Driving from Bogota to Villa De Leyva: What it must be like as a NASCAR Driver

Main square in Villa De Leyva

Today, we made the brave decision to drive from Bogota to Villa De Leyva with a stop in between at a salt cathedral in the town of Zipaquira.  It’s a great combo trip and relatively easy to do — especially if you have patience and nerves of steel.  Driving in Colombia is aggressive. Word of advice:  When in doubt, hit the gas rather than the brake and you’ll fit right in!

The very long process of renting a car in Bogota. Taken right after they took my fingerprints!

The very long process of renting a car in Bogota. Photo taken shortly after they took my fingerprints to keep on file

Car Rental

The first adventure was actually FINDING the Budget Car Rental in Bogota (incorrectly listed on the reservation as located at the airport).  Just one of many mishaps to come on this trip!  The location is actually along the way to the airport, (on the right hand side, keep your eyes open).  We ended up at the airport, but lucky for us the Hertz car rental rep felt bad for us and allowed us to use her iPhone and call Budget to pick us up.

Renting a car in and of itself is an experience to say the least.  Before you can even get the car, there is a mountain of paperwork.  Even stranger, they took my fingerprints.  Just like in some crime lab!  I reluctantly gave into all this, and gave them more of a smudge than a good thumbprint.  Good luck tracking me down Budget Car Rental!

Traffic in Bogota is a real problem.  And this is coming from someone living in Los Angeles.  It’s an issue that Bogota has tried to fix with it’s program called “Pico y Placa.” This program makes it legal only for drivers with plates ending in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, etc) to drive on the odd days of the month and vice versa for the even plates.  But it’s widely considered ineffective.  Basically if you’re wealthy,  you buy 2 cars (one with an odd ending plate and the other with an even-ending plate).  And last tip, opt for the insurance so you have peace of mind on these wild roads.

And we thought traffic in LA was bad. Waiting and waiting more on the highways of Bogota

And we thought traffic in LA was bad. Waiting and waiting more on the streets of Bogota

Before leaving the car rental agency, check that you have the correct plates when you’re planning to drive.  Luckily we were driving back on a holiday.  So that “Pico y Placa” rules go out the window and anyone can be on the road.

Salt Cathedral

Kevin checks out the trippy lights in the entrance to the cathedral inside the salt mines.

Kevin checks out the trippy lights in the entrance to the cathedral inside the salt mines

About an hour drive from Bogota (or 2 hours in our case with all the traffic), the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine deep underground.  It’s a little hokey, and definitely a tourist trap.  But a weird experience navigating through the dark tunnels with the angelic music and trippy lights along the way.  Admission includes a guide in either Spanish or English, but we opted to do a self guided tour.

The church was carved out by salt miners who would spend their entire days working.  And over the years, the cathedral grew in popularity as an attraction.  It became a popular pilgrimage site and a place where families from Bogota would come on the weekends. In 1995, a new Cathedral was opened that would accommodate the growing crowds.

It’s a dark, windy pathway through and you’ll pass 14 stations of the cross.  The place is huge.  And at the bottom of the tunnels, the mine opens up into the main Salt Cathedral.  The one you’ll see on all the postcards!

The tunnel winds down to the grand spectacle at the end - the main cathedral

The tunnel winds down to the grand spectacle at the end – the main cathedral

Villa De Leyva

A very rainy night in the main square in Villa De Leyva

A very rainy night in the main square in Villa De Leyva

Continue the drive after the Salt Cathedral to this little town – high up in the mountains and with its historic cobblestone streets.   It’s about 3 hours away from Zipaquirá, but the roads are windy and it was pouring down rain.  Be care for rock slides – giant boulders blocked several parts of the road.  It was like one big obstacle course.

We stayed right in the center of town at the Hotel la Posada de San Antonio.  It was fine, though seemed pricey for what it was at $116 USD a night. The location couldn’t be beat though.  Villa De Leyva is incredibly popular for couples from Bogota as well as tourists.  The restaurant scene is fantastic and we loved Casa San Pedro Restaurant with the pasta made inside a wheel of parmesan!  There was even live music on the night we visited, which was the perfect spot just to relax.

The must-order dish on the menu. One of our favorite meals in Colombia

The must-order dish on the menu. One of our favorite meals in Colombia

The next morning, we walked 2 doors down to rent bikes by Ciclotrip and do their Big Dino Ride.  I was nervous about my knee, but it was the perfect physical therapy.  The roads were flat, hardly any traffic and the owners gave great directions since it was as self-guided tour.  They showed photos of each of the major turn-off points, which was so helpful.  Okay, so we got lost a few times… but imagine if we didn’t have the photos?

Wheee, riding through town on the rented bike. We were out for 3 hours and it flew by!

Wheee, riding through town on the rented bike. We were out for 3 hours and it flew by!

There isn’t a ton to do in Villa De Leyva.  It’s a spot to relax, take in nature and get away from the big city of Bogota.  Or let my blood pressure go down from all the driving! Here are a few photos of some of the best must-see spots.

Kevin walks the labyrinth, located on the outskirts of town at a place called FIBAS Jardin de Deserto

Kevin walks the labyrinth, located on the outskirts of town at a place called FIBAS Jardin de Deserto.  The owners were so friendly and with a zen-like vibe

Kevin is impressed - lots of dinosaurs were believed to roam the area. This is one of 2 dinosaur museums.

Kevin is impressed – lots of dinosaurs were believed to roam the area. This is one of 2 dinosaur museums.

Okay, so we got a little lost on our bikes and ended up in the field of cows

Okay, so we got a little lost on our bikes and ended up in the field of cows

Kevin and I could not get enough of this bread. Astral bakery is located right off the main square, across from

Kevin and I could not get enough of this bread. Astral bakery is located right off the main square, across from Casa San Pedro Restaurant

Sadly it’s back to the open road – just a 3 hour drive back through the boulder-covered roads, one lanes and traffic!  Stay tuned for our next stop when we head off to coffee country.

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Driving from Bogota to Villa De Leyva: What it must be like as a NASCAR Driver
Article Name
Driving from Bogota to Villa De Leyva: What it must be like as a NASCAR Driver
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The perfect road trip from Bogota to Villa De Leyva. Rent a car and make the drive to hit up Colombia's top tourist spots

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