IMG_4464-1-1024x482 Colombia Heritage Towns: Villa de Leyva Colombia
Villa de Leyva’s vast plaza is the largest in Latin America. The main church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (at right) is more unassuming than some of the other monumental churches we’ve seen.

A High-Desert Treasure

Traveling from Monguí, we had a new experience: a fast, easy trip on modern highways! In a single morning, we descended almost a thousand meters to the postcard-pretty town of Villa de Leyva.

This Colombian Pueblo Patrimonio (officially designated heritage town) is best known for its vast and open main plaza – billed as the largest cobblestoned square in all of South America. The town was chartered in 1572 after the Spanish overcame the Muisca people, who had inhabited the area for centuries. (You’ll hear variations on that sad history, over and over, throughout Latin America.) Later, the town played a key role in Colombia’s independence from Spain; in fact, the first Congress of Nueva Granada was held there in October 1812.

Against this historic backdrop, the first thing you notice about Villa de Leyva is that it is washed in light – with a sky as big as anything I remember from my West Texas childhood. (Maybe that’s why I felt so at home there!) The wide-open spaces, bougainvillea-draped cobblestone streets, and beautifully preserved colonial buildings (some dating back to the 16th century) all conspire to make this a truly enchanting place. And it’s stunning on a moonlit night.

(Usual note: Most of our photos are in galleries – just click through to see a larger view.)

Things to see and do in and around Villa de Leyva

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I love my hand-knit ruana from Alma Bazar.

Shop for one-of-a-kind handicrafts

Strolling through town, you’ll see street after street filled with artisan workshops and tiendas. Be sure to check out Alieth Tejido Artesanal, a cooperative of local women who weave beautiful woolen handicrafts and wearables such as sweaters and ruanas (ponchos). We also loved Alma Bazar, a quaint shop in a four-century-old casa that also houses an interesting art gallery and cafe.

Go wine tasting

There are wineries nearby? “We’re there!” said John, the one who spent 30-plus years in the wine industry (and Susan, who doesn’t mind drinking it at all!). It turns out that this part of Boyacá department is one of Colombia’s most up-and-coming wine regions, and Villa de Leyva plays host to several first-class wineries. We spent a lovely morning at Viñedo Ain Karim, named for an ancient Israeli village.

Visit Casa Terracota

This quirky attraction on the outskirts of Villa de Leyva was originally created by a local architect to serve as his primary residence. It became such a curiosity that the poor guy had no privacy, so he eventually moved elsewhere and turned the house into a tourist attraction. Casa Terracota is supposedly the world’s largest work of pottery, and its builders had to develop a technique to fire the clay in situ using portable kilns. It’s still a fully functioning house with working bathrooms and kitchen. It’s touristic but definitely worth a visit!

(Note: Due to Covid restrictions, the house interiors are currently off-limits. John was able to get these nice inside shots by peeking through the windows.)

Experience monastic life at the Convento Santo Ecce Homo

About 8 km outside of Villa de Leyva, this tranquil monastery was one of our favorite stops. The Convento was founded in 1620 as a hermitage for Dominican friars and seems little changed from those days.

Take a drive (or bus) to Raquira, Colombia’s pottery capital

Raquira is about an hour away from Villa de Leyva by car and is also easy to get to by bus. The dozens (perhaps hundreds) of terra cotta workshops churn out pots and figurines of every size and shape imaginable, supplying nurseries and shops all over Colombia.

Check out the Pozos Azules.

This series of man-made ponds is not far from the Casa Terracota and is best visited on a sunny day, when the water is a brilliant turquoise. The day we visited was overcast, but the ponds were a lovely deep teal and very quiet – which made for some nice “reflection” photos. The owners have done a nice job of creating a tourist attraction of what are essentially five irrigation pools – with a well-manicured walking trail to each.

Where to eat and drink

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With its proximity to Bogota, Villa de Leyva draws plenty of visitors from the capital city. That gives the town a more cosmopolitan and upscale (and yes, touristic) feel than others we visited, with an interesting and diverse restaurant scene. Our favorites:

El Patio. Varied menu with excellent food and service, presented in a colorful and whimsical outdoor setting.

Chez Remy. Very tasty French cuisine served up in a lovely garden setting. It was the perfect place to linger over a long lunch and a nice rosé.

Pasteleria Francesa. Another must-visit French establishment, with croissants and other goodies to die for. We enjoyed chatting up the bakery’s friendly owner, who was born in Paris but has spent his last 20 years in Villa de Leyva.

La Bodega and La Cava de Don Fernando, two watering holes right on the parque prinicipal. If you’re craving a nice micro-brew, La Bodega is the local outlet for Bogota Brewing Company. La Cava is especially fun for people-watching (with excellent mojitos!), and they also serve up a decent pizza.

Where to stay

For most of our visit to Villa de Leyva, we stayed at the cozy and comfortable Maria Bonita, a newish hotel with the feel of an old Spanish hacienda. At about $65 US a night, it’s a great value.

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Morning view from our balcony at Maria Bonita. So nice to wake up to!

We splurged a bit on our last night and moved up the hillside to the Hotel Duruelo, a large hotel-spa-convention center perched high above town. An upcoming birthday was all the excuse we needed to indulge in massages and the sumptuous pool area. The hotel is beautifully landscaped and has the feel of a centuries-old monastery.

Next up: Zipaquirá and the World-Famous Salt Cathedral!

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20 Comments

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! The town was really amazing when lit by the full moon. We got lucky with that!

  1. I loved your reference to the big sky! What a fascinating part of your amazing road trip.I was especially intrigued by the home that is actually a giant piece of pottery! What fun it would have been to watch it being constructed!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I think you’d also feel right at home there, Mimi! Not unlike Pagosa (without the big mountains). I would have loved to see how they built the Casa Terracota – an amazing feat!

  2. Villa de Leyva is beautiful, I love the pictures you took under the moonlight! There seems to be no light pollution in that area, perfect to watch the stars!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You’re right, there’s no light pollution. It’s such a beautiful place at night! We loved the clear air and coolness.

  3. Mary McGarvey Reply

    Thanks again, John and Susan! What sumptuous photos! John’s from Texas, too (Irving) and I think we’ll have to head there soon! Does the hotel (either one) allow pets? (We have a well-traveled kitty who is hoping for a break from here!)
    All best to you and keep up the good work!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi, Mary! We didn’t see any pets at either hotel, but that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed. There are lots of lodging opportunities there including Airbnbs, which might be a better bet for your kitty. If you’re going to Villa de Leyva, you should really also check out Barichara and Monguí! Let us know if you plan a trip and we’ll give you tips. And thanks for the comment!

      BTW – I sent you an email a while back. Hope you saw it 🙂

      – Susan

  4. Fantastic road trip!! This place looks so beautiful and tranquil. I like the views from your hotel and good idea to splurge a bit with an upgrade for the special occasion.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Gilda! It was such an amazing trip. Hope you’re doing well on the Camino – we’re loving following your adventure. All the best!
      – Susan

  5. What a wonderful road trip. Since January 2020 we still haven’t made it out of our own province of BC. I greatly, greatly appreciate traveling virtually with you. Especially with those clear inviting skies!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Donna! Hope you can get out traveling again soon. In the meantime, glad you’re enjoying our posts. All the best!
      – Susan

  6. What a wonderful potpourri of sights and activities. I love the terracotta house, and that huge square, and the ponds. Lovely.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Alison! Colombian heritage towns are the gift that keeps on giving. We can’t wait to see more.
      Susan

  7. Glad you splurged for a birthday! Is each place you visit different? Do you think you could get bored with travelling so much? Cheers, Muriel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Muriel! Birthday post coming up 🙂 It’s funny, I was just sitting here wishing we were out on the road again. We will never get bored with traveling, but as long as we have our two senior dogs (our kids!) we can only go so far and for so long. Without them, we might very well sell all our stuff and hit the road full-time again. Maybe someday.

      To answer your other question, Colombia’s heritage towns have a lot in common, but each is special in its own way. The huge parque in Villa de Leyva, for instance. We saw nothing like that anywhere else.

      Hope you’re doing well!

      – Susan

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It was incredible! It’s a really popular tourist attraction, but really exceeded our expectations. The creator had an amazing vision and figured out how to execute it. We loved experiencing the result!

  8. Wow it’s so beautiful. I would love to go wine tasting there and see the ‘star wars’ houses. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful places in South America which I will probably never visit 🙂

  9. I’m incessantly amazed by how beautiful Colombia’s heritage towns are, while thinking how am I going to see them all when I go to this part of the world? Well, I know I won’t be able to do that and will have time just to visit some. But your photos are too pretty it’s impossible to choose!

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