary of how you might like to spend your time there.
The Casa Terracota, built in the late 90s/early 2000s, is clearly a Gaudí-inspired house made entirely of clay, just a 20-minute walk outside of town. Apparently, it’s the largest clay structure in the world, but apart from that, it’s also a completely inhabitable house, with fully-functioning bathrooms, showers, toilets (see below!) and kitchen. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona you might be reminded of Parc Guell as you wander through the house admiring the animal sculptures and decorative mosaics. There are guided tours of the house in Spanish, and the entry is $10,000 pesos. It was probably my favourite part of Villa de Leyva, and the background scenery guarantees you’ll get some gorgeous photos.
At 14,000 square metres, Villa de Leyva’s iconic Plaza Mayor is the largest square in Colombia and the 10th largest in South America. The centre-point of Villa de Leyva exudes all the charm and character of a pretty colonial town. The town was founded by Capitán Hernan Suárez de Villalobos in 1572 and named after Andres Díaz Venero de Leyva, the first president of what was then called the New Kingdom of Granada. You’ll need sensible shoes for strolling around and across the square, as the ground is uneven. The changing light and shadows from the sun and clouds had an enchanting effect on the mountains that rose up behind the square. You can imagine how many photos I have of the square!
Now, there is a risk of confusion here. Villa de Leyva has a Museo Paleontológico (which we went to) and a Museo del Fosil, which is further out of town. There have been many exciting paleontological discoveries in the countryside around Villa de Leyva, so it’s no wonder that there’s enough material for two museums. However, on TripAdvisor, I think users have often confused the two, and there are photos from the Museo del Fosil appearing under both of the above. From my experience, I’d guess that most of the great reviews are for the Museo del Fosil, because although the one we went to was interesting, it was quite small and there wasn’t much to see. It was mostly a lot of small fossils and plenty of interesting information to read. In short, the photos of the other museum look better!
Live Music and dinner at Casa San Pedro Restaurante
I looked on TripAdvisor and Google Maps for dinner options to find out which restaurants were coming out tops. We decided to try Casa San Pedro because we fancied pasta and were intrigued by the reviews of live music. The food was quite good – I had their speciality pasta cooked in cheese, which was nice but nothing out of this world. My partner Javi had a burger, which he enjoyed. When we were there, the musician was playing 80s, 90s and 00s Brit and US pop and rock, which was RIGHT up my street! I had such a good time! For me, this place is all about the live music.
The best pizza and ice cream in Villa de Leyva
We loved the Santa Lucía Pizzería Gelatería in Carrera. 10 #10 – 27. The pizza was really nice and the artisanal ice cream was lovely! The staff are also very friendly. We went there twice during our long weekend in Villa de Leyva and would recommend it!
Ráquira, known as Colombia’s pottery capital, is a small pueblo (town) about 45 minutes by bus from Villa de Leyva. I’d seen photos of the town before and heard that they had lots of shops and markets selling beautiful handicrafts, so I wanted to take the opportunity to visit while we were in Boyacá. We arrived at the bus station in Villa de Leyva at 11.30 and bought bus tickets for the bus leaving at 12.30. The ride was a bit of a knuckle-whitening experience, as are many bus rides in Colombia, but 45 minutes later we were in Ráquira. We had a typical lunch at a local eatery (which later gave Javi food-poisoning – avoid drinking the fresh juices!) and then had a wander around.
There are about three or four blocks in town which are mostly artisanal shops selling typical Colombian clothing, pottery, gifts and souvenirs. The square is pretty, with some impressive giant clay sculptures. Overall, in hindsight, I probably would have foregone the near-death experience of the bus ride and given Ráquira a miss. It’s worth a stop if you have a car, but not worth taking a few hours away from your time in Villa de Leyva. There are nicer places to visit.
We were in Villa de Leyva a week before the annual kite festival. I had actually wanted to go for the festival but I got my dates mixed up. In spite of that, there were plenty of people out on the main square flying kites. It was pretty impressive! At the hotel, they told us that the little town is completely packed during the kite festival – including the hotels, bars, restaurants and taxis – so in the end, I was pleased that we had come the weekend before, when the town was quieter.
Things we didn’t do or would have done differently
We didn’t visit the local vineyard, Marques de Villa de Leyva / Ain Karim Winery as we’re not big wine drinkers and it was a bit out of the way. But if you enjoy wine, this could be a really nice way to spend a couple of hours. We also didn’t go to Laguna de Iguaque flora and fauna sanctuary in the mountains beyond Villa de Leyva, as we wanted to spend more time in the town itself. In hindsight, I probably would have switched our half-day trip to Ráquira and gone to Iguaque instead – ask at your hotel, or there are lots of places offering tours to the Laguna. I also would have swapped the Paleontology Museum for the Fossil Museum (Museo del Fosil – the one a bit further out of town) instead.
If you’re not on a tight budget, I would take a taxi to places like the Fossil Museum or the winery, as they’re not hugely expensive. Otherwise, check out the tour companies along the main streets in town. There are climbing tours, cycling, quad-biking, hiking and more, and transport to the different places is included.
A visit to Villa de Leyva is a must if you’re in Colombia. It’s just a really pretty little town. Spend an hour strolling around the main square and doing some people watching. Wander around the outskirts of the town enjoying the beautiful scenery for a couple of hours. Or spend a day doing some of the many outdoor activity tours on offer. Whatever you do, you’ll have a lovely couple of days!