Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bogota's Playground: Villa de Leyva


Destination: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Number of Days: 4

Times we took the: Boat/Ferry - 0 Bus/Minivan - 3 Train/Subway - 0 taxi/car - 2 Horseback - 1

Where we stayed: Colombian Highlands (2 nights, 40,000cp) great little place with an awesome backyard. Only drawback is having to walk a mile...literally...into town and it's all uphill on the way back. With equally priced and almost as nice digs in town (though with very small rooms), we decided to move after two nights to Hospederia Las Brisas (40,000cp - $18)

Favorite Restaurant: Pizza places are a dime a dozen here. Everyone serves the tasty pies, but the Olives place in the corner of the plaza had the best in town (not that we tasted every one, but take our word for it) for around 20,000cp for a medium. It's the one in the South east corner of the plaza literally in the corner. For cheap eats, the second restaurant from the bus stop on the left had a good comida del dia (set meal) for 4000cp (less than $2) per person including a drink.

Best of: Horseback riding to the Blue Lagoon, Dancing the night away in the Discotheque, the cosmopolitan/artistic feel of the town makes it a great place to explore.

Worst of: Gnat bites!!! No kidding, these evil bloodsucking bugs leave craters in your legs and ankles that itch for a week. If you plan on doing some hiking in the hills surrounding the town, use some bug spray and wear pants.

Most Memorable: The views of the town from high on the hill are breathtaking and worth the effort

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We arrived in Villa de Leyva in the afternoon, dropped off our bags, and headed into town for some dinner. On our way to dinner we ran across Robinn, Claude and Lisa who we had met in Barichara and they invited us to a nice dinner at an organic/natural restaurant. Located inside the Case Quintera, an upscale collection of restaurants, shops and bars, the restaurant had an excellent seafood dish that Tracy enjoyed. We spent the rest of the evening on the church steps enjoying a beer and listening to the live music being played in the square.

The draw of the town comes from it's unique blend of old and new. Cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls present the town as sleepy and unassuming, perhaps frozen in time much like Barichara and Guane. Peeling the outer facade away however reveals another side. Step through any of the walls to the inner workings and you will find artist studios, classy restaurants and the colonial town is brought into the 20th century. Even private homes have stylish gardens and elaborate landscapes all hiding away behind the old walls like a private oasis. The elite from Bogota visit here on the weekends and many have homes here.

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Our first full day here we started off the morning with the local market. Markets are always a fun way to get in touch with the local vibe and crowd. Jason picked up some "breakfast" foods like grilled pork ribs and a few pork skins while Tracy had her fill of fruit salad topped with cheese and a strawberry sauce. We also bought some interesting fruits to try. Tracy enjoyed these little berries (forgot the name of course!) as well as a fruit called a granadilla, which you eat the slime covered seeds for a crunchy snack.

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After the market we signed up for horseback riding out to the Blue Lagoon with Andres, a friend of Lisa's and also a tour guide. Tracy had never rode a horse before and this was Jason's first time since he was about 12. Luckily, the stable had some rather tame horses for us novices and give us very little trouble. The Blue Lagoon might not be in any guidebooks, but it's a nice stop non-the-less. The water has a beautiful deep blue color and the water is...well...some may call it cold but let's call it refreshing shall we? After taking a quick dip and cooling off from the hot day, we got back on our horses and galloped off to the fossil museum. As the ocean receded from this area thousands of years ago, it left behind millions of fossils. The area is covered and it does not take much to actually find mussels and snail remains captured in the rock...that is at least if you know what you are looking for. The highlight on the area fossils wise is the huge crocodile like remains of the Kronosaurus. Once discovered, they built the museum around the remains rather than attempt moving it, but not before thieves made off with the tail and one of the four legs. What's left is still an incredibly large creature.

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That night we again met up with Lisa and her family and went to see the movie Slumdog Millionare (great film if you have not seen it yet) at the small little theatre they have which plays independent films. After the movie, we had a few beers again on the church steps before heading to the Discotheque for some late night dancing and our fair share of rum!

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The next day we ended up skipping out on the full day hike we had planned and decided to hang around town and explore a bit. We ended up walking to to the top of the hill overlooking the town and got some some great shots. After hanging out on the hill for a little while, we came back to town and explored a bit. It's a great place just to poke your head in behind the walls and see what's there.

We also made a trip out to Raquira, a small town about 25kms outside of Villa de Leyva. It's well known for making pottery and we were able to see it being made in one of the workshops. They still use horses to mix the water and dirt to make the clay. They then take the clay and pour it into molds which are then fired in a coal burning ovens. The little factory was the only thing that was really worth seeing here unless you love shopping for junk. The town itself was a little disappointing in that the town overdoes it on the tourist side. The shops along main street all have the same mural that stretches down both sides and feels out of place. On our way back to town we stopped in a small town that is known for making jewelry out of a seed known as Tagawa. They pick the seed and let it dry for two years before carving it into rings, statues and others.

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Our last full day there, we joined Andres and his friend Kat for another adventure into the hills surrounding Villa. We hiked straight back out of town virtually climbing up a dry river bed until we reached a waterfall that was trickling off a drop of about 200 feet onto a deep green moss covered floor. It was a nice, but challenging, hike and made the little cove at the top a nice reward. Andres and Kat took the opportunity to do some rappelling, but we chickened out. Probably a good thing we didn't go as it was getting dark just as we made it back down the hill.

The next morning we headed to Bogota for our last few days in Colombia.

To see more photos from Villa de Leyva please click here!


Anonymous said...

Wow! It looks like you had an amazing time! I am leaving to Colombia in 2 weeks and I am planning on taking a trip to Villa de Leyva, I've looked EVERYWHERE and can't find a company that will do the Horseback riding and hiking tours in Villa de Leyva...Would you be so kind in sharing the information on your tour? I would love to go horseback riding there. Thank you so much

Jason & Tracy said...

We did have an amazing time, one of our favorite stops in South America. We met a guy named Andres Christiano Rios and his e-mail is; mobile: 3143474660; other phone: (091)6146193. He's highly energetic and will do just about anything you ask to make sure you have a good time. He can also arrange hiking, rapelling, hanggliding, etc. If you can't get a hold of him, you can also arrange it when you show up. There are several small businesses located on the street in front of the bus station leading towards the square. Sorry I can't remember the name of the shop but look across the road from the sad looking cows set up for tourists to take pictures riding. Have a great time! And seriously, the gnats are bad if you go for a walk...the bites didn't heal for over a month! - Jason