A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva, Colombia: few cities in the country are so charming and so full of atmosphere. Hardly on the radar of people who travel to this part of South America, I ended up there as I wanted to break the journey from San Gil to Bogota. Little did I know that I’d fall in love with it.

Such a lovely little town this is, and such a perfectly kept example of colonial style architecture, that it was declared a National Monument in 1954. It’s the kind of place where modern architecture is pretty much unseen.

Villa de Leyva was founded in 1572. It’s blessed with pleasant weather year round – warmer than the nearby Tunja, and not nearly as hot as the Caribbean coast. It’s close to some of the most beautiful landscapes of Colombia, and if you visit you’ll find abundant opportunities to hike, bike, and enjoy good food in one of the many restaurants.

In recent years, Villa de Leyva became a favorite weekend destinations for people who live in Bogota and wish to get away from the chaos of the capital – so don’t be surprised if the town gets more crowded on Saturdays and Sundays.

In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Villa de Leyva and share some practical tips to organize your trip there.

Villa de Leyva street
A lovely cobbled alley in Villa de Leyva

13 Things To Do In Villa De Leyva, Colombia

Admire the view from Mirador El Santo

For incredible views of Villa de Leyva make sure to hike to Mirador El Santo. It’s an easy walk from the center of town – just head in the direction of the market, going up the Calle 12 or 13 and then follow the easy trail. It’s around 30 minutes to get to the Mirador, and just about the same amount of time to get back.

TIP: Go in the early morning to have the place to yourself. 

Hang out in Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the ultimate place to hang out and people watch in Villa de Leyva. This is one of the largest squares in the Americas; beautifully paved and surrounded by well kept white colonial buildings. In the late afternoon, people start crowding the square to chat and have a drink. Dortkneipe is a cool small pub where you can get some draught beer – it’s on one of the corners of the square.

Villa de Leyva

Admire all the colonial style architecture

This may come as rather obvious, but one of the best things to do in Villa de Leyva is walking around to appreciate the beautiful colonial architecture. For fine examples, make sure to pop into Casa de Juan de Castellanos, Casa Quintero and Casona La Guaca, which have been perfectly restored. They are all located on Carrera 9 and currently house coffee shops, restaurants and lovely boutiques.

Visit Casa Museo de Luis Alberto Acuña

Luis Alberto Acuña is a Colombian artist whose paintings, statues and writings were heavily inspired by the culture and beliefs of the Muisca indigenous people – who lived in the Cordillera Central of Colombia – and even by more contemporary art. The museum is entirely dedicated to his work and it’s a pleasant place to spend an hour or two.

Visit the Museo Paleontologico

At about 1 km northeast from the center of Villa de Leyva, at the Museo Paleontologico you’ll be able to observe fossils from the time when the area was a seabed – from 100 to 150 million years ago. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to explore it. Guided tours are offered, but only in Spanish.

Ecce Homo Monastery
Ecce Homo Monastery can be visited from Villa de Leyva

Explore the local market

Every Saturday there is a market that is held about three blocks southeast of Plaza Mayor. It’s a nice place to shop for groceries and for people watching. Make sure to go in the morning for more action.

Visit Ain Karim vineyard

Did you know that Colombia has an up and coming wine production? Well, I didn’t either. But apparently, Colombia wine scene has come a long way – and Villa de Leyva is a great place to get a feel for this. There, you will find the Ain Karim winery – once known as Marques de Villa de Leyva – which is famous for producing some excellent wines. There is a good selection of reds, whites and even rose wines, and you can go on a walking tour of the vineyard and then to some wine tasting.

Terracotta House Villa de Leyva
The Terracotta House surely is an interesting building

Visit the Terracotta House

The Terracotta House is a very large house that is entirely made of clay. It’s thought to be the largest piece of pottery in the world. The interesting fact is that it actually is a fully functioning house with toilets, a kitchen and all modern appliances. The house is located at about 20 minutes walk from Plaza Mayor. It takes around 45 minutes to visit.

Go to the Laguna de Iguaque

On the mountains outside Villa de Leyva you’ll find the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, where the Sacred Iguaque Lagoon is located. The Muisca indigenous people who once lived in this part of Colombia thought this was the cradle of humanity, and it was a sacred area for them.

If you like hiking, this is the best place to go that is close to town. The trail called Paramo de Iguaque will take you up to 7 hours during which you will be rewarded with amazing views and incredible nature. Keep in mind that the trail may be very muddy and slippery, and consider there may be high chances of rain at any time of year.

The trail is easy enough to be done independently, but several agencies in town offer guided hikes.

Make sure to check out my post 11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone May Be A Bad Idea.”

TIP: Remember to carry enough water for the duration of the hike, and to bring sun screen and a rain jacket.

El Infiernito
El Infiernito is an interesting place to visit

Go to El Infiernito archeological site

El Infernito archeological site is a good place to get a better understanding of the Muisca indigenous peoples. Its name was actually assigned by the Catholic colonizers in an attempt to encourage local people to associate the site to the devil and thus feel the fear of God. The site, which actually was a Muisca solar observatory and is made of giant statues that represent fertility is located on the hills outside of town.

Go to El Fosil

As I have said before, the area where Villa de Leyva is located used to be a massive seabed around 150 million years ago. At about one hour from town, you will find El Fosil, a massive fossil of a baby kronosaurus that dates back to 120 million years ago. It is thought to be the world’s most complete example of this marine reptile.

Go to the Pozos Azules

The Pozos Azules are actually man made small lakes which have a bright blue color that is due to the presence of natural salts and minerals in the soil around them. The lakes glow more or less depending on the light – so don’t go if it is overcast. They are at about 45 minutes walk from Plaza Mayor.

Visit Convento del Santo Ecce Homo

At about 16 km out of town you will find this beautiful convent that is worth visiting. The convent, which was founded in 1620, is a massive sandstone and adobe building that features a beautiful internal courtyard. As the sandstone used for the building comes from the region, you may even spot some fossils in it.

Villa de Leyva finds
Interesting finds on the streets of Villa de Leyva

Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Villa De Leyva, Colombia

Taking a day trip to Villa de Leyva

I don’t recommend going to Villa de Leyva just for a day. This small colonial town has such a lovely atmosphere, and there are quite a few good bars and restaurants you may want to check – it would be a pity to miss the opportunity. However, if time is an issue, you can consider going there on a day trip from Bogota such as this Villa de Leyva trip by private transportation or this Bogota Villa de Leyva tour.

Guided tours of Colombia that also go to Villa de Leyva

If you would like to visit Colombia and include Villa de Leyva in your trip, but have no time for planning or would rather leave the daunting task to the experts, you can count on several excellent guided tours of Colombia. The two mentioned below are excellent G Adventure tours that include visits of Villa de Leyva:

Villa de Leyva building
A typical colonial building as found in Villa de Leyva

Where to stay in Villa de Leyva

Despite being a small town, Villa de Leyva has a good range of accommodation options. These are the best places to stay in town:

How to get to Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is at about 75 miles (120 km) from Bogota. to which it is well connected by bus. Several daily buses connect the two cities. Despite the seemingly short distance, the ride actually lasts around 3 hours. The largest city nearby is Tunja, to which there are buses that depart every 15 minutes. From there you can connect to many other places, including San Gil and Bogota.

How to move around 

Villa de Leyva is fairly small, so you can easily walk around. To get to the nearby sites, you can count on a good fleet of local taxis. If you want to visit various sites outside of town on the same day, make sure to hire a taxi to take you to all the various places and haggle a flat fee for the day.

When to visit Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva enjoys a mild weather compared to the rest of Colombia. It is not nearly as hot as it is on the Caribbean coast, and it doesn’t rain nearly as much as it does in Bogota. With the weather pretty much the same year round, any time is a good time to visit Villa de Leyva.

Other useful information

If you want to read more about Colombia, or want to have a guide you can carry with you for any time you don’t have Wi-Fi, you may want to buy one of the following:

As for any other trip, I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get your travel insurance here.

Further readings about Colombia

For more inspiration on places to visit and things to do in Colombia, check out my posts:

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Check out what to see and do in Villa de Leyva - via @clautavani

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