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The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and Villa de Leyva

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The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and Villa de Leyva

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Our trip to Colombia continues with the discovery of two must-see places near the capital city of Bogotá: the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and the colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Here we spend an evening immersed in the life of a small but cheerful and easy-going Colombian town that becomes even more fascinating at nightfall. In this article we tell you about these two amazing places and give you some useful tips for planning your visit!

We love... Villa de Leyva!

Our trip to Colombia continues from Bogotá, the country’s capital and third South American capital by altitude after La Paz and Quito, to the small colonial town of Villa de Leyva. This small and charming pueblo, located about 160 km from the capital, allows visitors to take a real trip back in time to the time of the Spanish conquest, who founded Villa de Leyva in the mid-1500s.
We reach the small town by car, but during the long journey we make two stops to explore two really interesting attractions: the iconic Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and the small convent of Santo Ecce Homo. In this article, we tell you about all these amazing places and give you some useful tips for planning your visit.

Our visit

Where to stay in Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is a small town and the historic center is well-kept and small, easy to walk around. Our advice, therefore, is to stay in the center of town to best savor the spirit and atmosphere of this wonderful place, made up of friendly, welcoming people and a healthy party spirit. We stayed at the Hotel Casa Terra, on Calle 11, located about 500 meters from the Plaza Mayor, the city’s large main square and the center of social life. We recommend it for its location, atmosphere and excellent service. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something different, you can find all the available accommodations here.

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Villa de Leyva

Located about a 4-hour drive from Bogotá, the small town of Villa de Leyva has kept intact all the characteristics of the typical colonial town: white walls, balconies with wooden railings and flower boxes, and cobblestone streets. Not surprisingly, this amazing town has been used several times as a film set and is often considered one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia.
Founded in 1572, to really savor its atmosphere you need to visit it at a leisurely pace, getting lost in its alleys and entering the courtyards of the buildings, which often hide real gems such as small bars or craft stores. In this regard, you will certainly find here an authentic souvenir to take home with you.
We suggest you start your visit from Plaza Mayor, the largest square in Colombia. Here you can have a drink and visit the small church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. From here, you can continue by following Calle 9 or Calle 13, both quaint little streets filled with craft and souvenir stores. Finally, do not miss a walk along Carrera 10 to Plaza del Carmen, a small square surrounded by numerous religious buildings such as the Iglesia del Carmen, the Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas and the Convento de los Padres Carmelitas, which houses the Museo de Arte Religioso del Carmen.
A half day is enough to visit the town, but our advice is to stay here at least one night to discover the town even during the night hours when the party starts!

Santo Ecce Homo Convent

Founded by Dominican fathers in 1620 in a desert region of Colombia’s eastern cordillera, the Monastery of Santo Ecce Homo is a perfect place for spirituality, meditation and contemplation.
Its simplicity of white walls and red brick will surprise you. Inside, everything is perfectly preserved, from the elegant cloister complete with a well in the center to the chapel, which still has a magnificent golden altarpiece and the original wooden ceiling, full of fascinating details.
A curiosity: the entire area of Villa de Leyva was once below the surface of the sea. For that reason, the subsoil is rich in fossils including shells and petrified flowers. You can verify this simply by looking at the building stones and floors of this building, which were constructed from stones quarried in the region.
The convent of Santo Ecce Homo is located 13 kilometers from Villa de Leyva. Any bus to Santa Sofía will take you to the access road and, from there, you only need to take a 15-minute walk. Alternatively, you can reach the place by car or cab from Villa de Leyva.
A small entrance fee of 5,000 COP (just over CHF/EUR 1.00) is required to visit.

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The salt cathedral of Zipaquirá

Located less than fifty kilometers from Bogotá, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is one of Colombia’s most visited attractions. Not surprisingly, it is considered one of the country’s seven architectural wonders. This spectacular religious edifice was built in the 1990s by Roswell Garavito Pearl by taking advantage of the spaces of an old salt mine that had been in use since the 1800s. The result is a grandiose, unique structure located at a depth of about 180 meters and for the construction of which more than 250 thousand tons of salt were removed.
The tour starts from a large courtyard that leads to a tunnel. From here, a true Stations of the Cross starts, whose 14 stations, illuminated with special light and color effects, will guide you until you reach the cathedral. Here a huge 16-meter Cross dominates the main nave, surmounted by a large dome.
The Cathedral is accessible daily from 9 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. The cost of the basic ticket, which includes the audio guide, is 98,000 COP (about CHF/EUR 22.00). More information can be found on the official website.

How to get there

Arriving by public transport

See the location in Google Maps. Villa de Leyva can be reached from Bogotá by bus. The trip, which takes about three and a half hours, leaves from Portal del Norte and can be made by direct bus and by bus to Tunja. From Tunja, you will need to take a bus to Villa de Leyva or, alternatively, a cab. The bus trip costs about 25,000 COP (approximately CHF/EUR 5.50).

Arriving by car

See the location in Google Maps. Villa de Leyva can be reached from Bogotá by car. To find the best travel option for you, as always we suggest you use Google Maps. However, we suggest caution: Colombian roads are often subject to works and closures, even unexpected ones. The Villa de Leyva area is also heavily frequented by farm transport trucks that travel at slow speeds and this could significantly lengthen your travel time. Take this into account when planning your transfer!
Booking.com
Booking.com

Tips

1

We chose to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá during the drive from Bogotá to Villa de Leyva. In fact, the Cathedral is less than 50 kilometers from the capital, making it also perfect for a day trip. In this case, we suggest you take part in a guided tour like this one, so that you do not have to drive to your destination and enjoy the advantages (in terms of speed of access and facilitation) of being part of a guided tour. If you are not convinced by the one we propose, you can find several on Getyourguide.

2

If you have decided to travel the stretch of road between Bogotá and Villa de Leyva on your own, for lunch we suggest a stop at the Restaurant Villa Cecilia, which is of a good standard and serves typical local food. For the reverse route, however, our suggestion is Café El Fresal Tradición Europea, a small Café run by a Croatian family that has imported European traditions to Colombia, without forgetting local culture and customs.

3

Are you planning a trip to Colombia? Then read all our articles on the subject and if you have any questions or need further suggestions let us know by leaving a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible!

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