Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is one of the premier tourist spots in Colombia and is an easy drive from Bogota so gets busy at the weekends. The town is in a highland valley, although lower than Bogota, with a pleasant climate. It was declared a national monument in 1954 limiting any development so time has literally stood still since then. There is however a lot of development on the outskirts and surrounding area, fortunately for the most part in a sympathetic style.
We based ourselves in a Zona de Camping, 20 minutes walk from the centre of town enabling us to explore the surrounding area as well as the town.
Villa de Leyva has one of the largest central plaza’s in the Americas – it’s 120 metres square but unlike most central plazas in Latin America it is completely bare except for a fountain in the centre. No shaded benches to sit on and wile away a sunny afternoon. The town itself is very nice and the buildings are almost all in a uniform colonial style. There are a large number of restaurants and artisan shops which cater to the influx of tourists.
Importantly for us we found a Lavanderia (launderette) as we’d been hand washing clothes for the last couple of weeks, not a favourite pass-time of ours!
We spent our time in Villa de Leyva making short trips out to tourist sites. The first of these that we visited was El Fosil. A building has been built around the site of discovery of an almost completely intact fossil of a baby Kronosaurus (still 7m long). This is a survivor from the time when this area was part of an inland sea – surprising, given it’s at an altitude of over 2000m.
After El Fosil we drove down a very rough track to El Infiernito (Estacion Astronomica Muisca) which has a reputation of being the Colombian Stonehenge. It didn’t quite live up to this billing. One part of the site consists of parallel lines of stones about 1m apart which was used to determine the seasons, the other part is a field of phallic standing stones.
We also visited Pozo Azul which is a collection of natural ponds which are a deep emerald colour (of course they change with the sun) and a small eco-park containing a number of waterfalls (La Periquera).
The journey to La Periquera did not go smoothly. As we drove up the narrow dirt track to the site we got trapped between a low tree branch on one side and a muddy ditch on the other so we couldn’t go any further. We had to reverse about 500m up the track round some tight corners. Whenever you’re in this situation a local with a beer in hand seems to appear to help (something of a surprise at 9.30am !). If you are the same size as the Beast you can park by the entrance to the lane but if you are just an inch or two narrower and lower you could make it the whole way through to the small car park at the end of the track.
Hidden behind a hostel just outside the town is a nice hike up a small river to a viewpoint high above town passing a couple of waterfalls on the way. It’s pretty difficult to find the track though so ask at the reception desk at the Renacer guesthouse and they provide you with a helpful map.
When we left Villa de Leyva we decided to drive to a nearby National Park – The Sanctuario de Iguaque. This didn’t go quite to plan. We found the entrance road which was a gravel road heading uphill. The road wasn’t too bad – until we made a wrong turn when the road started getting rougher – including one bit which was about 10cm wider than our tyres with a 2m drop into a big hole on one side due to road works (a little bit heartstopping but the only way past was to gun the engine and cross your fingers !). We couldn’t find anywhere to turn around and we ended up crossing out of the valley and back to the main highway. After taking a couple of hours to go 15km and the cloud cover descending we decided to forget it and drove on to Tunja.