A few weeks ago, I went with my Tia Helena, Tio Jorge, cousin Jorge, and his wife Ana Maria to a really pretty colonial village called Villa de Leyva. It was a “Puente” – a long weekend where the Monday is a public holiday. There are loads of these in Colombia, a country with one of the most public holidays in the world; there are 18 to be exact, plus Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. These “puentes” are good opportunities to go on mini-vacations and explore the country, so I was really excited when my Tia Helena invited me to go along with them!
Villa de Leyva is about 2.5 hours from Bogotá, in another department (a department is like a province or state) called Boyacá. We left late Friday afternoon to get there around 7:00, and as soon as we arrived we set out to grab a pizza and a drink in the main square, “Plaza Mayor.”
The square is beautiful: wide and completely cobblestoned, a small fountain in the middle, a church at one end, and buildings with restaurants and shops all around. As I learned over the weekend, it is common for many visitors to just hang out on the steps drinking beer or aguardiente (Colombia’s most popular spirit) chatting with their friends. There were also lots of groups of children playing, stray dogs wandering, and musicians playing in many different restaurants, all working together to create a lively yet relaxed atmosphere.
What makes Villa de Leyva so attractive to visit though, isn’t just this atmosphere, but its history. It was founded in 1527, and is preserved today as it was. It was even declared a national monument in 1954! The buildings are whitewashed, and just like in Plaza Mayor, all of the roads are cobblestoned. You really have to watch where you’re walking if you don’t want to faceplant!
It is also surrounded by natural beauty, with impressive hills overlooking the town, and the climate is definitely warmer than Bogotá, further making it a good weekend escape.
There is a lot to do in and around the town; there are adventure activities like quad bike tours and mountain biking; interesting museums and historic sites; farms and horse-back riding; and other cute towns a short drive away.
Here are some of the things we did:
After a delicious breakfast at La Waffleria De La Villa, we hopped into the car and drove to the “Granja de Avestruces Espexoticas de Colombia” – an ostrich farm. Yes, you read right, an ostrich farm. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love animals, so naturally I was really excited. I was not so excited however to learn that you could also try ostrich meat and ostrich eggs at the farm’s restaurant, but hey, if that’s your thing, then go for it. There are over 100 ostriches on the farm, as well as llamas, horses, goats, and even a bison.
After buying a ticket, you are taken on a guided group walk through the farm, first watching a video about ostriches and the work the farm does, then taken to learn about how ostriches give birth. You are made to look at a photo of a baby ostrich coming out of it’s mother – unfortunately it’s now engrained in my memory. Now enlightened on how baby ostriches come to be, you get to see them in reality – so cute! Then you are taken into the ostriches’ pen, and can buy food to feed them. What follows is a bunch of giddy and terrified visitors simultaneously trying to feed these giant birds and running away from them as they launch themselves at the open hands. My cousin, Jorge, even had some peck-scars on his hand when we left!
Here you can see me amiably offering food to this ostrich, and then backing away and warning her to be nice. She didn’t listen, though, and I ran away giggling as it chased me. I would definitely recommend going to the farm just to watch the visitors running around terrified, laughing their heads off.
After a thorough hand wash, we went into town for lunch, then headed back out again to the Centre of Paleontological Research – a working research lab connected to a small museum presenting the findings of a number of dinosaurs (or marine reptiles as our guide corrected: they are not called dinosaurs if they live in water) and fossils that were excavated nearby, right outside Villa de Leyva. We learned that the area used to be a lagoon, thus leading to the preservation of so many unique finds. It is the only place of its kind in Colombia and with a guided tour describing the fossils, ammonites, giant turtles, marine reptiles, and mammals on display, it’s super interesting for all ages.
We then headed back to the main part of Villa de Leyva to relax after a long day.
We enjoyed a yummy home-style breakfast at our inn, Hotel La Fuente, before heading out to explore some nearby small towns.
Our first town was Tinjacá, where we stopped to visit a “tagua” workshop. Tagua, also known as vegetable ivory, is a material coming from the seeds of certain kinds of palm trees. It is very hard and white, and can be used to make all kinds of handcrafts and sculptures. The workshop we visited was owned by a family that has been making tagua products for almost 100 years. One of the members of the family kindly showed us how she makes them, and explained its history in the family. In this shop can also be found one of the smallest chess sets in the world (if not the smallest), made entirely of tagua. Here it is, with my finger for scale. It’s just slightly bigger than my nail!
Afterwards, we went to Raquirá, a colourful and busy town known for its ceramic handcrafts. We explored some of the many shops, hung out in the square, then had lunch before heading back to Villa de Leyva. Here are some photos:
The main square looking to the church. Notice the ceramic sculptures spread around!
The main street of colourful shops full of hammocks, ponchos, and ceramics.
Getting back to Villa de Leyva, we had a siesta before heading out to the square, where we grabbed a bite to eat and listened to some awesome live music.
We headed home on Monday morning, but not before checking out Pasteleria Francesa, a French-style bakery a bit outside the square that my aunt had heard about. We didn’t regret it – it was delicious! If you go to Villa de Leyva, make sure to visit, and try the almond croissant. Pure heaven!
The drive home was quick and easy, and we got to see the beautiful landscapes that we had missed driving there in the dark. I got back to Bogotá excited about getting to explore more of this beautiful country on future “puentes.” When I do, I’ll be sure to write about them!
Thanks for reading.