Villa de Leyva was one of my favorite towns in Colombia. Yes, it can be touristy, but for good reason. Declared a national monument in 1954, this quaint and charming town really felt like a small Spanish village. It reminded me of Nerja in Andalucia, Spain with its beautifully maintained white washed buildings, clay tile roofs, and cobblestoned streets.
At a three-hour drive north of Bogota, weekends here can get pretty crowded, but if you can linger during the week, you will love it.
Relaxing Villa De Leyva
For me, it was the perfect respite from Medellin’s noise and pollution. I spent most of my time simply wandering around the cobbled lanes, ducking into cute cafés and old mansions turned into public courtyards with open-air restaurants ringing their perimeter, and just not pressuring myself to see or do too much. Its center is Plaza Mayor, one of the largest plazas in the whole of the Americas.
Where to Stay in Villa de Leyva
While in quaint Villa de Leyva, I stayed at the friendly and cozy Hostel Rana. It was opened by Laura and Luis, a laid back and smiley British-Colombian couple. As I told Laura, theirs was really my kind of guest house.
Keep in mind, a hostal is not a hostel. It’s just one letter, but it makes a big difference. A hostal is a type of lodging found mostly in Spain and Latin America. Hostales tend to be cheaper than hotels and are typically independently owned, smaller and often, friendlier places.
I’ve grown to know I do not like big, noisy, crowded hotels/hostals/hostels of any kind (well, unless someone is treating me to a night at the Peninsula, anyone?). I find them impersonal and even though many are teeming with other travelers like packs of dogs, I find it harder to meet people. Plus I am just not looking for a big party where I sleep…I am looking for peace and quiet and a respite from the hustle of travel.
Hostel Rana was simply a house with a few rooms to rent, a nice open-air kitchen to share, and some inviting little communal seating areas scattered around a couple of courtyards. It was relaxed and quiet and I truly felt like a guest in someone’s home rather than a nameless person in a hotel. I met the owners’ family from kids to parents and chatted a bit each time I saw them.
Cooking Changua in Villa De Leyva
And just in time for my arrival, they were offering something new they are calling the Breakfast Club. When they have enough interested people, they have a breakfast cooking class. And although Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald weren’t there, at less than $4 a person, I couldn’t pass it up.
I was joined by two other hostel guests, Cassie and Kevin from St. Paul, Minnesota. Our teacher was Antonio, the owner’s father and resident chef. He donned his chef’s hat, feigned modesty, and proceeded to school us in one of the region’s most popular soups…that happens to be mostly enjoyed here for breakfast.
Plus we made Colombia’s famous concoction of hot chocolate and cheese. What? My two favorite things together? This I had to try.
Here is the rough recipe from my memory and some notes I scribbled in between chopping and chatting. Change amounts to suit your needs and number of hungry people.
Changua (soup Boyacanse)
- 2C Water
- 2 C Milk
- Long stem of cilantro (scored)
- 4-6 cubed potatoes
- Finely diced garlic
- 4-5 Eggs
- 1 TB Butter
- Cubed Mild Cheese
- Finely diced onion
- Toasted bread in which to create bread crumbs to grate on top
- In a stockpot add the water, milk, butter, salt, potatoes, stem of cilantro, garlic.
- Boil for 10 min or so
- When the soup boils, crack the eggs and add them carefully without breaking the yolks.
- Cover the pot and let boil for a few minutes until eggs are cooked.
- Place at the bottom of each soup dish some scallions or onions, cilantro, some cubed cheese, and, from the pot, carefully place one cooked egg.
- Then add the boiling broth.
- Serve the soup with crusty or toasted bread that you can grate on top.
The soup was truly filling and flavorful. It was really one of the tastiest foods I had tried in Colombia, where I have to admit, I was not bowled over by what I’d been eating. To be honest, I had found a lot of the food fried and often somewhat bland with not too much flavor. The cilantro and garlic really made this dish sing, plus the special ingredient of love from Antonio made it muy bueno!
The class was fun and he really did show us some proper chopping and peeling techniques plus it was a great way to get to know some of the other guests.
In fact, right after we enjoyed our filling soup, I joined my friends for my next adventure.
Things to do in Villa De Leyva
So my new friends were going to take a little wander out of town to a winery they’d heard about and they invited me to tag along.
Saturday Market in Villa de Leyva
First we checked out the town’s big Saturday Market which was full of color, smells, and people shopping for fruits, veggies, and meats.
We strolled through the market and bought a few handmade souvenirs (and shots of Aguardiente, a strong anise-flavored drink–blech!).
Winery in Villa de Leyva
After exploring the market, we took a short hike barely out of town to a local winery, Vinicola Y Posada Guanan, run by a German expat named Joachim Herzberg.
We arrived to find there was no tour of the vineyard like we were told. It was past cultivation season and I guess there was really nothing to see. And we were also the only ones there.
So I proceeded stumbled through some Spanish and asked for a tasting. We were given five different glasses (actually more like tiny plastic cough syrup cups—two reds, two whites, and a sweet, dessert wine.
The owner, Joachim, a large, scruffy fellow, came over and sat down with us. I can’t really confirm everything he said because he seemed, well, a bit out of it, but it appeared he was an “agricultural engineer” from Berlin, Germany and had moved to Colombia twenty-six years ago. The rest of everything he said was a mélange of bits of introspection, pieces of confusion and scraps of drunken wit.
Suffice it to say, the wine was downright awful (seriously, to be compared to cough syrup would be a compliment…maybe it actually was different flavors of Listerine), but the company was some of the most entertaining I had experienced during my travels through Colombia.
And by entertaining I mean uncomfortably entertaining, but so much so that I kept plying him with questions just to be amused at the answers that came out of his mouth.
We couldn’t exactly figure out if the German owner was drunk or possibly a little more was wrong with him. He actually called it (his words, not mine) “PVC: God-damned Chronic Oldness.” Of course that would be GDCO, so not sure where his acronym came from or if it was maybe from the Spanish or German translation for “God-damned Chronic Oldness.” We’ll never know.
He was pretty funny and took forever to finish his thoughts, sometimes just trailing off with a big smile forming around the bottom of his pasty, white-whiskered face.
He didn’t charge us for the small tasting we did, perhaps he just enjoyed the company or maybe he actually knew how truly nasty the vino was. But I laughed a good part of the time I was there and actually think I would still recommend checking it out…actually, yes, definitely check it out if you are in Villa de Leyva…if for nothing else but the strange company. You just never may know what might happen. Salud!