Villa de Leyva
From Bogota, it's about a four-hour drive to the charming 16th century town of Villa de Leyva, located high in the Andes. Declared a national monument in 1954 due to its perfectly preserved colonial architecture, this town is a great place to experience Colombian culture and active adventures. During my visit, a highlight was dinner at the Mercado Municipal, a restaurant created to recover the gastronomic heritage of the region. The following day I visited the restaurant owner's farm and experienced lunch at a wooden rancho to taste some of the best food in the country, made with local ingredients, mostly organic and cooked with so much love!
Villa de Leyva was very active and alive at night with Colombians going out to find dinner, watching the sunset, and enjoying other activities that continued late into the night. You'll find live music at the bars and restaurants, people dancing on the sidewalks, or groups of multicultural foreign adventurers sharing their trip experience in different languages. I felt a very good vibe during my stay there and always felt very safe.
From Villa de Leyva, I journeyed further into the Andes among towering waterfalls cascading through cloud forests to the province of Santander, known as the adventure capital of Colombia. About a 4 hour drive took me to the UNESCO heritage town of Barichara, a National Monument dating back to the Spanish conquest and justifiably touted as "The Prettiest Town in Colombia." Biking on country roads is especially great as well as hiking on the Guane Royal Road, a network of stone trails, first created by the indigenous people of several tribes across the country.
The nightlife in Barichara was much calmer than Villa de Leyva and I enjoyed strolling down the tranquil cobblestone streets among the 18th century whitewashed buildings and red-tiled roofs as our guide gave us an architectural tour of the city. We enjoyed arepas before dinner with local musicians who entertained us with their tiples, a plucked string instrument of the guitar family typical of Colombia. I was very impressed to see the local children play their instruments like professional musicians, from the harp to the guitars, the maracas, etc and the typical dances, it was a wonderful spectacle!
Traveling around these two charming little towns kept me happily trapped in the past. They were both great base camps to go out during the day and do activities in the surrounding, more modern neighborhoods. From horseback riding, hiking ancient roads or to waterfalls, rappelling, rafting, culinary, architectural or cultural experiences, these two cities are some of Colombia's biggest highlights and I recommend visiting both! Check out our Highlights of Colombia trip to visit these two towns or we can also customize a trip to fit your needs.