After enjoying Bogotá much more than we expected, we moved on to see a couple of small colonial towns. First up was Villa de Leyva. It is a town of about 17 thousand people, and it is about 3.5 hours from Bogotá (even though it is only 161 kms). Luckily, we found a direct bus there and we didn't have to figure out any bus transfers.
Villa de Leyva is a somewhat preserved colonial town, complete with cobblestone streets. It attracts quite a few tourists from Bogotá, as well as international travelers. It has an enormous central plaza that is the largest central square of the Americas, and white-washed buildings everywhere.
This area is rich in fossils and it was definitely one of the highlights for us.We visited a beautiful convent in the countryside that even used these fossils in the construction of the floors and walls! There was also a well preserved nearly intact fossil of a Kronosaurus just outside of town. It was missing it's tail, but was extremely impressive none the less.
Another somewhat bizarre attraction in Villa de Leyva is a house made out of terracotta. Apparently, it is the largest piece of pottery in the world. I am not sure if anyone has actually lived in it, but it would be a amazing little guesthouse. The boys would have been happy to call it their new home.
Our next destination was Barichara, which is 186 km north of Villa de Leyva........it doesn't sound very far, but it is about 6-8 hours by bus depending on transfers. So, we decided to hire a truck to take us there door-to-door in only 4 hours: money well spent.
Barichara is a quiet town that was only discovered by the tourism industry within the last 30 years, after it was declared a national monument. It is an incredibly peaceful place to spend a few days. We were lucky enough to rent a house from a gentleman named Jorge. He has been living in the area for the last 15 years, and he used to run a popular restaurant. He now owns a 29 hectare farm where he cultivates ants. This area is famous for "hormigas culonas", the fat-bottom ants. The princess ants are harvested for food in the spring when they emerge from the colonies. It was not the time of year to see the princesses, but Jorge took us on a walk on his farm and was able to entice some soldier ants to come out and greet us. They were impressive enough with very large pincers.
One morning we took the kids on the "Camino Real", a 10 km hike from Barichara to the nearby village of Guane The views of the countryside were spectacular throughout the hike. It was mostly downhill, so it didn't feel like 10 kms, and the kids didn't complain at all.
The city of San Gil, which is close to Baricahara, is the adventure capital of the area. Finn wanted to try whitewater rafting, so I had the pleasure of taking him. I couldn't convince the younger ones to come along, but I wasn't surprised after their scary time rafting in Canmore last summer. Finn and I had a great time sticking to class II-III rapids, and neither of us fell out unintentionally!
It doesn't look like we are done with the colonial towns just yet, as our next destination is the walled city of Cartagena.