While not a destination you’re likely to see advertised at many of the other hostels around Colombia, the charming colonial town of Villa de Leyva is absolutely a backpacker hub – it’s just still waiting for its backpackers!
Nestled at the foot of a mountain in the otherwise rolling hills of Boyocá, just three hours outside of Bogotá, Villa de Leyva is known as a popular spot for those looking to escape the craziness of the nation’s capital for the weekend.
While weekends may be a bit on the busy side, weekdays are a different story. A slew of reasonably-priced and largely vacant hotels and hostels are available during the week when you will pretty much have the town to yourself. It’s the kind of place where you can spend hours strolling the cobblestone streets, taking in the whitewashed colonial architecture and the fresh air.
The town itself is centred around a church and a giant plaza – one of the largest in Latin America. Smaller plazas are sprinkled throughout the town, breaking the sea of red tile roofs. Its uniformity doesn’t make it boring, but instead, the well-preserved town feels like walking back in time to a peaceful country town.
Where to Stay in Villa de Leyva
Dorms are not as common in Villa de Leyva as in other parts of Colombia and the budget traveller is better off finding a private room with shared bathroom. Here are a few good value options in and around the town…
Casa del Carmen – One of the cheapest options in Villa de Leyva, Casa del Carmen is situated in an old colonial house with a central courtyard. Located close to the central park. Single rooms start at $15 US and twin rooms start at $29 US.
Hostal Home Sant Angelo – A clean and comfortable hostel run by a couple of lovely Colombian ladies! The hostel is situated in a historic old house about five minutes walk to the city centre. A double room with a shared bathroom starts at $23 US.
Hostal Renacer – Tucked back on a beautiful piece of land, this superb hostel is one of the top picks for travellers to Villa de Leyva, especially those looking for tranquillity and nature. A beautifully renovated old farmhouse with lots of outdoor spaces to hang out in, the hostel is located about a 20-minute walk from the town centre. Double rooms start at $34 US per night.
Top 5 Things to Do in Villa de Leyva
1. Go Horseback Riding
Cheap trips are offered all over town, varying in length. If you fancy a quick jaunt you can go down to the watering holes outside of town or head further out for a whole day adventure.
Horseback riding, one of the best ways to spend the day here!
2. Head to the Market
On Saturday the town hosts a large produce market with tons of organic options as well as veggies not likely found elsewhere. Broccoli, squash, zucchini, and romaine lettuce make it easy to prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal.
The Saturday market is a bustling jumble of produce and products
3. Grab Some Lunch
The flower-filled courtyards with nice tables under umbrellas make it a great place to grab a lazy lunch. Or grab a sandwich and picnic in one of the many plazas. The French bakery, where chocolate-filled pastries are in no short supply, is a must and a great place to duck out of a brief afternoon rain shower and sip a frothy hot chocolate.
4. Head for the Hills
Take the two-hour trail that winds behind the town providing a birds-eye view of Villa de Leyva. Or, a few kilometres outside of town is a trail that passes seven waterfalls. One company also offers mountain biking tours.
Hike up to get incredible views of Villa de Leyva
5. Take a Dip in the Steamy Hot Springs
At night these hot springs about half an hour outside of town offer a great way to relax and take in the stars after a day of adventure.
The steamy hot springs are a great nighttime destination
How to get to Villa de Leyva
Grab a bus from Bogotá which takes around three hours. It’s best to go early in the morning as there are more direct buses earlier in the day. If you miss the direct buses, go to the nearby town of Tunja and then grab one of the frequent minibuses to Villa de Leyva.
Written by – Rebecca Beitsch, a journalist and former Peace Corps-Panama volunteer travelling through South America post-service.