A Weekend in Villa de Leyva

Have you ever heard of the Kronosaurus? No? Perfect, because this entire post is going to be about that huge, 18 meter long pliosaur (what sciency people call water dinosaurs) that was named after the Greek titan Kronos. Just kidding. Unfortunately, this post is actually about a trip we took to the home of the second most complete Kronosaurus fossil in the entire world, Villa de Leyva.


Getting There

Villa de Leyva is a few hours outside of Bogotá and so we left in the early afternoon last Friday, right after Abbey finished her Spanish classes, in order to get there with some light left in the day. When I bought us tickets online, I had unknowingly booked us seats right up front with the driver of our van. Now, even by Bogotá standards, this guy was pretty aggressive on the roads. We had front row tickets to several near death experiences as he swerved the clunky van in heavy traffic. It probably didn’t help that he spent most of the time calling friends to bitterly discuss his divorce, calling his boss to figure out passenger pickups, and calling several different people to try to coordinate chocolate gifts for his daughters in honor of Día del Amor y Amistad. Just a thought.

In any case, we arrived safely, checked into our hotel, and headed to dinner at a French restaurant, Chez Remy, which Abbey’s teacher had recommended. The dining patio was the perfect spot to relax with a glass of wine or a beer. The food was also amazing.


We started the next day with coffee and arepas in the town’s square. In the soft morning light, we were able to get a better a sense of the charming little town nestled into a mountain valley. Every building’s exterior was white, with orange-brown tiled roofs. Many of the streets were cobblestone, as was the main plaza. Though it is obviously a tourist destination, it had a much sleepier, calmer, and less crowded vibe than many of the pueblos mágicos that I’ve visited in México.

Coffee and arepas at the main plaza.
Casa Terracota

With the whole day in front us and nothing much planned, we decided to walk the three or so miles route to our destinations. Our first stop was the famous Casa Terracota, the largest structure built entirely from clay. The architect, Octavio Mendoza Morales, spent around 16 years building up each part of the house, constructing an oven around it, firing, and repeating. As word spread, people started to visit him unannounced and uninvited. Our guide told us that once Morales grew so frustrated with the visitors that he ran outside to yell at them, wearing only a towel, which slipped off in the middle of his rant. Eventually, however, the Morales embraced his fame and opened his house to the public. Today the site employs 12 people, hosts an artist-in-residence, and continues to expand.

El Museo del Fósil

In 1977, a farmer stumbled upon a fossil while going about his normal farmer tasks. After consulting with some local experts, it became clear that this was a special fossil. With a little digging, the team uncovered the giant Kronosaurus fossils. Local government leaders then fought to keep the skeleton in Villa de Leyva, where it remains today. It’s housed on its original site in the non-profit museum, El Museo del Fósil, that they built around it.

If you like learning random things like us, then this museum is for you. The tour went over the history of the discovery of the fossil and also covered a huge sweep of history millions of years ago before there was a Colombia and the land was submerged under the ocean. It is also home to several other fossils that were discovered in the area.

Fossil Wall
The Town

After the museum we ate lunch and took a taxi back into town. We then spent a couple of hours walking around a popping into little shops. I was able to find a pretty sweet wooden spinning top. Some 6th graders in Tunja tried without success to teach me how to wrap the string and toss the top to make it spin. The plan is to practice before my next visit so that I can show off my skills when I return. Wish me luck.

Eventually we meandered into quiet little patio area to enjoy some drinks and empanadas. Later in the night we grabbed dinner at Mercado Municipal, another recommendation from Abbey’s teacher. Like Chez Remy, it had a fantastic outdoor dining area and a great atmosphere. The food was also good, though it didn’t need to be for me to enjoy the night there.

Courtyard patio vibes

Back to Bogotá

The next day, we wandered around a bit more and then caught our van ride back to Bogotá. This time we sat in the back and this driver was much less aggressive.

It was a wonderful trip spent hanging out in pretty little town without much planned. Even though our whole lives sort of feel like a vacation nowadays, it was still nice to get out of our normal routine and explore a bit. Hopefully we make room for a few more adventures.



Note: All views expressed are my own, they do not represent the Fulbright or any other organization.

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