“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ― Roald Dahl
There is magic to be found around the world. In an unbridled quest to discover the wonders of our world, I found myself in the historic colonial town of Villa de Leyva in Colombia and was utterly charmed.
Nestled in the arid Saquencipá valley of Boyaca highlands, the well-preserved Villa de Leyva is a mere 3-hour drive from Bogota but worlds apart from the Colombian capital city. Dating back to the 16th century, Villa de Leyva is lined with cobblestoned paths that lead up to its minimalistic whitewashed buildings, appropriately earning it a prestigious spot in the Colombian National Network of Heritage Towns. But there’s more to Villa de Leyva than its heritage architecture.
A weekend sojourn in town gave insights to why Villa de Leyva is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia. Here’s sharing some secrets and magical moments:
Villa de Leyva is home to the world’s biggest piece of pottery
Even if you are not an art lover, Casa Terracotta will intrigue with its sustainable concept and quirky chess-inspired design. With an emphasis on four natural elements; namely soil, air, water and fire, this 5,400 sqft clay house was literally cooked to life and gave food for thought with regards to alternative living and arts.
While there is no doubt that Casa Terracota - the biggest piece of pottery in the world - is a delightful piece of art, one may be pleasantly surprised by an inexplicable sense of excitement and joy while roaming around this creative space! Kudos to architect and owner, Octavio Mendoza!
Address: Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia
Price: 10,000 COP/ ~3.50 USD
Opening Hours: 9am - 6pm
Duration: around 1 - 1.5 hour required
Access: 20 minutes walk from main square of Villa de Leyva / book a tour
Contact: +57 316 3565273
Website: Casa Terracotta
This is one of Colombia’s largest main square
Does size matter? Well, the 14,000 sqm Plaza Mayor of Villa de Leyva - one of the largest main squares in Colombia - seems to convey the importance of grand spaces from the past to present. This heritage town with its huge plaza has attracted poets and writers since colonial times, and in present days, major festivals such as the annual Festival of Lights are held here. Interestingly, this is one of the most photographed locations in Colombia in spite of the great challenge to capture the grandeur of the plaza in a single shot.
Similar to most towns in Colombia, the main square marks important landmarks and local establishments. Visit the Iglesia Parroquial (an impressive looking parish church built in 1608), check out the Mudejar-style well in the middle of the square that used to be a water source in colonial times or have a cup of coffee in one of the cafes lining the main square. Life thrives in this central location where locals and visitors co-exist to people watch from morning till night.
Flavours abound from traditional to international
Foodies alert! Unlike most small towns in Colombia, the selection of cuisines in Villa de Leyva is wide and food quality is very good! From European, fusion to traditional local flavours, there’s something to suit each palate. Don’t miss the local’s favourite haunt, Restaurante Casa Blanca (White House Restaurant), which is a stone’s throw from the main square. For a traditional breakfast, Changua - a rich, savoury egg and milk broth with herbs and bread - is guaranteed to fill you up.
Restaurante Casa Blanca (White House Restaurant)
Address: a 13-91, Cra. 7 #13-1, Villa de Leyva, Boyacá, Colombia
Price: from 20,000 COP/ ~7 USD
Website: Restaurante Casa Blanca
Bride’s kisses are easily available!
Bride’s kisses are sweet and available, regardless of one’s marital status! Commonly known as besos de novia, these traditional meringue-cakes are simply white cake covered with crispy white sugar and they literally melt in your mouth. Although available at most bakeries, try the ones at Merengues & Besitos, Carolina. It is that hole-in-the-wall shop that’s on the same street as the Chocolate Museum.
Happiness is for sale at the Chocolate Museum
Perhaps one of the most visited shops in Villa de Leyva, the ever-crowded Museo del Chocolate (Chocolate Museum) sells happiness in the form of bite-size exquisite sweets, or more accurately, chocolates paired with nuts, fruits, alcohol, etc. In case you were wondering, the process of making these chocolates from processing the cocoa beans to its final output (you can request for custom made chocolates) is done by the Chocolate Museum - no mass production at factories! This ensures the quality that matches the premium price.
Museo del Chocolate (Chocolate Museum)
Address: Cra. 9 #11102, Villa de Leyva, Boyacá, Colombia
Price: from 6,000 COP/ ~2 USD per piece
Opening Hours: Daily 9am - 7pm.
Access: Adjacent to Main Square
Contact: +57 300 2654498
Website: Museo del Chocolate
Villa de Leyva is a shopping haven
Temptations abound here even for the passive window shoppers! There are some serious shopping to be done at Villa de Leyva. Ranging from hipster clothes (traditional and many imports from India) to handmade crafts and organic food products, every shop seems to offer something interesting and fun! Grab a hand-knitted Ruana (a poncho/wrap) or some of those cute handmade music instruments for a great souvenir.
Museums are aplenty … and mostly free!
The amazing thing about Villa de Leyva is its capacity to contain so much within this relatively small area. There are several notable museums in Villa de Leyva and many of them are free. Check out the 17th century Casa Museo Antonio Nariño (Antonio Nariño House Museum) to learn more about the life of this national hero.
In case you didn’t know, this region where Villa de Leyva lies used to be covered entirely by the ocean, and fossils such as ammonites can be found around town. At Museo El Fosil (Fossil Museum), you can find the fossilized remains of a monster fish associated with the family of pliosaurs! Besides this, the Paleontological Museum of Villa de Leyva makes for a worthy visit too!
Keys of Love can be found in Villa de Leyva
If you have been trying to contemplate life at the Plaza Mayor and failed to be inspired, head on down to the Keys of Love (Llaves del Amor) and you might find some love and life insights at this art gallery + cafe.
With his belief of fixing and transforming discarded or broken articles into useful daily products, Roberto (artist and owner of Llaves del Amor) recognises the true value in items that may not be immediately visible to others in the modern throw-away society. Ranging from outdoor installations, furniture to trinkets, the Keys of Love and its amiable owner give food for thought at a time when the world is battling with environmental issues.
Villa de Leyva: top travel destination in Colombia
Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station. Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
“Besides Cartagena, Villa de Leyva is possibly the next most popular or worthy travel destination in Colombia,” said the friendly cafe owner in Iza (a small town in Boyaca). He was not the first to rave about this colonial town. There must be a reason if everyone is singing praises of a particular destination, and I am glad I visited Villa de Leyva in spite of my scepticism.
On hindsight, a weekend visit does not do the destination much justice, but following the words of Lisa Teran, we have to go when it is time to go. The only thing that the errant visitor can hope for is to return and relive magical moments in the near future.
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