Visiting Villa de Leyva and Lago de Tota
Itinerary: Villa de Leyva > food, food and more food > wandering and shopping > Saturday market and hike > Sogamoso > Lago de Tota and Playa Blanca
A sleepy valley village and peaceful lake to unwind a while.
Slowing it down a bit from the bustle of Bogotá, I settled into Villa de Leyva for a relaxing weekend. Described by Lonely Planet as ‘one of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia,’ Villa de Leyva is a quaint oasis where time seems to slow down and itineraries dissolve into wandering and resting.
I arrived Friday afternoon and spent the rest of the day eating, walking and shopping, popping indoors to avoid the scattered showers. The town’s beauty did not disappoint — the cobbled streets were mostly deserted apart from a few other visitors, and all the restaurants, shops and cafés were cozy and friendly.
The next day I had to decide which of the many nearby excursions to do; there are plenty of hikes, waterfalls and other sights in the surrounding area, but I settled for a short hike just outside of town, overlooking the valley. (Further along the trail there are supposedly two waterfalls, but I lost the trail by some small family farms and decided to turn back.) Before my hike, I make a quick detour through the Saturday market, which was lush with vibrant produce that I couldn’t name and didn’t even ask.
After the hike, I had another laid-back evening of café-hopping before tucking in for a nice night’s sleep at my homey hostel.
Then onto Lago de Tota, or more specifically Sogamoso, a stopover city for the lake. In hindsight, I would recommend staying at Mongui or Iza, colonial towns that are more charming like Villa de Leyva. While Sogamoso makes for an easy bus ride to Playa Blanca, it doesn’t have too much draw of its own. My hostel was cute though, with a hammock in the courtyard and gracious hosts who made me feel like I was staying with a relative.
The bus ride to Playa Blanca was just as scenic as the destination itself. You’re driven around the water’s edge, passing through small towns with beautiful churches and many, many fields of green onions where you can spot locals bundling up the produce for sale.
The white sand beach of Playa Blanca is almost a jarring contrast to the surrounding scenery, and happily desolate on a Monday. After a few lazy hours in the water and sun, it’s back to the bus to circumnavigate the rest of the lake.
Next Stop: El Cocuy National Park
DETAILS, TIPS & TRICKS
Restaurants (Villa de Leyva)
Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong, but here are my favorites.
- Restaurante Savia — absolutely lovely vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away from the main plaza; has a great courtyard and delicious fresh food, and it’s run by these wonderful, nice women who make you feel at home
- Café de la Barra — small coffee nook right next to the church on the main plaza; great place for a break overlooking the town square (or to wait out the rain in my case)
- El Café Jardin — yummy dessert waffles! Has a cheery atmosphere with pastels and picnic tablecloths
- Restaurante Mia Nonna — rich Italian fare with plenty of veggie options; my guanabana juice was fresh, and my vegetarian lasagna was hearty and scrumptious - ate every last bite!
- Casadulce Pasteleria-Café — decadent deserts and coffee in a cozy cafe with wooden tables and soft lighting
Bus to Playa Blanca
Expect the round-trip journey to take all day, or at minimum a few hours each direction. From Sogamoso, grab a bus to Aquitania from the town center (rather than the bus station). In Aquitania, you’ll walk a few blocks to catch the bus to Playa Blanca — ask your bus driver to point you in the right direction. On the second bus, you’ll be able to see the beach from the road, and the driver will stop at the access point (northern side of the beach). When you’ve had your fill, walk back up and catch the same bus back to Sogamoso — no need to transfer on the return! If you’re staying in town, jump off the bus as it passes the center for the bus station.
- Villa de Leyva: Hostal Xue — located a short walk from the main square, this hostel is well worth the extra steps. It’s quite comfy and has a nice courtyard with plenty of sun. During my visit, they were renovating the kitchen areas (which didn’t bother me because I ate out every meal) — definitely invested in keeping the place updated and nice.
- Sogamoso: Hostal La Cazihita — quaint place that feels like a family home; it’s just a few blocks from Sogamoso’s town square and about a 15-20 minute walk from the bus station (doable even with all your gear). The welcoming hosts are what make the place great — they explained how to get to Playa Blanca, pointed out other sights around town, checked in to see how I was enjoying my visit, and even accompanied me to the grocery store!