Feature

This week’s travel dream: The hidden pleasures of colonial Colombia

The little town of Villa de Leyva, founded in 1572, is the kind of place where you can find a yard full of chickens next to an Internet cafe.

“Centuries past seemed near” as I rode my bicycle into the little colonial town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia, said David Carr in The New York Times. Founded in 1572, the “aggressively preserved” village has approached “contemporary life on its own terms”: slowly. The chaos and “clank of the modern rarely interrupt the séance with the past.” This is a place where you can find a yard full of chickens next to an Internet cafe.

I came upon Villa de Leyva following a “glorious 10-mile descent” from the Andes. Though I had opted to travel by bike, the route for most tourists is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. I quickly discovered that Villa de Leyva “does not flaunt its charms.” It chooses instead to “quietly dazzle,” requiring its visitors “to go beyond what lies in plain sight.” As I stepped onto Plaza Mayor—the “vast, empty expanse” at the city’s ­center—I took notice of the colonial buildings that “defined its perimeter.” The whitewashed houses with red-tile roofs were adorned with wooden shutters and balconies abloom with baskets of bougainvillea and geraniums. Fossils from the surrounding area were imprinted into the plaster of their walls, and their giant front doors were engraved with intricate carvings, some of which reference the trades of the original residents.

Wandering the streets shortly after my arrival, I found myself in the midst of a farmers’ market. Each stand was stocked with colorful fruits, such as lulos and granadillas, that looked “intriguing but were not immediately recognizable.” The families that trucked them in from the surrounding mountains sat on crates and drank perico—a tiny cup of coffee with a dash of milk. One farmer “sliced open giant avocados and salted them for on-the-spot con­sumption.” As the sun began to set, I made my way across the cobblestone streets to a cafe where locals were drinking rum and singing Spanish love songs. The “uneven thoroughfare” reminded me not only to look where I was walking but also to slow down enough to take in all the “tranquil comforts” around me.Contact: Colombia.travel/en/index.php

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