Despite being a mere three to four hours travel from the chaos of Bogotá, the department of Boyacá remains one of Colombia’s lost hidden treasures.
A primarily agricultural region, a wealth of hearty dishes, calorific desserts, cobbled streets and incredibly friendly locals await you – not to mention the chance to explore some stunning scenery from moonscape deserts to rolling hills and valleys.
Heading deeper into Boyacá, past the slightly touristy town of Villa de Leyva and a wealth of small towns and less discovered sights await you. With excellent transport links and small-town prices, this is a fun way to explore one of Colombia’s quaint and charming departments.
Deciding to better explore the delights of Boyacá over a long weekend, we used the sleepy town of Sogamoso as our base. Although a predominantly agricultural and industrial centre, the small back streets of the old town are worth exploring.
So too is the small archaeological museum just out of the town centre. Open since 1942, the museum is home to a small collection of traditional pottery, musical instruments and even several mummies from Colombia’s Muisca culture – one of the country’s various indigenous groups native to the Andean highlands region.
The informative museum is also home to an impressive recreation of a Suamox (Temple of the Sun) and a traditional Muisca settlement and still houses around 200 graves.
Calle 9ª No. 6-45. Tuesday to Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays and Bank Holidays: 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
But the real reason for our visit was to better explore Colombia’s largest lake; the impressive 55 kilometer-squared Laguna de Tota. The word “Tota” in fact means “land for farming” in indigenous dialect – a nod to the incredibly fertile soils and acres of crops that surround this gigantic lake.
Traveling around the lake is a day out in itself – and you will need both sunscreen and your thermals as you pass through several different types of weather during the ride!
We hopped on a bus in Sogamoso, and headed to our first lakeside stop of Aquitania. This charming town is one of the country’s agricultural epicentres for one of Boyacá’s primary products – spring onions. In fact, around 90 percent of Colombia’s onions are grown on Tota’s shores.
We hopped off the bus in this sleepy town to have a quick look in the church and sample one of many desserts – a delicious merengon (or merengue) oozing with strawberries, mango and cream. Also, well worth a photo is the statue honouring the region’s spring onion farmers in the town square.
Our second bus of the day dropped us at the entrance to Playa Blanca. Not dissimilar to a seaside resort, this tiny cove is lined with fine white sand, making it a popular destination for Colombians from miles around.
The Monster of Lake Tota
The lake is also home to a legendary half-snake-half-ox monster, the Diablo Ballena (literally the Devil Whale). However, he chose not to make an appearance during our time in Boyacá!
Don’t be fooled by the crystal clear lake waters though – Tota is absolutely freezing! Yet if you feel like you can make like a local, feel free to join the few and far hardy souls stripping down to their swimming suits and having a splash or catching those rays on the white sand.
Pleasure cruisers depart from the rickety pier every couple of minutes if you fancy exploring the lake, with a large lakeside restaurant offering huge dishes of the local delicacy: trout farmed fresh from Tota itself.
Tota Lake is also a great day out for kids, with horse riding and quad biking on offer from the various vendors at the lakeside.
We decided to pass on the extreme sports and hopped back on a passing bus to our last stop of the day, the sleepy town of Iza.
In Muisca, Iza means “the healing place”, an obvious reference to the thermal springs found just outside of the sleepy village.
The quaint town square is home to endless dessert shops and tables during the weekend, offering an array of calorific and cream laden puddings. A trip to the hot springs will cost you around $3,000 COP per person – bear in mind that weekends and bank holidays are peak times as local tourists pile out of Sogamoso by the car full to ‘take the waters’.
Other sights close by
Around 30 to 45 minutes from Sogamoso, lies the sleepy, cobbled street town of Monguí – considered to be one of the most beautiful colonial settlements in the department. In fact, Mongui is also, rather bizarrely, home to endless handmade ball factories – which have even supplied FIFA and international tournaments.
The stunning redbrick monastery and tiny chapel are well worth a peek, while if you venture down the hill, visitors will find the charming Calicanto bridge.
Mongui is also a great base if you have more time and fancy planning a trip up onto the Paramó de Oceta, or moorland, where stunning scenery and unique wildlife await keen hikers and bird watchers.
Famed for its Christmas lights, the sleepy town of Nobsa is also a stone’s throw from Sogamoso and offers a welcome change from the hustle and bustle. Nobsa is also famed as being home to one of Colombia’s handicraft hotspots, as endless tables and stalls line the small square at weekends offering a variety of desserts and woollen offerings.
Indeed it is wool, which makes Nobsa famous. Colombia’s typical ruanas, a sort of coarse poncho, are woven here to this day and it’s well worth speaking to the various stall holders if you fancy picking yourself up an authentic Boyacá bargain!
Interested in visiting the Sugamuxi Province of Boyacá? Colombia Eco Travel offers a Discover Sugamuxi four day tour.