Home to the largest Plaza Mayor in the Americas, possibly
A few hours from Bogota, the delightfully chic, Villa de Leyva possesses colonial wealth, gastronomic wonders and internationally celebrated festivals. With idyllic whitewashed walls, cobblestone streets, elegant dining, boutique shops and galleries, Villa de Leyva is one of the top weekend retreats for Bogotanos escaping the demons of the daily grind.
Only three hours by car and a distance of 175km from the capital this colonial masterpiece and National Monument in the Boyaca department is a perfect haven from the rigours of Bogota.Boasting, what some say is the largest and certainly most gapingly expansive, Plaza Mayor in all of the Americas and some of the finest examples of colonial streets dating back to 1572, Villa de Leyva is a sight to behold. Certainly it would be hard to argue that this Plaza is not the biggest, covering 14,000 square meters of cobblestones and bordered by magnificent colonial structures.
Busy yourself by day by touring the surrounding hills and valleys on horseback. At an altitude of 2125 meters above sea level you may be appreciative of your trusty steed! Just three of the must see attractions include the Periquera Waterfalls, the temple at Sachica and the Museo Paleontologico. As you can imagine there are plenty of charming examples of Boyacense culture here and in the area to delay you longer than a weekend.
Customer Service, Boyacense style!
On an average weekend the place fills up with exiles from the city and obviously during any of the town’s numerous festivals this number and the cost more than doubles. However, it must be said that the level of service in Boyaca makes their counterparts from the coast look hurried. Do not be surprised at long waits and poor service; Boyacenses are famed in Colombia for this.
Kites block out the sky above the Plaza Mayor in August when expert kite runners descend upon the town for the Festival de Cometas (Kite Festival), and on December 8 nobody within earshot of Villa de Leyva will sleep as the riotous noise and spectacular pyrotechnics of the Festival de Luces (Firework Festival) thunder on.
Zorro was here?
With ornate balconies and flowering bougainvillea spilling over the tops of the walls it is no wonder that this is a favoured location to use as a film setting. Currently some of the buildings are not painted in their traditional white as the telenovela (soap opera) Zorro is being filmed here, but should you, in your wanderings, reach a traditionally decorated area in the afternoon light, the paintwork is piercing. For a more accurate image of this place, think Antigua in Guatemala, Granada in Nicaragua, Trinidad in Cuba or perhaps Cajamarca in Peru, but shrouded in a white bride’s veil since this is one of Colombia’s most coveted wedding locations.
So, head to the Plaza Mayor in the early evening and join visitors, locals and soap stars alike as they congregate here in their numbers on the steps of the cathedral. Settle down with a beer, aguardiente or fejoa juice to listen to cuenteros (storytellers) and watch them gesticulate maniacally as they illustrate their tales of wonder and relevance to the region.