Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Colombia chapter Boyacá, Santander & Norte de Santander has to say about sites around Villa de Leyva:
There are many hiking possibilities all around Villa de Leyva. In town, there’s a great hike that begins directly behind Renacer Guesthouse, passing two waterfalls to reach a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the village; the round-trip hike takes less than two hours.
The Estación Astronómica Muisca dates from the early centuries AD and was used by the Muiscas to determine the seasons. This Stonehenge-like site contains 115-odd cylindrical stone monoliths sunk vertically into the ground about 1m from each other in two parallel lines 9m apart. By measuring the length of shadows cast by the stones, the indígenas were able to identify the planting seasons.
While traveling about around Villa de Leyva, it’s worth stopping in Sutamarchán, the longaniza capital of Colombia, 14km west of Villa on the road to Ráquira. Longaniza is a regional sausage similar to Portuguese linguiça. In town, it’s grilled up everywhere – follow your nose.
Twenty-five kilometers southwest of Villa de Leyva, Ráquira is the pottery capital of Colombia, where you’ll find everything from ceramic bowls, jars and plates to toys and Christmas decorations. Brightly painted facades, a jumble of craft shops and stacks of freshly fired mud and clay pots make a welcoming sight along the main street of this one-horse town.
There are many workshops in and around the village where you can watch pottery being made. There are also dozens of craft shops around the main square, all selling pretty much the same stuff, including pottery, hammocks, baskets, bags, ponchos, jewellery and woodcarvings.
Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas
Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas, is a sleek facility that combines an open-window research facility with even more impressive fossils, including an amazing full-body plesiosaurus (a Jurassic sea dragon) and the only tooth of a saber-tooth tiger ever discovered in Colombia.
Convento del Santo Ecce Homo
Founded by the Dominican fathers in 1620, the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo is a large stone-and-adobe construction with a lovely courtyard. The floors are paved with stones quarried in the region, so they contain ammonites and fossils, including petrified corn and flowers. There are also fossils in the base of a statue in the chapel.
The chapel boasts a magnificent gilded main retable with a small image of Ecce Homo, and the original wooden ceiling is full of fascinating details: note the images of pineapples, eagles, suns and moon – used to help convert indigenous peoples; the images of a skull and crossbones with a Bolivian- style winter cap in the Sacristy; and the crucifix in the Capitulary Hall showing Christ alive, a rarity in South America (his eyes are open). Look out for the drawing of Christ in the west cloister – from different angles it appears that the eyes open and close.
The Puente de Boyacá is one of the most important battlefields of Colombia’s modern history. On August 7, 1819, and against all odds, the armies of Simon Bolivar defeated Spanish troops, sealing Colombia’s independence.
Several monuments have been erected on the battlefield. The centerpiece is the Monumento a Bolívar, an 18m-high sculpture topped by the statue of Colombia’s hero and accompanied by five angels symbolizing the so-called países bolivarianos, the countries liberated by Bolivar – Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. An eternal flame for Bolivar burns nearby.
The Puente de Boyacá, the bridge which gives its name to the battlefield and over which Boli??var’s troops crossed to fight the Spaniards, is just a small, simple bridge reconstructed in 1939.
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