Villa de Leyva: Travel Guide
I’ve now been to Villa de Leyva three times. I’ll also be returning when friends come to visit me this next spring. The first time I went, I simply stayed for the day. The second time I stayed on a friend’s estate that was nearby, and the third time I went for a 10K (my first in Colombia!).
Villa de Leyva is famous for its Spanish colonial style architecture and cobblestone roads. It is considered to be a national monument of Colombia. It’s known to be an expensive city, even for locals. It has a moderate climate with an elevation of 2,000 m (7,000 ft.) and is situated in the Andes mountains. Coming from Tunja, it is a warm break from the cold.
Villa de Leyva is only accessible by bus or car. There are direct buses from both Tunja and Bogotá, in addition to some other nearby small towns. A one-way bus from Tunja is $6,500 COP, which you pay once you have boarded the bus at the terminal or at the north of the city. The bus ride from Tunja takes under an hour if there is no construction. This road is often under repair because rocks fall off the mountain on a regular basis. This routes winds through the mountains and can cause motion sickness for some (myself included), but it provides a gorgeous view.
Once you are in Villa de Leyva, everything within the city is accessible by foot. A few of the tourist attractions are a bit further outside of town. You can get to these by bus, horse, four-wheeler or taxi. The buses and taxis can be hired at the bus terminal.
Where to Stay:
Obviously, the best place to stay is with me in Tunja and then just make a day trip to Villa de Leyva. If, for some strange reason, this doesn’t appeal to you, there are a multitude of campsites, hostels and hotels in Villa de Leyva. Camping is around $12,000 COP per person, per night, assuming you aren’t going for the kite festival. A hostel room, shared among four people, at Hostal Villa Real was $100,000 COP and included beds with sheets, toilet paper, a private bathroom, and wifi. This price was bartered from $120,000. I have never done any research on where the best place to stay was, because I ended up at the hostel after my friends and I thought it was going to rain and decided we didn’t want to camp in the rain. It never rained by the way.
Also, if you have a friend with a “finca”, that is by far the best way to stay in Villa de Leyva. My friend’s property was up in the mountains and included an adorable house that was equipped with everything you could need for a weekend. The picture below was the view from my bedroom window.
What to Do:
There’s a lot to do in Villa de Leyva considering it’s size. The main plaza is worth seeing. I’ve drank a lot of coffee overlooking the plaza and most of it was only a bit overpriced by Colombian standards (around $3,000 COP). Horseback riding and four-wheeling are really popular and you will be offered these services during your entire stay. I have yet to do either of these things, but I plan on doing them when I return.
The Museo del Carmen is $2,000 COP to enter and houses religious art. It isn’t very big and can be done in under an hour. There are a couple other museums which I haven’t been to including the Casa Museo Antonio Nariño and the Luis Alberto Acuña. Outside of Villa de Leyva is the Museo Paleontológico which is an outdoor museum of dinosaur replicas. Admission is $14,000 COP and includes a guided tour (in Spanish). We negotiated a taxi there for $30,000 COP. Due to the location of this museum, it includes a beautiful view of the surrounding scenery.
The national park called Iguaque is also easily accessible from Villa de Leyva. My friend’s property bordered on this beautiful place.
Other things to do outside the city include El Fósil, which is a giant shell fossil; an ostrich farm, which I’ve run past; the Pozos Azules, blue lakes, which I’ve driven past; and El Infernito, which I just learned is a Muisca astronomy observatory that includes a collection of giant penis statues related to Muisca fertility rituals.
I don’t know how I missed this on my first three trips. I’ll definitely be visiting El Infernito the next time I go to Villa de Leyva. (Not my picture, link provided if you click on it).
The race I ran was called Corre Villa de Leyva and happens every October. It was a really challenging course that was mostly on dirt roads. The elevation change was also rather significant. This year’s main sponsor was a tuna company, so I received tuna and a lot of tuna labelled products. These are just a few of the things I received. This race offers a 6K, 10K and 21K (half-marathon).
To be honest, food in Villa de Leyva is a bit overpriced if you are near the main plaza. For lunch, ask for the price of the menú del día and what it includes. In some of the pricier places, this will save you a lot of money. I ordered a menú del día at Carnes y Olivas and it was $12,000 COP. It included a salad bar, a small plate of fruit, a glass of fresh juice, two pieces of pork, rice, fried yuca, and a couple slices of tomato. “Fast” foods such as empanadas, arepas and patacones (fried plantains) will also save you money and work well as meal substitutes.
In the main plaza is a little dinky Colombian place that serves meals for under $15,000 a meal (drink included). Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name, but it doesn’t look like much of a restaurant, which is why we entered in the first place.
Café Los Gallos: Carrera 8 #7-00
This place serves smoothies, delicious arepas loaded with all sorts of things, and pastries for a reasonable price. My meal (drink included) was around $15,000 COP.
Casa Blanca: Calle 13 #7-06
This place served a fantastic ajiaco, which is a typical Colombian soup in this region, but I unfortunately have no idea how much it costs because someone else paid for me. I am assuming it wasn’t that outrageously priced because ajiaco is typically one of the cheaper options on the menu. The soup includes chicken on the bone, corn on the cob, capers, potatoes and yuca. It is topped with a fermented cream and avocado. It also came with a fresh juice and a side of veggies and rice.
Cacao Heladería: Carrera 10 #11-85
To be honest, there are a ton of great dessert places in Villa de Leyva. This is just one of the places I’ve visited. My friends raved about their freshly made waffle that was topped with Nutella and ice cream ($8,500 COP). My gelato was also fantastic (two scoops – $5,000 COP).
So, there you have it. There’s a little bit about my experiences in Villa de Leyva.
Note: $2,000 COP is around $1 USD if you’re looking to do the conversions.