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 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.
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.
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!
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 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?
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.
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.