A visit to the charming colonial town of Villa de Leyva is like stepping back in time into Colombia’s past. With its 400-year-old Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and all-white buildings, it’s a stunning looking town, so it definitely should be on your Colombian itinerary. However, many people visit Villa de Leyva as a day trip from Bogota, Colombia’s capital. Should you do that?
The answer is no. Like many others, we made that mistake and I can guarantee that if you do the same, you too will regret your decision as soon as you arrive there. You need more than a day to truly enjoy this beautiful, peaceful town. I loved Villa de Leyva and had heard it was best to stay there more than a day. But I was stubborn and didn’t listen; now I wish that I had!
We chose the perfect day to visit Villa de Leyva. We left a cold and overcast Bogota and arrived in a warm and sunny Villa de Leyva. The cloudless, blue sky perfectly complemented its white buildings.
It’s a picture-perfect town and I could have easily spent days there just enjoying the backdrop. However, because we’d booked a day trip, we didn’t arrive until after 11 am. It took us almost three and a half hours to get there!
The first hour was spent getting out of Bogota. Like many big cities, Bogota’s traffic is terrible. It’s so bad that they have regulations in place to limit the number of cars on the road during peak hour (cars with even-numbered license plates cannot drive during rush hour on the even-numbered days of the month, etc.).
The regulations don’t seem to work that well however (many people buy two cheap cars to get around the restrictions). So, if you visit Villa de Leyva for the day, you’ll spend close to seven hours in the car. Crazy!
How to get to Villa de Leyva from Bogota?
The cheapest way to reach Villa de Leyva is by public bus. There are two terminals in Bogota that have buses heading there.
The first, Salitre, is in the centre of town and the other, Terminal Satelite Del Norte, is in the north. Choose the terminal closest to your accommodation. Being in the centre of Bogota, Salitre has more bus options, but because the buses have to travel through Bogota first, they get hit with its terrible traffic, making the journey longer.
There are several bus companies to choose from. They take different routes and pass through different towns; some are direct and some are not. It can take anywhere between 4 and 5 hours to reach Villa de Leyva by bus. Tickets cost around $25,000 COL one way, depending on the company. So if you decide to go for the day, well, you better leave super early! Better still, stay the night there.
With a tour
If like us, you take a tour, it will still take around three and a half hours each way to arrive. As well as day tours, you can also book two or three days tours. That’s something we should have done, so I highly recommend it. Don’t be stubborn like me, just do it!
By Uber or taxi
If you are not short on cash, then, by all means, take a taxi or Uber, it will be faster and of course more comfortable. However, it’s going to cost you a lot more. You may save half an hour by doing this but to be honest, it’s not worth it.
What did we do with only a day?
Not a lot is the answer, I am mad about taking photos, so I spent most of the four hours we had there doing just that! I just loved the feel of the town, the architecture, the flowers, the old streets.
For me, Villa de Leyva was a photographer’s paradise. It reminded me a lot of Popayan, the first town we visited in Colombia, after crossing the border from Ecuador. We spent three nights in Popayan; something we should have done here.
Here are some of the places we wandered to and photographed:
Just like every town in South America, Villa de Leyva has a main square. Theirs is called Plaza Mayor and, surrounded by old colonial buildings, it is the largest town square in Colombia. On the south-east side, the Iglesia Parroquial dominates the square, while the Mudejar fountain stands tall in the middle of it. Dotted around the square are plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or a drink, with the square and the surrounding mountains in the background.
The old cobblestone streets
Several cobblestone streets head outwards from the main square. So, get walking and lose yourself in those streets. Actually, it would be pretty hard to get lost in Villa de Leyva because it’s very small. Eventually, you’d end up in the main square again.
The architecture is well preserved and those streets are meant to be admired and photographed. You’ll find restaurants, small shops and friendly locals who will smile at you. Just be careful not to twist an ankle on those cobblestones! Wear comfortable shoes.
This house, designed by Octavio Mendoza, is only a few minutes outside of town and is made entirely out of clay. It is said to be the largest piece of pottery in the world.
For COP 10,000 you can enter the house and visit its many rooms. It has everything, a kitchen, bedrooms, dining room, bathrooms, toilet, workspace, and even a terrace on top with views of the neighbourhood.
All the rooms have fascinating designs, similar to what you’d find in Barcelona with Gaudi’s work. Most furniture is built-in to the clay walls and nicely decorated.
The house’s architect, Octavio Mendoza, used to live in the clay house. But when people heard about it, many wanted to take a sneak peek inside. After being continuously disturbed, he decided that it might be better just to open it to the public for people to admire. He built himself a more normal house to live in close by.
What to do if you have more than a day?
If you have more time, you can visit the Paleontological and Fossil Museums, the Casa Museo Antonio Narino or go quad biking around the countryside.
If you love wine, visit Marques de Villa de Leyva for some wine tasting. That’s right, Colombia does have wine, it’s just very hard to find unless you visit Villa de Leyva.
But most of all, enjoy your time in town, sit back and relax, watching time go by. That’s mostly what I wish we’d had a chance to do. Villa de Leyva is a great place to chill.
What to eat in Villa de Leyva?
Eat the “menu del dia” in one of the many local restaurants
The “menu del dia” is a fixed price meal and it’s what most Colombians order at lunchtime. It’s a traditional Colombian menu, which includes soup or a side salad, a choice of meat (pork, chicken or beef), white rice, potatoes, fried plantain, a fruit juice and sometimes even a dessert. It’s normally very tasty and it’s cheap. Win-win!
Where should you stay in Villa de Leyva?
Because you won’t be making the same mistake as us, you will need to stay somewhere for a night or two.
There are many places to stay in Villa de Leyva; here are the best on booking.com.
If none of those takes your fancy, use the HotelsCombined search box below to find your perfect place in Villa de Leyva.