Villa de Leyva: Dinosaur, Desert & Discovery
When one thinks about a colonial city in Colombia, Cartagena naturally comes to mind of most people. It is hype, touri$m oriented and on 9 in 10 travel itineraries. What if I tell that you can find a small city that seems to be frozen in time with affordable prices, historic background and still off the beaten path? Welcome to the charm city of Villa de Leyva!
Local colleagues introduced me to this gem. The destination is unanimous among Colombians but still not that spread among international travellers and this is exactly the kind of place I like to go.
There are a lot of interesting facts about Villa de Leyva. Starting with its origins, this is a region located over 2000 meters above sea level that in the past was entirely covered by the ocean. The obscene number of fossils found in the city confirms this fact. Indeed is not rare to hear local stories about how easy was to step on ammonites while walking on the streets of Villa de Leyva streets not so long ago.
The colonial architecture is pretty much preserved. Indeed, Villa de Leyva has not developed much in the last 400 years. The streets are paved with ancient cobblestone and most of its buildings were raised on the XVI century. Those alone turned Villa de Leyva into a National Monument, putting the village on the travel map.
So I took a 4 hours ride from Bogota with a couple of colleagues and their new baby while listening to the sad story of Pilar and her smalls boobs and after some stops for diaper changing and sightseeing, we’ve made to a restaurant right on the city entrance.
My first steps in Villa de Leyva
Belly loaded, said goodbye to my companions and headed straight to the Airbnb rented hours before to unpack. Villa de Leyva is very small and there is no way one can get lost on the streets. So the address was easy to find and I had the opportunity to check the charming parks and local buildings along the way. However, since something needs to go wrong. When I got to my new house for the weekend, there was nobody waiting for me. I knocked the door, called and ranged the bell several times but got no success. After sitting in the gutter for almost 2 hours, watching the afternoon passing by and taking my daylight plans away, my phone rings.
“Hi, Ralph. I am sorry. I let the keys with a lady that is going to deliver them to you right now”.
Where to stay in Villa de Leyva?
A minutes later, there comes the lady and with her my keys. For the happiness of my wallet, I found this affordable private room in Villa de Leyva and as no one else was there, the house was entirely to myself and a lovely cat. It was incredibly decorated, with a nice view to the village (and the sunset), clean and within a short walk from the city center.
Behind the schedule, the only thing I could do was to explore the city at night, letting all the surroundings for the day after. I grab my camera and keys and when I am about to leave my attention was draw to a note on the footer:
What to do in Villa de Leyva in 1 day?
There are plenty of things to do in Villa de Leyva. Family tours, historic sites, natural parks and even adventure sports are on the city menu. Here I share some visited places but also some other that were on the list, but due the limited time, will have to wait for the next visit.
La Periquera Park
This was my first activity of the day. Early in the morning I head to one of the several tour agencies around Villa de Leyva and acquired a ticket to see the awesome waterfall the illustrated 9 in 10 brochures. This park is also pointed as an adventure site. I did the canopy but passed the canyoning due the freezing water. However, rock climbing that I was desperate to find anywhere in the region, is not on the menu.
It is a good place to go with the family, the “adventures” are not extreme. If you are used to adrenaline it might also be boring sometimes. But the hiking in the woods is a nice experience. You might be asking, what about the waterfall? Well… Dry season.. it’s complicated…
Antonio Nariño house and museum
Back in the city, after lunch, I stumble upon this place. Since the admission is free of charge it was a well spent time on the gardens and getting to know a bit more of the independency of Spanish colonies in Latin America. Clothes, paintings, guns, furnitures. Everything but the house (restored) is original dated from the century XVII and belonged to the most famous Villa de Leyva’s son
Nariño was the responsible for the translation of the Declarations of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from French to Spanish and there you can see a huge copy of it painted on the wall.
A very unusual place. 5 wells coloured with shades of blue/green that some claim to be the last traces of the vast ocean that covered the region once, due to the heavy load of minerals, no life can grow over there and swimming is forbidden.
I found it hard to believe the stories, but the place is undoubtedly beautiful. The wells contrasting with the desert and literally nothing else make it a very good spot for relax and enjoy the view. This is a private area, where you pay around $2 to enter.
There is absolutely no infrastructure in there. Bring your food and beverages if you plan to stay for a while. When I was leaving, I run across an old lady pooping behind the bushes. No infrastructure, remember?
El Fosil museum
Being one a dinosaur kid, this small museum was definitely on my list. I would rather say that this is a teaser for another great place: The Paleontology Research Center.
Ride a Bike in Villa de Leyva
There are several places you can go within a moderate distance from the city center. Most part of them are reached trought a circuit. So you leave the city, go all the way around the desert (yes, Desert), see the most places you can and when you finish, you are back in the town.
That looked like a pleasant tour, even for those not used to sports. The point is that half of this route (4 KM) consists of steep climbs. Add the heat and dry weather and you have the combination to be exhausted. If you don’t have a schedule and no fixed time to go back home (not my case) a bike to go to the city surrounding might be great.