Villa de Leyva: Best Things to Do, Hotels + Restaurants

Villa de Leyva Colombia is a small town in Boyacá that quickly became one of my favorite places to visit during my five month trip.

When I visited Villa de Leyva it struck me that the day to day life felt very European. With the main streets and central plaza still paved in cobblestones, it feels as though the town hasn’t changed much in the last 300 years.

But the preserved history of Villa de Leyva, Colombia dates back to well before colonial times.

The area is known for being rich in fossils from the Cretaceous period when it was covered by a shallow sea. Most famous is El Fosil, which continues to be one of the best things to do in Villa de Leyva.

And the significance of the Muisca people who inhabited the area for centuries before the Spanish arrived is very much evident in the astronomical traditions of the area.

This Villa de Leyva guide covers it all. From what to do, where to stay, and the best restaurants. You know, all the important things in life.

Wide Angle view of the cobbled square in Villa de Leyva. White colonial buildings, including the main church, and green mountains surround.

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Visiting Villa de Leyva Colombia

The fabulous thing about visiting Villa de Leyva is that all of this history is accessible in various forms. You can choose what to do in Villa de Leyva based on your interests. 

You could spend the entire weekend in the center of town, enjoying the best restaurants and cafes, museums, and historic houses. Or venture outside of town to a wine vineyard, visit El Fósil, or explore cave and waterfall near Paso del Angel.

Did you know? Villa de Leyva was once a major producer of olive oil. My curiosity peaked when I saw a sign for pure extra virgin olive oil produced since 1916. When I spoke with the producer, he explained it is made completely by hand, using wooden tools instead of a machine. The house, which was his grandfather’s, still contains some of the original tools. He plans to turn it into a museum one day.

Pink bougainvillea flowers grow over the top of the wall, one of many white colonial houses lining the cobblestone streets of Villa de Leyva. Fog settles over the mountains in the background.

Where to stay in Villa de Leyva: Hotels and Hostels

As one of Colombia’s top tourist destinations, there are many options for places to stay in Villa de Leyva that range from backpacker hostels to boutique hotels.

You’ll want to secure a place ahead of time if you plan to travel during the weekend and especially during a holiday. Although I recommend avoiding the weekends when hotels often sell out and prices double.

My Top Picks: Hostels and Hostels in Villa de Leyva

I stayed different hotels in Villa de Leyva, located in the town and others just a short walk with mountain views. I’ve include my top picks below in various budgets so that you can decide what’s best for you.

  • La Casa Del Arbol Boutique Hotel ($$$$) – In a fabulous central location, this boutique hotel in Villa de Leyva has spacious rooms with high wood beam ceilings and a sliding door that opens to a private balcony or terraza.
  • Hotel Casa Terra ($$$) – Located just a short walk from the center of Villa de Leyva, Hotel Casa Terra features a gorgeous garden patio area with mountain views. The rooms are very spacious, several of which have separate seating areas.
  • Hotel Casa Boutique Villa de Leyva ($$) – This boutique hotel is located inside a traditional home with simple yet charming decor. Hotel Casa Boutique also features an interior patio where the included breakfast is served.
  • OFF Hostel ($) – Centrally located Villa de Leyva hostel with modern decor. Featuring capsule style beds, high speed internet, and mountain views from the balcony. Private rooms available.

19 Best Things to Do in Villa de Leyva

I spent 10 days here as a bit of a rest in my travels while discovering all the things to do in Villa de Leyva.

I’ve also included things to do just outside of the town, most of which are easily accessible. I started this list of what to do in Villa de Leyva with one of the most popular activities but quickly jump into things to do that you won’t find anywhere else. So let’s jump in!

Tip: The surrounding towns are connected by bus and it’s possible to link some of these activities together for a full day of exploration as you’ll likely be passing by one activity on the way to another. 

1. Visit Casa Terracota

The Clay House is the largest piece of pottery in the world. Impressively, all 5,400 square feet are made of clay which was strengthened by conducting fires inside, room by room.

As you approach Casa Terracota, the various shapes and textures catch your attention, drawing you towards this oddity. But the artistic details inside the home are equally if not more intriguing.

Visiting Casa Terracota is definitely one of the best things to do in Villa de Leyva and even better if you learn a little about the history of its creation before you go!

An overall view of Casa Terracota in Villa de Leyva. Strange shapes and contours stick out of this house made entirely of clay.

Hours: Everyday 8:30 am – 5:30 pm 
Cost: 23-50,000 pesos (varies by season, day of week, and age)
To get there: 30 minute walk from town or take a bus.

Learn about the Muisca People

As an advanced society with a great understanding of astronomy and a wealth of gold, the Muisca were one of the most important societies of Mesoamerica.

Their knowledge and respect of the sun, moon, planets, and stars is evident throughout their culture, from the gods they worshipped to the east-west orientation of their houses and temples. 

To get to these activities: Take the bus towards Santa Sofia and get off at Hotel Aire Libre. From there it’s a 15 minute walk on a mostly flat dirt road with beautiful views of the valley.

2. Sol Muisca

I strongly recommend first visiting Sol Musica across the street from El Infiernito to learn more about the Muisca people, how they lived, and the famous Legend of El Dorado.

I arranged a tour the night before and met Natalia, the creator of Sol Muisca, for a tour in English at 10 am. Her knowledge and passion for this part of Colombian history is infectious.

I’ve since been told the tours are not bilingual but they can give basic information in English. Plus the interpretive center itself is educational with lots of information in both Spanish and English.

A stone pathway leads to a round clay house with thatched roof, traditional of the Muisca people.
Vessels, bags, and instruments used by the Muisca people on display inside of a replica of a house at Sol Musica.

It’s evident that their intentions are to act as an accompaniment to the archeological site by educating about the Muisca culture. I learned a lot about the Muisca and it felt great to support their cause.

Map Location
Hours: 10 am – 5 pm every day
Tours: 10 am and 4 pm, 40 minutes. 15,000 pesos
Astronomical Nights: 7:30 pm, 2 hours. 45,000 pesos
Contact: Contact on Whatsapp

3. Solar Observatory – El Infiernito

Over 100 upright standing stone columns and a burial ground have been excavated at this site. These large stone pieces of pink sandstone rise straight up from the ground with a ring carved towards the top.

A stone column with an incised ring rises from the ground at El Infiernito, the archaeological site outside of Villa de Leyva.

Arranged in an east-west orientation, these monoliths were used to track the solstice and equinox, to determine the change of seasons for planting and harvesting crops.

During the solstice, the shadows of the stones line up with the sacred Lake Iguaque, where according to the Muisca religion, the mother goddess Bachué was born. This site is also where the Muisca gathered and exchanged goods with other pre-Columbian societies.

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they named the site El Infiernito (Spanish for Little Hell) and destroyed it. Over the years it was plundered until official restoration began in 1981 and it was later deemed an archaeological park. 

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Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9 am-12 pm, 2 pm-5 pm
Cost: 10,000 pesos

4. Drink Chicha, a Fermented Corn Beverage

Now that you’ve visited some of the sacred places of the Muisca people, try the fermented corn drink they savored called chicha. Keep your eyes out for signs offering chica for sale in town and at the restaurants in Villa de Leyva.

If you are unable to find it, there are other opportunities to try chicha in Colombia, such as during the free walking tour in Bogota. However, nothing beats finding a small batch production in one of the small towns of Boyacá.

5. Paso del Angel: Go on a Hike near Villa de Leyva

There are several waterfall hikes in the valley surrounding Villa de Leyva. Near Santa Sofia is Paso del Angel and Cascada el Hayal where there is also a cave that was used by indigenous communities for ceremonies.

The views from Paso del Angel near Villa de Leyva
The skinny path that gives Paso del Angel its name

Paso del Angel, or Angel’s Pass, got it’s name for the short section of skinny path with steep cliffs that drop down on either side. It was a bit nerve wracking (after the adventure to get there) but it has since been upgraded.

You can also book this ATV tour to explore the nearby waterfall and cave. It includes round trip transportation from Villa de Leyva.

Shortly after I hiked Paso del Angel, they closed for a period of time to restore the natural habit of the area. The reopened as an nature park with extreme activities such as a bicycle in the clouds and suspended hammocks.

And that skinny path is now fitted with a suspended glass bridge so that you can safely cross with the feeling of falling to your death.

Map Location
Hours: 8 am – 4 pm every day
Cost: 10,000 pesos
Read Reviews and Book a Tour

Discover Prehistoric Villa de Leyva (El Fosil)

Many fossils have been discovered in Villa de Leyva and the surrounding valley. As you’re walk around town, keep your eye out for the fossilized sea creatures that were used to decorate some of the buildings and churches in town.

Although the most famous fossil is at the Museo el Fosil near Villa de Levya, I’ve included two other activities that pair well. These are great things to do in Villa de Leyva with kids or any science lover.

6. Museo El Fosil Villa de Leyva 

In 1977 a farmer discovered a nearly intact Kronosaurus fossil just three miles from Villa de Leyva. After suggestions that it should be moved to a museum, the local community protested and built a museum around the large fossil instead.

On display is the large fossilized Kronosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile with an elongated head, short neck, four flippers, and long sharp teeth. Since then, a smaller Kronosaurus was found nearby and moved to the museum which also has other fossils on exhibit.

Tip: Surrounding El Fosil are small shops and restaurants so that you can spend the day and have lunch.

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Hours: 8 am – 5:30 pm every day
Cost: 20,000 pesos Adults, 10,000 pesos Kids 4-14 years old for a guided tour

7. Paleontology Research Center 

Across the street from El Fosil is the Paleontology Research Center. This non profit organization studies and preserves fossils in Villa de Leyva, many of which are more than 130 million years old.

For an extra fee there are hands-on learning experiences such as excavating for fossils and molding your own ammonite, which are the now extinct mollusks that were prevalent in the area. This paleontology center is one of the more fun things to do in Villa de Leyva.

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Hours: Monday – Thursday 8 am-12:30 pm, 2 pm-5 pm; Friday – Sunday 8 am- 5 pm
Cost: 18,000 pesos

8. Gondava Dinosaur Valley

Welcome to Colombia’s Jurassic Park. This theme park is no doubt riding on the coattails of the other two attractions, but I mention it because it gets great reviews from travelers with dinosaur-loving kids.

This outdoor attraction features life-size dinosaur sculptures among the trees and a small manmade lake. Be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. It’s about a 30 minute walk from the other attractions, so you may prefer to find transportation since you’ll be walking a lot once you are there.

If you’re limited on time or unsure about spending the entire afternoon dedicated to paleontology, this activity can easily be skipped.

Map Location
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday and holiday Mondays 9:30 am – 4:15 pm
Cost: 14,500 – 20,000 pesos (Varies by age and day of the week) 

9. Visit the Paleontology Museum

Back in town is the Paleontology Museum which is supported by the National University of Colombia. The small museum has several fossils on display with descriptions in Spanish. Another reason to visit is the botanical garden in the back.

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Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 am-12 pm, 2 pm-5 pm; Sundays 9 am-3 pm
Cost: 10,000 pesos Adults, 7,000 pesos Kids

10. Enjoy a Wine Tasting at Ain Karim Vineyard

Viñedo Ain Karim has been producing internationally awarded wine for over 30 years using vines imported from France and Napa Valley.

They found the cooler than average temperatures of Boyacá to be the perfect climate to grow grapes. And I found the setting among the mountains to be quite peaceful.

I know what you’re thinking. Does Colombia produce good wine? Actually, yes!

I was expecting some overly sweet red juice, but their Cabernet Gran Reserva has depth and flavor. And the Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, again not too sweet, with hints of green apple which paired beautifully with uchuvas, one of my favorite Colombian fruits.

A glass of red wine, a glass of white wine, and a charcuterie plate of cured meats, cheese, and olives on a table at Vinedo Ain Karim.

Map Location
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 10 am – 4 pm
Cost: 99,000 – 159,000 pesos depending on the package you choose. You must reserve ahead on their website.
To get there by bus: Take the bus going to Santa Sofia and tell the bus driver where you are going. The road leading to the vineyard is clearly marked. From there, it is a 10 minute walk along a flat dirt road. The last bus going back to town leaves Santa Sofia at 5:15 pm.

11. Swim in the Spring at La Mesopotamia Hotel

Built over 400 years ago, this colonial building was previously a wheat mill. It’s now a restored hotel surrounded by lush grounds and pathways embedded with fossils from Villa de Leyva.

A natural spring flows through the property and is collected into a large stone pool at the back of the hotel. The water is cool and a welcomed relief from the hot days in Villa de Leyva.

I arrived late morning to walk around the grounds and peek into the common areas, including the dining room where the old mill is kept.

The atmosphere feels old century luxury with a country cabin twist. Reviews of the hotel itself indicate the property is in a bit of disrepair but I didn’t notice that as a guest for the day.

You’ll need to consume something at the restaurant to use the pool. And it may be limited to guests only during the weekends.

Did you know? Villa de Leyva Colombia is located in a high altitude valley in Boyaca with semi-desert terrain. It becomes quite visible when you get outside of the town and can see the landscape dramatically shift from green mountains to desert brown.

12. Eat the Traditional Food of Boyacá

The region of Boyacá, located Northeast of Bogota is known for a few traditional dishes. Most popular is ajiaco, a soup made with potatoes and chicken, served with half an ear of corn in the bowl.

Cocido Boyacense is a lesser known but equally delicious food of Boyaca. This stew traditionally uses pork with root vegetables.

I recommend trying Gallina Pa’ Sumercé or La Tienda de Teresa, both of which are detailed in the section about Villa de Leyva restaurants below.

13. Wander the Cobblestone Streets of Villa de Leyva

One of the most charming things about Villa de Leyva is the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. While many guides to small towns say to just get lost, this is a great little town to wander.

Actually after the second day, I found myself cursing the cobblestones. But the slow vibe is also part of the charm of Villa de Leyva.

On the streets of Villa de Leyva, a man wearing a cowboy hat is silhouetted against the white colonial buildings as he walks through the streets.

14. People Watch in Plaza Mayor

Take a break from walking around Villa de Leyva in Plaza Mayor, the largest square in Colombia. With an impressive 14,000 square meters of cobblestones, it’s also believed to be the largest cobbled square in South America.

I loved spending the afternoon in Plaza Mayor. It’s a great place to people watch or enjoy a sweet Colombian treat (see next).

15. Enjoy Besitos de Novia in the Plaza

Girlfriend Kisses. Every time I saw the signs for this traditional sweet, I giggled.

I was told a family from Villa de Leyva Colombia created Besitos de Novia sometime in the 1930s. They are essentially a piece of cake covered with meringue and left to harden before they are wrapped in brightly colored paper.

A half eaten besito de novia sits on bright pink paper with a full wrapped besito behind it.

16. Shop for Souvenirs in Villa de Leyva

Maybe you’ve been eyeing a brightly colored hammock, a finely woven jacket, or some souvenirs to take home as gifts. When researching things to do in Villa de Leyva, many people suggest a day trip to Raquira to buy souvenirs.

I did it, but it Raquira felt like a tourist trap to me. While there is an abundance of shopping, everywhere sold the same items, block after block.

Artisan sculptures and colorful paintings on display under a pink canopy tent while shopping in Villa de Leyva.

I found the items in Villa de Leyva to be much more interesting. Sure, there are still some shops with the same mass produced items, but there are also some small artisanal shops to be found.

I recommend walking along Carerra 9, beginning at Plaza Mayor towards Calle 14. It’s a pedestrian only street for two or three blocks which creates the perfect atmosphere to leisurely stroll and shop. 

17. Shop and Eat at the Saturday Farmer’s Market

There’s not a daily mercado in Villa de Leyva, but every Saturday until 3 pm, farmers fill the Plaza de Mercado to sell their fresh produce.

If you plan on cooking any meals in Villa de Leyva, it’s a great alternative to the limited grocery store options.

And even if you’re not, it’s a nice slice of life in small town Colombia. There are also food vendors selling prepared foods.

Tip: If you’re looking for another amazing day trip from Bogota, you should definitely add the salt cathedral in Zipaquira to your list. It’s about one hour north of the city – perfect for a single day excursion.

Restaurants in Villa de Leyva

Prepare to spend more money at restaurants in Villa de Leyva than in other parts of Boyaca. While there are a few places that serve a menu del dia, prices are higher on average than other towns in Colombia.

On the other hand, I found the quality of the cooking to be better. And the variety of restaurants, cafes, and wood fired pizza is fabulous.

Gallina Pa’ Sumercé

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You should eat at this restaurant in Villa de Leyva to taste the traditional food of Bogota and the Boyaca region. They’re known for their traditional Colombian soups like ajiaco and sancocho.

La Tienda de Teresa

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If you’re looking for typical Colombian food in Villa de Leyva for a great price, this is the spot. From arepas to cazuelas, this is a great spot for breakfast although they are open into the early evening with a menu del dia offered at lunch.

Restaurante El Chipa

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Short ribs stacked on top of each other with a side of potatoes and in the background a side salad in a bowl at one of the best restaurants in Villa de Leyva.

The incredible view overlooking Plaza Mayor is enough of a reason to eat at this Villa de Leyva restaurant. And the food is good enough that I ate here twice.

A menu del dia is only offered during the week and non holiday Mondays. The regular menu is a bit more expensive, but the food edges on gourmet. The service was some of the best I received in Colombia.

Comida Coreana

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Authentic Korean food in Colombia. Yes, you read that correctly. And it was delicious. While this restaurant has moved outside of the city, it’s worth adding to your itinerary while exploring the things to do near Villa de Leyva such as Casa Terracota.

Prices were high for Colombia, but if you’re anything like me, your tastebuds will start salivating with the thought of good Asian food in Colombia. Dumplings were also on the menu and I heard they sometimes have sushi.

Pizzeria Ristorante Italia

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Authentic Napolitan pizza created by an Italian chef and cooked in a wood fired stone oven. In a town with lots of pizza options, this one is regularly rated as the best pizza in Villa de Leyva. When I arrived, the wide open dining room was full on a Friday night as diners enjoyed a glass of red wine with delicious pizza.

Panaderia Empanadas Horneadas

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A plastic tupperware container filled with freshly baked empanadas.

Finally, baked empanadas in the land of fried! These proved to be a quick, filling, and inexpensive breakfast before going on one of the many adventures around Villa de Leyva. Choose from three fillings, including a vegetarian option at around 2,000 pesos each.

Keep in mind, they only sell these empanadas to go and sell out fast. 

Pastelería Francesa

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This traditional French bakery brings a little bit of Paris to Villa de Leyva. There is an impressive array of baked goods daily, including several individual quiches. Prices aren’t a steal but they don’t break the budget either.

Where is Villa de Leyva?

Villa de Leyva is located about three hours northeast of Bogota. It sits in a high altitude valley in the region of Boyacá. It’s located an hour west of Tunja, Boyacá’s capital.

It sits in the Andean region of Colombia, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains and stunning natural landscapes.

How to Get From Bogota to Villa de Leyva

You can take a bus from Bogota to Villa de Leyva from both El Salitre and Terminal del Norte.

Salitre is conveniently located near the center but requires you to first travel through the city which means the bus will take a little longer to get to Villa de Leyva from Bogota.

If you’re already staying north of Bogota I recommend taking a bus from Bogota to Villa de Leyva via the North terminal.

Final Thoughts About Villa de Leyva Boyacá

Visiting Villa de Leyva was one of the most anticipated stops on my Colombia travels. And I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint.

Is it a hidden gem in Colombia? Hardly, but it still maintains its charm.

FAQ About Villa de Leyva Colombia

Is Villa de Leyva worth it?

Villa de Leyva is absolutely worth visiting. It’s one of Colombia’s most charming colonial towns, renowned for its well-preserved architecture, cobblestone streets, and picturesque surroundings. The town offers a serene atmosphere, perfect for relaxation, exploration, and soaking in the rich history and culture of the region.

Why is Villa de Leyva famous?

Villa de Leyva is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, including its iconic Plaza Mayor, one of the largest town squares in South America. It’s also known for fossils, including the famous El Fósil museum, where visitors can see the remains of a 120 million year old Kronosaurus.

How long to spend in Villa de Leyva?

While some people take a day trip from Bogota, if you have the time I recommend staying at least 2 to 3 nights to visit Villa de Leyva. This allows you enough time to explore the town, visit nearby attractions, enjoy outdoor activities, and immerse yourself in the relaxed atmosphere of this charming Colombian town.

How do I get from Bogota to Villa de Leyva?

There are three ways to travel from Bogota to Villa de Leyva – by bus, by car, or by taking a tour to Villa de Leyva. The bus is the most economical option and takes 3-4 hours depending on traffic.

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A collage of pictures - Plaza Mayor, Hiking Paseo del Angel, and Vineyard Ain Karim for Pinterest.
Cobblestones in the foreground of a picture of the church at Plaza Mayor in Villa de Leyva for Pinterest.