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, about four 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 centered 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.
The charming colonial city of Villa de Leyva
Things to Do:
- Go shopping: Each street is lined with a fair number of shops which are worth a stop in as this region is known for its weaving, both of baskets and wool products.
- 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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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 kilometers 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
- 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 night time destination
Places to Stay:
- Casa Vienna not only has cheap rooms but offers the experience of staying with a Colombian family.
- Renacer Guesthouse is tucked back on a beautiful piece of land and has plenty of hammocks for guests to relax in.
- While there are plenty of established hotels, adventurous travelers may be able to find a good deal renting a room in a local’s house.
How to Get There:
Grab a bus from Bogota. There are more direct busses earlier in the morning. Otherwise, go to Tunja and then grab one of the frequent minibuses to Villa de Leyva.
About the Author: Rebecca Beitsch is a journalist and former Peace Corps-Panama volunteer traveling through South America post-service.