“It’s like it has been plucked from time/It’s like wandering back in time/It’s almost like stepping into a time machine.”
I just wanted to get those stock phrases out the way since otherwise I’d be reaching for them consistently throughout this article, since I’m writing not only about the wealth of beautiful, colonial villages that can be found in Colombia, but of my 5 favourites.
When images of Colombia spring to mind, it’s rarely these colonial treats that form the predominant images: drugs, coffee, beaches and moustachioed men with donkeys by their side undoubtedly occupy the dominant spaces in the popular imagination. It’s a shame though, since people visit places such as El Caminito in Buenos Aires, and find little more than a hyper-real, touristified version of what may have once been a charming area.
Not so in Colombia. The lack of tourism the country has seen in the past 20 years means that villages are left unspoiled, and retain their distinct character. They’re a highlight on any trip to Colombia, and I suggest at least one of the following should be visited:
Villa de Leyva
Perhaps the most popular owing to its proximity to Bogotá, Villa de Leyva is the kind of place that springs to mind when you think ‘Colonial Spanish Village’. White washed walls, cobbled streets and more opportunities to do nothing than you can shake a stick at.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Another popular choice, Santa Fe is found very near Medellín. Like Villa de Leyva, it makes for a perfect weekend away from the hectic life of the big city. It’s a place to relax, enjoy the sun, wander the streets and basically escape the rat race for a little while.
Quite possibly my favourite of all, Mompox’s isolation means that it’s one village that is barely touched, even by Colombians themselves. Famous for its connections to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it’s the definitive village for the adventurous traveller: culturally rich, barely discovered.
It’s said that time passes slowly in Barichara but still, you’ll wish you could stay longer. A sleepy village often called the most beautiful in Colombia, it draws you in with its simple, ponderous ways and, after a day or two, you’ll hardly want it to let go. A must visit for those in the Santander region.
Giron, otherwise known as ‘The White City’, is choc-a-bloc with history but, even disregarding that, is a great place to visit if you’re in Santander thanks to its beautiful architecture and simple way of life. Boasting great weather, and some excellent restaurants, it’s well worth at least a day trip from San Gil.