We were not sure what to expect in Villa de Leyva. Like most places we visit now, we kind of just show up and figure out what we will do when we get there. We camped at a great hostel near the town of Villa de Leyva and ended up staying for five days entertaining ourselves with all there is to do around this cool town which claims to have the largest plaza in South America.
There is a lot to do around the village, so here is how we kept ourselves busy:
It was my idea to rent bikes forgetting we were at 8000 feet in a very mountainous region. Miserable is a strong word, but when I was going up some of the hills the fun stopped. But then we would be on a idyllic dirt back road and I would forget the torture, until it all started again……
How they are growing grapes at this elevation is a mystery to me. And while it was not the best wine I have ever had at Marques de Vila de Leyva, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Around 110 million years ago this part of Colombia was an ocean and had huge kronosaurus swimming around in it. In the 1960s farmers found the skeleton of this bad boy and they built a museum around it.
The fritanga or Colombian grilled platter seemed to be very popular in the highlands, but the most famous place (or so we were told) to get a proper fritanga Boyescense is in Sutamarchán, a small village known for its delicious longanisa, a sausage made of tender pork tenderloin. We were in a meat coma after we finished, but I had to admit, it was delicious!
Ecco Home is a monastery built in 1620 by the Dominicans and is an interesting place to visit if you like old monasteries.
This area is so peaceful and easy to explore, we had fun just driving around and gawking at the sites.
There is a famous hike in this area, called The Angel’s Step or Paso del Angel. It is a stunning hike on a ridge with a canyon with a river on each side. It is very steep at points and the trail is only about a foot wide at one point. It was an easy hike and a fun way to see more the the landscape of this region.
On our way to the coffee region we stopped at Guatavita to explore and camp for the night. It was really rainy and cold, but we actually love the cold weather now, Central America will do that to you. The lake behind the town is the lake of the famous El Dorado legend. The indigenous tribes apparently had ceremonies in the lake where the chief was covered in gold dust sparking the rumors the lake was full of gold treasures. The first attempt to drain it was in 1545 where the Spanish forced slaves to scoop out water in gourds recovering about 40 pounds of gold treasure. Since then the lake had been drained many times but no real El Dorado treasure was found.
I still can’t believe they drained the lake with gourds……
Our final visit of this region was the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, which is highly talked about in all guide books, but a place we found a little over commercialized and slightly cheesy in person. It is a church carved into the salt mines which sounds really cool. The original alter was carved by miners praying for safety. Later the new church was built and expanded under the old alter. All I can really say is that it is an experience, and many people love it. I just thought it felt a little over priced and too Disney for me, but hey, what do I know.
On to the coffee region! What place can be more quintessentially Colombian?