Villa de Leyva: 130 Million Years of Colombian History
I watched Jurassic World recently and two things struck me: How did that too stupid to be funny guy from Parks and Recreation become a Hollywood star, and are ordinary, “real” dinosaurs not good enough anymore? (they created genetically enhanced “mutants” in the movie because people were getting bored of plain old dinosaurs). What does this have to do with Villa de Leyva? Well, this is a town famous for its dinosaur fossils. Even if you’re not too excited about seeing fossils from the ancient past there is still plenty to keep you busy. Here’s what we got up to in this historic Colombian town.
A visit to the fossil museums
We took a short bus ride out of Villa de Leyva to “El Fossil”, a small museum housing a remarkably intact fossil of a water dwelling dinosaur. There isn’t much else of note in this museum, but just across the road is the far more interesting CIP (Centro de Investigaciones Paleontologicas). We were shown around by a bookish local guide who explained the history of the area and the various fossils which have been found there. I asked her if she liked Jurassic World and was met with a disapproving shake of the head. This woman (or possibly teenager) was serious about her dinosaurs; no genetic enhancement for her! The ocean used to cover this region of Colombia, so you won’t see any T Rex remains, but the water dwelling beasts are almost as cool.
Walking around the old town
Villa de Leyva is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia, and in my opinion it’s a close second to Barichara, a small town in the Santander region. The buildings are mostly white with terracotta coloured roofs and the streets are made up of rough cobblestones. Once you get off the main road it’s really peaceful. We stopped for rests in small squares and cafes, with the occasional passing by local, or dog, for company. Villa de Leyva is home to the biggest plaza (square) in Colombia, it’s basically a ring of white buildings surrounding a huge expanse of uneven stones overlooked by barren hills — definitely a great place for a photo!
The terracotta house
We walked out of town towards Pozos Azules (more on that in a minute) and got completely lost due to Google Maps being wrong. It was a happy accident though. Our unreliable digital guide took us down a dusty road which led to a weird terracotta house. We paid about a dollar each to have a look inside — the creator of this house is clearly a bit eccentric. It was an unexpected surprise while walking through the outskirts of Villa de Leyva.
After getting directions from some helpful locals, we eventually made it to Pozos Azules. I have no idea who made these pools (they seem man made) or why they are so colourful. There isn’t a lot of information around, except for the important rule that swimming is forbidden and, not wanting to end up like the Toxic Avenger, we followed that rule. We walked around the 3 pools, which glow bright green and blue, for about an hour. The surrounding countryside is a bit like a desert and the pools like tiny oasises. Make sure you visit Pozos Azules on a bright, sunny day as grey weather will make for a far duller experience.
Villa de Leyva from above
A short walk from downtown Villa de Leyva is a mirador where you’ll get a great view over the town and surrounding countryside. We didn’t walk far up the hill as we got a bit lazy, but I’m sure the view is even better from the top.
Villa De Leyva: Getting there and where to stay/eat
Villa de Leyva is around 4 hours north of Bogota and is easily reached by bus. We took the night bus from Armenia to Bogota, arriving at about 5.30 am and were on another bus headed to Villa de Leyva within half an hour. We struggled to find a place to stay for under $50,000 COP (we paid $50,000 COP or less nearly everywhere else in Colombia) and after an hour or so of frustrating searching we settled on a place close to the centre for $55,000 COP (around $20 USD). There are some great places to eat in Villa de Leyva. There’s a fried chicken restaurant on the main street where you can get half a chicken and fries for around $ 11,000 COP and there’s a small shop close to the main plaza which specialises in empanadas — they were the best that we tried in Colombia.
Would you like to visit Villa de Leyva? Have you been to any peaceful Spanish colonial towns? Let me know in the comments below!