Growing to love Colombia

After a disappointing time in Bogota, I made sure I asked around before deciding where to head next. Villa de Leyva was one of those recommendations, and it sounded like the perfect place to start on the long journey north to the Caribbean coast.

The recommendation was perfect – from the moment we stepped off the bus, the contrast with Bogota couldn’t have been any bigger. The town is one of Colombia’s colonial highlights, and it’s a real stunner. The centrepiece is an enormous main square – reputedly the biggest in all of Colombia (and apparently about the only one not named after Simon Bolivar or one of the other revolutionary heroes). It’s set on a gentle slope, and is completely cobbled. Unlike the squares in most colonial towns in Mexico & Central America, it’s also completely free of trees, which gives it a much more open, airy feel, and makes it much easier to appreciate the views of the whitewashed buildings (another contrast to colonial Central America) and the mountains behind.

View across the main square

View across the main square

After the dangers of Bogota it was lovely to be able to wander around in safety, and just relax in one of the many cafes around the square. It was also quite a relief after the cold temperatures of the city to be somewhere with a more pleasant climate. The place was so enticing an overnight stop turned into three days there, filling our days up enjoying the local countryside (despite the best efforts of our guidebook to mislead us).

Colonial houses on the main square

Colonial houses on the main square

First up was an ascent to the Lago de Iguaque, a little lake at the top of a mountain that’s sacred to the local indigenous people. The guidebook described it as a ‘lesiurely, relaxing five hour stroll’. It started out easily enough, but about half way through we found ourselves scrambling up an extremely steep slope for an hour, which at an altitude of 3,500m is hardly something I’d describe as leisurely OR relaxing. It was all worth it though for the views (once we’d finally got our breath back).

Santuario de Iguaque

Santuario de Iguaque

The next day took us to one of the other local sites that the guidebook described as ’2km north of the fossil museum’ but actually turned out to be about 5km along roads that forked regularly with no signposting the wholeway. After numerous wrong turns (and being chased away by a pack of dogs at one point) we finally (and I’m still not sure how) we made it to the ancient solar observatory, dedicated to a fertility god, and made up of a series of standing stones that cast shadows to help the locals identify the ideal planting season. Well, that’s what the signs said it was. My friend Matthew described it more succinctly as looking like a ‘forest of cocks’, for that is indeed what the standing stones looked like.

Admiring the observatory

Admiring the 'observatory'

A couple of great hikes, a beautiful little town, and charming locals. Which was all it took to start me falling in love with Colombia.

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12 responses to “Growing to love Colombia

  1. Phew! We finally agree on something. As I said before, Capital cities never represent what the rest of the country is like.
    Villa de Leyva is certainly an amazing and charming town. The city played an important role during the colonization and being there takes you back to the the time when Colombia was still a Spanish colony.

    I’m glad you’re learning to love Colombia. It happened to me many years ago. As they say, “Colombia, the risk is wanting to stay”.

    I had to leave but I go back whenever I have the opportunity and I always find wonderful new things to see and to do.

    • It’s good that we agree on something now, definitely! It’d be pretty hard not to love Villa de Leyva, it’s such a special place. And I’m loving the rest of the country so far too

  2. wow geoff the countryside looks absolutely gorgeous. glad that things have improved.

  3. um, anything described as a “leisurely 5 hour stroll” is clearly not going to be that leisurely. a stroll is that thing you do that takes no more than half an hour, surely. usually on the way to a pub.

    looks beautiful though.

    i am in between au pairs meltsown again – but about to go on holiday so assuming i get through the next few days in one piece (work a bit tricky at the moment too) i will be able to chill at long last.

    lots of love xxx

  4. The guidebook has a tendency to be a bit misleading.. atleast that’s what I’ve learned over the last 6 months! Use it as a guideline :)

    • I know, but the LP guide to Colombia is by far and away the worst one I’ve used, it seems like absolutely everything is wrong. I mostly rely on word of mouth these days, and just use the guide for back up

  5. Hi,

    I found your blog through LP’s website. Your ATW story is very inspiring, and I hope it is going well for you.

    I am glad that you have found a sweet spot in Colombia! My mother is from Cali, and I have visited Valle and the Carib coast a few times, but have not made it to the area around Bogota. Thanks for the highlights, as I’ll keep them in mind!

    Take care!

    • Thanks! All going well still, loving Colombia now after that shaky start, still have a few weeks left here so still plety toi see and to write about!

  6. pretty pics, I liked the third one the most…

    • Cheers Tom, I’m glad the views were good after that hike, I’d have been pretty annoyed after all that work if they hadn’t been

  7. There are many other beautiful places you can see in Colombia that are not mentioned in book. I invite you to see pictures I have been taken during many trips around Colombia and another countries: http://picasaweb.google.com/viajeraColombia

    That are other regions I don’t have in digital pictures, very beautiful: zona cafetera (coffee plantations departments those contain the Parque Nacional Los Nevados), Boyacá department (where Villa de Leyva is, but there are another towns like Mongui, The Candelaria desert and the convent, Eccehomo Convent, Tunja and its churches, Tibasosa, Sierra Nevada del Cocuy), Santander Department with some beautiful towns like Barichara, Zapatoca, Socorro, Panachi National Park, Antioquia (Medellín, embalse de Guatape, the Peñón, Río Claro), Chocó and its beaches of dark sand beaches that reflect every clound and the wales observation time in July, the rivers of the jungle in Puerto Inírida, where rivers are of wine color and warm temperature and the beutiful and marvelous sensation of the Inirida river rapids, Orinoco river and the marked stones, San José del Guaviare, Caño Cristales (the five color river), the Llanos Orientales, and many other sites…
    I have traveled viewing other countries, and I found that every country has many many things to offer. Only you have to know where to know and what to see.

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