Aside from the weathered terracotta roof tiles and rust-coloured dirt creeping up pristine white walls, it’s as if every adobe house and building was freshly painted the day before.
Were we in a theme park or a movie set?
Colombia has 17 towns that it holds very close to its heart. Pueblos Patrimonios, or ‘Patrimony Towns’ that it declares as national interest for their history, beauty and ‘magic’.
You can’t ignore the beauty of Barichara, despite its almost too perfect appearance. Colourful window boxes, meticulously placed planters, stunning tiles, neat hedges and flowering bougainvillea cascading down white walls glowing in the sun.
Parque Principal is a good place to start, a beautiful open space shaded by mature trees and tall palms, trimmed lawns, soothing central fountain and collection of sculptures dotted about.
Overlooking the park is Church of the Immaculate Conception, a stunning 18th-century stone cathedral that seems to change colour throughout the day.
Home for our two-night stay was the beautiful Casa de Huespedes el Cogollo, located several hundred metres up the hill from the centre of town.
Our private townhouse had it’s own terrace – a perfect spot to enjoy the inclusive Colombian or American breakfast spread. Absolutely loved the semi-open bathroom with outdoor shower.
There’s a small communal plunge pool and breezy lounge area with views to the town centre below.
Casa de Huespedes el Cogollo, Carrera 11, #7-37
Stumbling across Cafe Ritual just metres from the plaza was like a breath of fresh Colombian air, and the fact the friendly owner didn’t only do tinto made it all the better.
Sorry, Colombia, not a fan of your tinto. You really need to make it stronger.
Here at Ritual you can have all your filtration methods. The beans, which are grown locally, are ground by hand for each cup, and that vintage espresso machine is like nothing I’ve seen before.
Cafe Ritual, Carrera 6, #4-64
Afternoon drinks is very much a part of our travelling routine, but one thing we noticed in Barichara is the lack of bars. However, we did notice many of the locals loitering in the small convenience stores, sitting inside or out, with a beer they’d just purchased.
They may not be the most glamorous places to sit and enjoy a drink, but the fact that you’re not paying bar prices means you can let your hair down if you’re on a tight budget.
If a view with your drink is mandatory, then look no further than El Mirador. Not only is the colonial town of Barichara picture perfect, but it’s perched on the edge of a ravine with spectacular views in all directions.
Grab any drink you desire from the bar, order a snack to nibble on, find a seat and take in that incredible sunset view.
El Mirador, Carrera 7
Food-wise, there’s plenty going on for a town of this size. From local to international, there’s something for almost any taste.
For the ultimate in local cuisine, head to where the tourists don’t flock, settle into one of the understated rooms at El Compa and find a hearty regional dish to tuck into.
As you’d expect from any typical Colombian menu, there’s quite a bit of meat going on. Grilled goat, sun-dried beef, pork and chicken, or something a fraction lighter, some grilled fish or soups.
Wanting to try something very local, I went for the mixto (18,000), a plate heaving with grilled carne oreada (sun-dried beef), cabro (goat), yuca, arepa, salad and something I’d never tried before.
This something is pepitoria, a local fry-up of egg, seasoned vegetables and goat innards. What innards would that be? Not sure, but it’s a flavour-packed extravaganza of textures that may be a tad confronting to most.
Another local specialty, not that they have it at this restaurant, is hormigas culonas, or fat-bottom ants. You can buy packets of them dried in many of the stores and several touristic restaurants work them into their dishes. Sadly I never got around to trying them.
El Compa Santandereano, Calle 5, #4-48
If ‘safe’ food is more your cup of tinto, then head over to Don Juan, a sprawling upstairs/downstairs restaurant that’s popular with families and tourists; especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
From ceviche to filet mignon, to pastas, bbq pork ribs and crêpes. There really is something for everyone here – even the herbivores.
I’d say skip the pork ribs and get yourself a bowl of arroz con camarones (28,000), a divine stir-fry of rice, prawns, curry, brandy and vegetables. Even the golden patacones (fried plantain) were delicious.
Don Juan, Carrera 6, #6-10
The Camino Real was a network of pre-existing stone roads the Spanish either took over or built themselves, when they first came to town in the 16th century and decided everything was theirs.
Many sections of the road still exist, which includes an almost 10 km-long chunk of it between the towns of Barichara and Guane; a smaller town located further down the Río Suárez valley.
Local Guane Indians built the road originally, before the Conquistadors barged in, and now you can hike down from Barichara past farmhouses, through grassy fields and along old stone walls.
The 10 km hike to Guane takes between 1½-2 hours, and it’s advisable you do it early as it gets pretty hot out there. You won’t come across many other people along the way in the morning, and you won’t come across shops, either, so water is a must.
Guane itself is a relatively quiet place with a simple central plaza, a stone church, archaeological museum and plenty of small gift stores selling colourful local crafts, fossils and goat’s milk.
There are a few convenience stores around the plaza to stock up on water if you’re hiking back to Barichara, or simply catch the hourly bus from the southeast corner of the plaza for 12,000 pesos per person.
There isn’t a great deal to do in Guane other than stay for lunch, so we did exactly that. There’s a popular restaurant next door to the museum, but rather than follow the flock we ate at a local joint which specialises in local fare.
My meal was basically a repeat of what I had in Barichara – the cabro with pepitora, salad & rice (20,000).
Restaurante Guayubi, Corner Carrera 6 & Calle 8
Colectivos from the bus station in Villa de Leyva leave for Tunja every 15 minutes from 5am, and take around 1 hour. Cost is 7,000 pesos per person.
From Tunja, the Libertadores Bus goes to the Terminal Interurbano in San Gil. There are two bus stations in San Gil, this is the one in the west part of town, not downtown. This bus costs 40,000 pesos per person and takes about 4½ hours.
From Terminal Interurbano in San Gil you can grab a taxi (4000 pesos) to the Local Terminal (downtown). From this terminal you get the Cotra Sangil bus to Barichara. Cost is 48,000 pesos per person, it leaves every hour or so and takes 45 minutes.