I love Villa de Leyva. It is a gorgeous small town north east of Bogota, nestled in the desert-like mountains, with an old-world charm still reflected in the enormous main plaza and the streets still covered in huge cobblestones. It makes getting around by any other method other than strolling rather bumpy, so strolling is the preferred method. It is a chic destination, and many of Colombia’s elite come here to eat, drink and spend money on their weekends.
Kwame and I got a bus leaving San Gil for Tunja and then hopped onto a small transfer shuttle to Villa De Leyva. We arrived just around dusk to see a small preview of the core part of town before we managed to find a cab to take us to the hostel we’d been recommended to stay at: Colombian Highlands Renacer Hostel.
As the cab drove farther and farther out of town up very steep streets, we began to question our choice about staying so far away. That fear soon dissipated when we saw the hostel itself. It was simply beautiful. Simple brick building nestled in the hills, surrounded with gardens, outdoor seating, verandas and open community spaces that let the breeze run through them. There was a clear view of the surrounding mountains and each night, the sky would light up with lightning storms from places far enough away that we didn’t hear the thunder. The best part was the sound – nothing. We quickly realized once we were settled in our darling room, complete with its own private patio and hammock, vaulted ceiling covered in wood vines and hanging candled lighting, that San Gil had been very noisy. Here, you could only hear the wind blowing outside and the sound of our own voices which we felt compelled to use in a whispered hush.
It was ridiculously romantic.
Our plan had been to head back to town for dinner, but we soon discovered that the restaurant at the hostel had sushi which we couldn’t believe, and decent wine for sale! So we ordered our food and had a very peaceful and cozy evening enjoying and sharing the serenity of the space.
The following day, we enjoyed our eggs and coffee/hot chocolate (typical Colombian breakfast) outside in the courtyard café, though we had to bundle up in sweaters to stay warm in the morning mountain air. We spent the day wandering around the city – doing a little bit of shopping because I really needed a warmer outer layer, having left my one warm fleece in the bag my friends took to Bogota for me! And, of course, our other favorite activity – eating. We had the most incredible Thai steak and Fish ceviche at Zarina – a gorgeous little eatery with outdoor seating next to small waterfall. We then strolled to the main square where the kite festival was still in full swing – there’s even specialized hardware in the stone work of the main square where people can anchor their kites! We took photos and watched the colors change as the sun began to set. We took dessert at a lovely little café and ordered tres leches cake, a chocolate caramel mousse and cappuccinos.
I reveled in having Kwame with me to share this all with. Villa De Leyva is most definitely not a town to come explore on one’s own. It begs to be experienced with someone.
Catching a cab back, we noticed yet another massive storm brewing – so we grabbed blankets from our room and the rest of the wine we hadn’t finished the night before, and set up lawn chairs around the fire pit to watch the show in the night sky.
On our last day in Villa De Leyva, we wanted to get out and do some hiking/biking. We ended up deciding to do a combination of the two and rented two (rather shitty) bikes from the hostel which we planned to ride to Santa Sofia on, do a hike called Angel’s rest, and then ride back, stopping at the famed “El Fossil” – a fossil of an aquatic dinosaur – before riding home.
Since it was an ambitious itinerary – we decided to first stop at a French bakery that we’d been told was excellent for a combination breakfast/lunch. We had to be determined as we soon found that riding the bikes over the cobblestones was practically impossible without causing oneself serious injury to an area God only meant to be treated nicely. We finally found it – Pasteleria Francesa.
Oh. My. God. Words cannot describe the sheer gastronomic delight this place delivered. Never in all my trips to France have I ever tasted pastry this fluffy, almond croissants this gooey in the center, and béchamel sauce this rich and flavorful. Kwame and I sat, speechless, stuffing our faces with sweet and savory delicacies for well over an hour until we could barely breathe and reached a jitters-inducing sugar coma.
We decided to take a taxi/truck to the trailhead as it was going to be too much to bike both directions (we asked some locals who explained that it was quite an uphill slog to get to Santa Sofia.) Every time the truck headed downhill, Kwame and I looked at each other with dread, knowing the challenge that awaited us on the return.
The hike itself was short but spectacular. It followed the spine ridge of a mountain and you could look far down into both valleys either side. Streams were running but they were very low due to the dry season. We hiked as far as a waterfall and then realized we could go no further as we were at the top of the falls themselves and anything further would require a rappel. We sat and ate a snack and took in the views before turning around to face our long bike ride home.
It was certainly tough over those first initial hills (all of which I’m proud to say I was able to complete without dismounting!) but then we reached an incredible stretch of downhill and it was pure joy whizzing past each corner, feeling the warm air hit our tired bodies and taking in the surrounding countryside.
We stopped for a water break at this gas station and as I treated our two liters, Kwame had a few bags of his favorite snack – Platanos Verdes chips. I will always associate him with those chips…oh lord. We sat inside what was a nice little bar/restaurant in the gas station and watched some very funny Colombian daytime TV. It’s funny the things you plan the least sometimes turn out to be the most memorable part of the day. I will always remember the fun we had at that gas station.
We made it as far as El Fossil on bikes and found we were completely spent. The museum was well worth the visit and had numerous examples of the paleontological wealth this area contained. The main fossil is almost completely intact and was discovered in 1977, the museum later build literally on top of it.
We grabbed some Colombian Red beer and ordered another “truck taxi” to take us back to the hostel from the museum. After a hot shower, we ordered Greek Souvlaki from our hostel restaurant and excitedly sat down in the community room’s theatre to watch Avatar. Unfortunately, the DVD player was so bad it kept skipping every few seconds making the movie impossible to watch…which is funny now, in retrospect. Exhausted, we headed to sleep early as we were facing another travel day tomorrow.
We were heading (back, for Kwame) to Sogamoso in the morning.