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Boyacá is a sea of fertile mountains on the Eastern Range, decorated with thousands of colors that witnessed the battles for independence that gave shape to South America. Its rich topography exhibits the aromas of a vast agricultural production and landscapes as majestic as the desert of La Candelaria and El Cocuy snow peak, around which many picturesque colonial villages attract quite a number of tourists.
Tota Lake, in Boyacá, Colombia / Photo by Flickr user elgatomagenta.
Tota Lake is Colombia’s largest body of natural water.
Who would think that amid the Eastern Mountain Range, over 3,000 meters above sea level, an imposing lake is hidden? It is a lake that descends from an inner Andes sea from the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras. Tota Lake is the largest body of natural water in Colombia, covering an area of 44 km², with turquoise-colored waters and white-sanded beaches that recall icy oceans.
The largest tourist attraction is sports fishing, especially for excellent rainbow trout. It is also an attractive setting for engaging in water sports and sailing. A fishing and nautical sports championship is held annually.
There are three islands in Tota: San Pedro, Santa Helena, and Cerro Chiquito,the smallest of the three. They may be reached by motorboat and offer a landscape worth admiring. South of the lake, is Playa Blanca, a white-sanded beach, where the Muisca Indians revered their gods and which is also a good place for camping and enjoying the menus of a good restaurant area.
Tota means “farmland” in the indigenous language.
A good plan is to spend the day in the surroundings and to visit villages with traditional architecture that mix peasant and colonial styles. These villages are: Aquitania, an industrial city, and Iza, Cuitiva, and Tota.
This magical destination is located three and a half hours from Bogotá by land. “Farmland” is its meaning in the Indigenous language. Due to the altitude above sea level, it is important to use a sunscreen and a warm jacket for the cold.
A tour of the capital of the department of Boyacá includes an architectural walk of the Tunja Cathedral, with its Gothic-Elizabethan style and plateresque details from the Spanish Renaissance. There are temples and convents in the Spanish Mudéjar style, as well as the spectacular temple of Santo Domingo, considered by many to be the “Sistine Chapel of Hispanic-American Baroque art”. The typical Andalusian style may be found in the houses of Juan de Castellanos, the city founder, and Don Juan de Vargas, an illustrious scribe.
The main square in Tunja is the largest built in America during Spanish colonial times.
Since the churches and temples of Tunja exhibit the best of the beautiful architecture inherited from the Spaniards, it constitutes an excellent option for religious tourism. Among others, the temples of Santa Clara La Real, San Francisco, San Laureano, and Santa Bárbara stand out.
Tunja’s Plaza Mayor, the main square, is the meeting place for the city’s inhabitants. Framing the square is the largest number of colonial buildings in the city. The Christmas celebrations by the name of aguinaldo boyacense also are held here. The main square in Tunja is the largest built in America during Spanish colonial times.
Villa de Leyva is a town for relaxing, resting, and having fun.
One of the small towns that better preserves memories of old colonial times and expresses the best of Spanish influence is Villa de Leyva. Its main square is enormous: 14,000 m² of space for bringing together tourists and locals around colorful, interesting festivals that are celebrated throughout of the year.
During the low season, it is a place for relaxing, strolling cobblestone streets, and enjoying small, yet pleasant, restaurants that offer both typical and international food. During the high season, it is a place for entertainment and the enjoyment of local festivities, such as the Festival de Viento y las Cometas, the Festival de las Luces, Astronomía, and Cine (wind and kites, lights, astronomy, and film festivals, respectively).
Aside from an excellent hotel infrastructure, there is the possibility of leasing houses with lovely facades and gardens that bring the freshness of the surrounding green mountains into their midst.
There are numerous sites to visit in the outskirts of Villa de Leyva, the main ones being El Museo del Fósil, a museum with a gigantic 120-million year old fossil; El Infiernito, a Muisca astronomical center; the Periquera waterfalls; Iguaque Lake; and the desert, ideal for mountain and BMX biking. Other sports include canyoning, ecological hiking, caving, and horseback riding.
Ráquira is Colombia’s handicrafts capital.
Due to a vast ceramics tradition dating back to pre-Hispanic times, Ráquira is the handicrafts capital of Colombia. In addition to pots, pitchers, coffee cups, and kitchen utensils, there are anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, pieces for Nativity scenes, piggy banks, etc.
Perhaps for this ability of Ráquira inhabitants, the name of the town in the Chibcha language is “City of Pots”. These indigenous peoples used them to prepare chicha (a fermented corn drink), store their food, and prepare their meals. Artisans work with black, white, yellow, and red clay.
Guacamayas is another town in Boyacá, where many of the prettiest and colorful sisal handicrafts used for decoration or as household utensils are manufactured, the main ones being, placemats, fruit bowls, and baskets.
One material that has gained a lot of popularity is the tagua nut, used for making jewelry and decorative items. It is in the town of Chiquinquirá where this material – known as “vegetable ivory” – is transformed more creatively.
Although found across Boyacá, ruanas are made specifically in Nobsa, a town in the east of the department. A ruana is a poncho for the cold country, made from thick, warm virgin wool, and excellent for chasing away the cold temperatures of the Boyacá mountains.
Paipa is a very appropriate city for rest, relaxation, and health tourism thanks to its ample hotel infrastructure and reservoirs of hot springs with medicinal properties. Surrounding these hot springs, various centers for hydrotherapy, mud therapy, saunas, steam baths, and massages have been developed - excellent for relaxing, resting, and beautifying.
Hydrotherapy, mud therapy, saunas, steam baths, and massage centers have developed around the Paipa hot springs.
The architecture of Paipa evokes the colonial, fusing it with the modern. The handicrafts street is in the town center, just the place for purchasing lovely handmade objects that represent all the expertise of the inhabitants of Boyacá. The city also stands out for its infrastructure for corporate tourism, conventions, conferences, and incentive trips.
Other plans could include visits to the Pantano de Vargas, the site of a famous battle; the Monumento a los Lanceros, a half hour ride from Paipa; and the Sochagota Lake, with plans for families, friends and even couples. By land, Paipa is located three hours from Bogotá; it is also possible to travel by air, landing in the city airport.