Villa de Leyva Travel
Just a few hours from Bogota but a world away, Villa de Leyva is a chocolate-box colonial town.
Cobblestone roads, terracotta roofs and quaint churches; Villa de Leyva is a colonial town that has remained unchanged for decades. It has been protected and preserved since 1954, when it was labelled a national monument for the picturesque architecture that attracts Colombians and extranjeros alike; and once you set eyes on it yourself, you too will understand why it is a cherished gem of a village.
Villa de Leyva was founded in 1572 and named after Andrés Díaz Venero de Leyva, the first president of the New Kingdom of Granada, though it had been inhabited long before this by the Muisca civilisation. The town’s enticing location amidst the Andes bestows it with a mild, dry climate and captivating views of the rippling mountains behind; it’s easy to see why the elite of colonial society liked to escape here from the capital!
Likewise, with its picturesque architecture and crisp air, Villa de Leyva attracts both Colombians and visitors to this day. The town is known for having one of the largest plazas in the country (sprawling for 14,000sq m), with a trickling water fountain at its centre and panoramic views of whitewashed houses topped with terracotta roofs. Adding to the charm are quaint churches and cobblestone streets, roamed by horse-drawn carriages, and the pretty surrounding countryside which incorporates Iguaque National Park, where keen hikers can get their fix.
Churches of Villa de Leyva
A stroll through Villa de Leyva reveals a clutch of ornate churches that all derive from the colonial era, including the Iglesia Parroquial which sits on the plaza, gleaming in baroque splendour. Then there’s the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo, a Dominican convent dating back to the 17th century with a pretty courtyard and paved stones containing ancient fossils; you can also venture slightly out-of-town to admire a 150 million-year-old fossil that was found in the area; rather spectacular, indeed!
Iguaque National Park
Just 13km from Villa de Leyva you’ll find the high-altitude wonderland that is Iguaque National Park, a delicate ecosystem where a plethora of plant and wildlife thrives amidst a breathtaking landscape of undulating mountains and sweeping valleys. The heart of it all is Lake Iguaque, which the Muisca people believed to be the birthplace of Mother Earth, and you too can relish a slice of ethereal tranquillity on a hike here.
This beguiling archaeological space was uncovered in the 19th century by Joaquin Acosta, who stumbled upon what was once a ritual site; and a rather unusual one at that. Thought to be used for religion, astronomy, and funerary purposes, El Infiernito (meaning ‘Little Hell’) is a collection of more than a hundred stone carvings that may be representative of the Muisca calendar, though were clearly also used in some way for fertility rituals...!