I read that visiting Villa de Leyva was like taking a time machine back to the 16th century, and seeing it with my own eyes confirmed that statement for sure. Charming and quaint are the first two adjectives that come to mind when describing this colonial town outside of Bogotá, largely in part due to the fact that the original architecture from 400 years ago, including the cobblestone paved streets, remain preserved. For a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, Villa de Leyva is the perfect option.
WHAT TO DO:
Peruse the many handicraft shops:
Villa de Leyva is most certainly a shopping destination, with little shops lining almost every quaint street throughout the village. Although Colombian style ponchos and sweaters are the most popular items to buy here, there all types of handicrafts like pottery, handmade stationary and postcards, shoes, and little souvenirs to also satisfy the shopaholic in you. We came across a small tea shop selling homemade tea concoctions and a chocolate store which we also couldn’t resist. I’d recommend taking a stroll past all of the artisan shops in the morning to avoid large weekend crowds – it gets nuts!
Have a nightcap in the lively Plaza Mayor:
Plaza Mayor is the most popular destination in Villa de Leyva, and is the reason most people flock to this little colonial town. The plaza itself is massive and is home to Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, the dominating church that most visitors gather around. In the morning the plaza is nearly empty, but by 4pm, people start flooding the area.
Plaza Mayor is the place where everybody meets, and by nightfall the steps running along the church are packed with people enjoying a beverage with friends and family. We didn’t even bother going to the bar, as it seemed that the main nightlife was right here in the Plaza! Head to one of the corner stores and pick up a beer for under $1 USD and enjoy a night spent out in the open night sky!
Eat empanadas at El Rincon Argentino:
At this point, I’ve been living in Colombia for over four months. As you can imagine, I’ve eaten my fair share of empanadas, and I’ve come to the conclusion that baked empanadas are my favorite kind. However, they are relatively hard to come by, as Colombians seem to love everything deep fried.
However, there’s a shop in Villa de Leyva run by a married couple that only serves baked empanadas. They are so fresh that we had to wait for them to finish baking (swoon). They have pollo and carne, but I opted for the vegetarian ones, which are stuffed with vegetarian deliciousness. They were so good, we went twice!
Go on a desert quading adventure:
Probably the highlight of my visit to Villa de Leyva was the two hour quading adventure exploring the outskirts of town. I had imagined the area to be a bit more tropical, but it turned out to be a lot of desert which proved to be very fun for quading.
Our first stop was at the Archaeological Park of Moniquira, a pre-Columbian archaeoastronomical site composed of sculpted rocks and burial grounds which was once the center of religious ceremonies and spiritual rituals of the local people. It costs 7,000 COP ($2.50 USD) to enter which is used to preserve this important archaeological site, and is a pretty cool place to see.
There’s also the Pozos Azules, which are artificially made swimming holes a little way outside of town that are a really popular tourist destination which you can enter for 5,000 COP ($1.50) and an extra 5,000 COP to swim. I didn’t find it necessary to pay the fees, as you can get a pretty good view of these pools from the main road, but if you’re keen for a swim, this would definitely be the place to go.
Although there are plenty of touristic spots to check out, we spent the majority of our time just riding around and enjoying the scenery. There are a few different adventure companies in Villa de Leyva that offer quad and motorbike tours, just take a walk along the main avenue from the bus station and you’ll hit at least three. The trip costs around 20,000 COP per hour ($6.50 USD), which I’d say is more than worth it!
Check out some quirky cafes:
La Wafflería de la Villa
For a quirky cafe fix, you can’t beat La Wafflería de la Villa! From the pink walls, to the ceiling covered in umbrellas, and old world furniture (found on the first level), this place is most certainly unique. We enjoyed our waffles on a velvet red couch I picture to be from a French palace circa 1500, surrounded by giant jars of Nutella.
The waffle menu is equally as interesting, with sweet and savory options sure to satisfy a wide range of tastebuds. We went with the Nutella & banana, and the egg, bacon & cheese waffles and they were damn good. They also serve crepes and more traditional breakfast items if for whatever reason you’re not feeling the Belgian waffle life.
This cake shop is a little hidden gem in Villa de Leyva and is a must try when visiting this village. Their homemade cakes are to die for, specifically the apple cake, but all of their goodies looked amazing. Pear pie, zucchini bread, and lemon cake are just a few of the options, though they also serve fresh natural juice and coffee as well. It’s a perfect place to take a mid morning break from wandering and shopping.
It’s not often you come across a French bakery in Colombia, so when we heard about this one, we didn’t miss the opportunity! They serve all sorts of pastries, quiches, and breads – all of which looked absolutely scrumptious. I enjoyed a cappuccino, almond croissant, and ham and cheese quiche and was very pleased by all of it. The best part – all of the above plus an additional coffee was under $9 USD.
For an artisanal coffee experience, you’ve got to go to Sybarita Caffe. Here, the baristas are excited to talk about their selection, all grown and roasted in Colombia, of course. They sell coffee by the cup, but most people come in to purchase gourmet, renowned coffee to take home with them.
Spend the day sipping vino at Marques de Villa de Leyva:
Wine is actually quite expensive in Colombia, because everything you find in the wine shops are imported. That gave me the impression that Colombian wine didn’t exist, and if it did, it was probably crap. Well, a visit to Marques de Villa de Leyva certainly changed that perception right around.
I’m a red wine drinker, and I found their selection of reds to be super tasty! And at 9,000 COP a glass ($3 USD) it was a relatively inexpensive way to spend the afternoon. We also indulged in a cheese & cured meat platter for 32,000 COP ($10.50 USD) which was equally as delicious.
Not only was the food and wine really nice, but the setting of the winery was also fantastic! The winery is set in perfectly green rolling hills surrounded by more perfectly green rolling hills as well as a decent sized lake nearby for added scenery. There were plenty of picnic tables available for visitors, but also plenty of green grass for a picnic style date if you’d rather that. There was a live band playing on the Sunday that we visited, which added to the already wonderful ambiance.
Try the local flavors at the Saturday farmer’s market:
If you’ve read my posts before, you know that one of my favorite things to do when visiting a new place is finding a local market to check out. To me, it’s a great way to get a feel for what kind of ingredients are used in the local cuisine, which is a huge part of most cultures.
I was so excited to come across Villa de Leyva’s Saturday market, which was packed with food vendors of all kinds, including fresh produce, potatoes, fruits, grains, meats and fish, as well as some clothing, and household item vendors too.
My favorite part is observing the vendors as they peel, cut, organize or sort their selections. I love how there’s always peels and scraps scattered about the market floor, showing the hard work that goes into setting up a market like this!
This market also had a prepared food section, where dozens of Colombian families sat for lunch. I have no clue what the red meat pictured above is, but it was being sold at every single food stall in this section!
There are stairs that lead up to another part of the market, where vendors sold items like books, clothing, and packaged foods like coffee and grains. Make sure to go up these steps to get an awesome view of not only the market, but of the mountains and the rest of the village in the distance.
Wander the streets and appreciate the beautiful architecture:
The main reason people flock to Villa de Leyva on the weekends is simply to relax and enjoy the peaceful setting of this quaint town. That’s why I’m listing wandering the streets as a must do while in this village. The architecture is so well preserved and is meant to be admired. Just try not to break an ankle navigating the cobblestones!
You never know what you’re going to come across when you’re aimlessly wandering, and to me that’s all part of the fun of traveling! Pictured above was a brigade of cowboys following a just-married couple! They were singing songs and celebrating all throughout the streets, and I’m just happy we were lucky enough to observe it!
Make sure to wander out of the town center so you can find all the hidden gems that this little village has to offer. The town is VERY small, but there are dozens of little streets and alley ways to explore, with multiple different churches and little plazas to also admire.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Terminal Satelite Del Norte, you have two ways to get to Villa de Leyva:
- Get the Reina or Valle De Tenza non-stop bus straight to Villa de Leyva: The bus ride is about three hours, but with traffic, it could very well be more, and costs 25,000 COP ($8.50 USD). The only problem with this option is that the buses are sporadic and are often very spread out. So if you miss one, you are likely to wait for at least two hours for the next one. This of course would be the easiest/most efficient option if the times work for you, but if not, resort to option number two below.
- Get the Libertadores bus to Tunja: The bus ride takes 2 hours and costs 20,000 COP ($6.50 USD). When you arrive to Tunja, go up the stairs inside the terminal and catch a bus to Villa de Leyva from the second level of buses. This bus costs 7,000 COP ($2.50 USD) and you can buy it right on the bus. Ask someone if you’re confused, but it’s hard to miss the bus drivers yelling Villa De Leyva over and over again until they fill up their bus…We took Cootax Tunja bus company and it was an easy 1 hour ride to Villa de Leyva from here.
WHERE TO STAY:
Posada Portal de la Villa
This quaint B&B run by an adorable Colombian couple named Carlos and Rosalba is the perfect place for a relaxing and romantic stay in Villa de Leyva. Posada Portal de la Villa‘s location is absolutely perfect, located in the historic center of Villa de Leyva, just a 10 minute walk from the bus station, and only a block or two away from the main plaza. It’s close to all sorts of shops and restaurants, but is far enough away where there isn’t too much foot traffic and it’s nice and quiet.
Our private room was super spacious, with a couch, a large closet to hang our clothes for the weekend, and a large bathroom. The best part however, was the great big window that showcased amazing views of the town and the mountains off in the distance. The views were also wonderful from the balcony, looking out into the B&B’s main courtyard and the mountains on the other side of Villa de Leyva.
This B&B is a restored mansion from the 17th century, with Spanish colonial architecture, high ceilings, and 14 rooms arranged around a central courtyard. The property is so well maintained, with lush green grass and beautiful flowers throughout the property, and also has all sorts of interesting little odds & ends used for decoration.
My favorites were the vintage electronics on display, like the rotary dial phone, 1950s television set, and their clock collection. Although it was very traditional in the sense of its colonial architecture, I really enjoyed the quirky little details that gave it even that much more character.
My stay at Posada Portal de la Villa was so relaxing and really added to an excellent experience in Villa de Leyva. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a low key atmosphere with beautiful old world charm, and touch of romance. I felt like I had stepped back in time, and it was a really wonderful feeling!
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary stay at Posada Portal de la Villa for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I only recommend places I would stay myself!