In my opinion, Villa de Leyva is by far the most worthwhile day (or overnight) trip from Bogotá. Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and is located pretty much in the center of the country, high in the Andes mountains. While Bogotá is easy to fly in and out of, transportation between Bogotá and other Colombian cities without a major airport can be difficult, and is pretty much limited renting/hiring a car or taking a public bus. As such, day trips, short breaks, etc. can be more difficult here than in other countries.
Since we were in Bogotá for five days, I definitely wanted to take a day trip, but I was iffy on visiting Villa de Leyva at all (did we want to spend the time getting there and back?), as well as how long to stay (day trip or overnight?) and how to get there (car or public bus?). I ended up visiting Villa de Leyva as a private day trip with Tours of Colombia and while it was very expensive, it was totally worth it! If you visit Villa de Leyva by rent a car, I would note that the roads leading in and out of Bogotá are not in great shape and the further out you get, the worse the roads become, many lack even basic signs. As such, make sure that you have a good map and at least an elementary level of knowledge of Spanish. And if you take the bus, note that you may miss some of the surrounding highlights that we hit, or you will need to make plans to visit from Villa de Leyva.
Since we opted to visit Villa de Leyva in just one day, our tour started early – at 5:00 a.m.! Part of this was to get to Villa de Leyva with enough time to explore the city, and an extra 30 minutes of it was because we had to get out of Bogotá before 6:00 a.m. due to traffic regulations. Side note – since there are so many cars in Bogotá, on certain days only odd ending license plates can drive during rush hour, and on other days only even. Confusing!
After getting out of Bogotá, our early morning properly started with a stop in the town of Ubaté for a true Colombian breakfast – coffee with cheese and potato soup! The restaurant was very casual, very Colombian, and very cheap. As a side note, Ubaté is the “Milk Capital of Colombia,” and there were lots of cow-themed things! Here is our breakfast spot and my potato soup “breakfast.” Quite delicious for about $3.00 USD. Dan opted for a rib soup. I couldn’t stomach meat that early…
After breakfast, we drove a little further and stopped in the “Ceramic Capital of Colombia,” Ráquira. Ráquira is an adorable Spanish colonial town and I would I like to have spent a night here. The town has a main square anchored by a church, lots of ceramic sculptures, lots of friendly dogs (odd), and great shopping! Ráquira is very backpacker friendly and the weather was excellent when we visited. We spent about 45 minutes walking around and checking out the excellent (and super cheap) souvenir shops.
Shortly after stopping in Ráquira, we finally arrived in Villa de Leyva. The main attraction, and well worth the early wake up and three hour drive. Villa de Leyva is stunningly beautiful. I immediately fell in love and wish that I had spent a night or more here!
As you can see from the above pictures, Villa de Leyva is a gorgeous and very well preserved colonial town. Its primary feature is the main square, which is ringed by an active cathedral, restaurants, and hotels. Several cobblestone streets radiate out from the main square and filter through town. Villa de Leyva reminded me a lot of a small Cusco (Peru). Our guide took us on a town tour and gave us a short history lesson. I was very surprised at how up market Villa de Leyva is in terms of tourism. Lots of bed and breakfasts, restaurants and nice shops! We stopped in one of the colonial buildings turned coffee shop for a coffee and a delicious juice. It was cool to see the inside and garden of one of the historic buildings!
We also stopped at the Casa Museo de Antonio Ricaurte, a famous Colombian military figure in defending against the Spanish. The museum is located in the house where Ricaurte was born in 1786, and it is now a Colombian military museum. Even for those not interested in the Colombian military, it is a nice example of one of the colonial-style homes, and this one is complete with a beautiful and well-maintained garden! I would allow 30 minutes for the museum and gardens; it is very small.
After, and at my request, we visited Villa de Leyva’s own chocolate shop, Museo del Chocolate, right on the corner of the main square! Very creative and delicious desserts! Below is chocolate with star fruit! If you visit, note that based on my own personal experience, all of the chocolate is extremely fresh and lacks preservatives. As such, it is not the type of chocolate that you want to keep for more than a few days, and it is not the type of chocolate that is inexpensive! Delicious nonetheless!
Next, we left Villa de Leyva proper and visited the Museo del Fósil, just down the road. I have to admit that I was NOT thrilled (like not at all) when I learned that this would be on our tour, but it actually turned out to be very cool and I would recommend it. In short, all of this part of Colombia used to be under the ocean and the Pliosaurus was an oceanic dinosaur. A local farmer unearthed this completely intact fossil in the 1970s. So this complete fossil has been here for 100 million years. Mind blown. In all seriousness, the below pictures does not do its size justice. It reminded me and Dan of the Vasa in Stockholm.
We also toured the famous clay house – Casa Teracotta. This was a bit difficult to find, but was a cool site to see. Skipable if you are short on time, but apparently everyone who comes to Villa de Leyva stops here… For a few dollars, you can walk through the inside of Octavio Mendoza’s clay house (not yet inhabited) and on the roof. It reminded me a lot of Gaudi in Barcelona!
Our final stop was my choice, a visit to Marqués to Villa de Leyva – one of two Colombian vineyards. The vineyards were beautiful! Read about it here.
Well actually, not our final stop. Dan had casually mentioned that he would love to try one of the roadside Colombian BBQs á la Anthony Bourdain, and Tours of Colombia made it happen! On the way back, we stopped at a very authentic – no tourists – roadside BBQ in the famous sausage town of Sutamarchán. The food was delicious and super cheap. Dan, our guide and our driver split a mixed BBQ plate. I opted for the more feminine pork platter… ha. Both delicious!
All in all, a fantastic trip! I highly recommend both Villa de Leyva and Tours of Colombia!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Tours of Colombia – Our entire day set forth above was planned by Tours of Colombia. I emailed them about the tour and they set up the itinerary. To set up the itinerary, they sent me a list of things that you could do in and around Villa de Leyva, but my only preference was the winery! They did an excellent job and even accommodated us when we asked for extra stops – like the food stop at the end. While expensive at about $250 USD a person, I found it to be completely worth it if you have the money to spend. Both our driver and guide, Jahir, were amazing and Jahir, who grew up in the US, spoke perfect English. Highly recommended if you are looking for a private tour in the Bogotá or greater Bogotá area! We also used Tours of Colombia as a car service to and from Andres Carne des Res. As then, our driver (same person) was excellent and a complete gentleman. Again, highly recommended!
Ubaté – A nice stopover between Bogotá and Villa de Leyva. This is a link to their TripAdvisor site.
Ráquira – The ceramics capital of Colombia. Ráquira also makes a nice stop between Bogotá and Villa de Leyva and would make an even better place to stay the night! Very relaxing!
Villa de Leyva – My favorite day trip from Colombia! I recommend staying the night or two to fully explore the area and relax!
Casa Museo de Antonio Ricaute – Informational page in Spanish. The museum seemed open during normal business hours. I recall a very small entrance fee.
Museo del Chocolate de Villa de Leyva – Chocolate shop and “museum” located on the main square. More shop than museum. Located on the right corner of the main square if you are facing the cathedral.
Mueso el Fósil – Open 8:00 – 5:00. Located just outside of Villa de Leyva. Allot at least 30 minutes. Get directions in town. Everyone knows where this is. Small entrance fee. There is a restaurant and gift shop on premises.
Casa Teracotta – Spanish website. $7,000 Pesos ($2.30) entry fee. Open daily 9:00 – 6:00. You just drive up and one of the neighbors takes your money. Definitely get directions in town or take a car. The casa is a bit difficult to find.
Marqués de Villa de Leyva – Km 10 Vía Villa De Leyva – Santa Sofia. T: 258 9933 – 216 7496 – 633 2837 Option 2. Mobile: 317 518 2746. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday thru Sunday including holidays. The website states that reservations are compulsory, but, as I mentioned, we did not have one and had no problem. I would call ahead if visiting again.
Sutamarchán – Located about 20 minutes outside of Villa de Leyva, this town is famous for its road side sausage stands. Be prepared to speak Spanish if you stop!
ON A BUDGET
If you are on a budget, Colombia is an excellent destination! It has great culture and delicious food, yet it is very inexpensive compared to visiting a Western country. While Colombia is generally inexpensive, Villa de Leyva is a bit more expensive than other locations. I think that because of its romantic setting, it attracts more “up market” visitors; it is very popular with Europeans. There are certainly a decent number of hostels, etc., but plan ahead to avoid shelling out a lot of cash if you are on a budget!