Christmas lights route through Boyacá!
End of the year activity of PELECANUS TEAM
We left La Candelaria in Bogotá at two o’clock in the afternoon heading to Boyacá to follow the route of lights. Our plan was very ambitious. We wanted to drive to Nobsa, the town of the mangers and our northernmost destination, then returning to Bogotá passing through: “El Pueblito Boyacense” in Duitama, Corrales, “light of Colombia”, ¿Tibasosa? Bridge of Boyacá and Villa de Leyva! Indeed, a very ambitious plan! If all went well we should return to Bogota around 2 a.m.
First, shortly after starting, we found ourselves in a traffic jam on the highway. We were a bit concerned that we will not make it out of the city limits before “pico y placa” (the Colombian traffic regulation according to number plates) started, but we did! We kept on driving towards Tocancipá. I must say that one must be attentive with the traffic signs because it’s easy to take the wrong way (not because it happened to us, not at all…). On the way to Duitama, our first stop was the Sisga reservoir. From the road it cannot be spotted easily, and you need to drive over a small red bridge of less than 50 meters. We stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy the landscape. You also can access the reservoir going to the restaurant “El Refugio del Sisga” Autopista 55, KM 68 Bogotá-Tunja. There you can find a lookout point and oversee the reservoir. It is worth it to visit this place when you travel to Colombia. There is also a trail to have a nice walk to the shore. The restaurant is very pretty and surrounded by big trees. You will also find various animals like white doves, punk chickens, llamas and a playground. We didn’t eat there, but you can find it on Tripadvisor if you are interested in its reviews about the food and the service.
We continued our trip with one big priority: To stop at “Venta Quemada”. According to Sebastián, “Venta Quemada” is a famous location along the road with restaurants where you can taste the very debated arepas boyacenses (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arepa). Debated because for some people they are a delicacy of the gods, for others not so much. We interviewed one of the ladies that was cooking them at the restaurant “Puerta Boyacense”, arepa factory. She didn’t talk about the origin of the arepas, but she showed how she prepared them. This arepas are made from “maís pelao”, cuajada (a type of cheese), salt and panela (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panela). The cuajada is placed in the middle of the corn mace and the panela (or the sugar) gives it the characteristic sweet flavour. It is roasted and served with a cup of hot “agua de panela” and cheese. In the restaurant they also offered “picada” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picada_(Colombian_cuisine)), chicken, “génovas” and other delicacies from the region. We discovered that “Venta Quemada” is, in fact, a town, and its correct name is Ventaquemada. According to Wikipedia: “Former names of Ventaquemada are Padua and La Venta, indicating the commercial centre at a strategical location along the road between Bogotá and Tunja. Historically it was the most important city of the Altiplano (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altiplano_Cundiboyacense). After the burning of the properties of Albarracín, the name Ventaquemada (“burnt sale”) was given to the town”.
Leaving Ventaquemada, we decided to keep driving to “Puente de Boyacá” and make the first official stop on our Christmas Lights Route. We arrived still at daylight. We climbed a hill through a small path made of rocks until the Simon Bolivar statue, where the monument and the landscape can be fully appreciated. From there we contemplated all the colors of the sunset and saw how the lights slowly became brighter as the daylight disappeared. Then the luminous drops started falling from the trees. Arches on the paths made of stars, flowers, hummingbirds, and farmers from Boyacá with their typical outfits and animals: chickens, cows, sheep and pigs. But this wasn’t as impressive as the many luminous cyclists riding all over the place, doing a tribute to Colombian sport talents and elevating Boyacá as cradle of great “escarabajos” (beetles), or cyclists as Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel López.
Despite the beauty, we spoiled the route, meaning, the schedule, because it was late and we were still far from our destination. We went directly to Nobsa and we spent roughly two hours to get there. When you travel Colombia, you realize the distances by car between point A and point B might take hours. When we arrived, we saw the huge building of the Holcim cement plant, part of the Swiss Holcim group, one of the biggest cement factories of the world. We firstly thought we were lost, but no, we found the town center guided by the lights on the church tower.
When we arrive, we found a little square filled with lights and color, with the main theme of the country side and women farmers from Boyacá. In the central square, we saw a castle like from a fairy tale, very illuminated next to the spectacular Christmas manger characteristic of the celebrations in this town. Without any doubts, a place to visit in Colombia. Around the square we found handicraft shops and cafes, but all were closed. Beyond the square there were no lights, so the tour lasted only 20 minutes. It’s important to outline that the church is very special and very well decorated in the inside. It is a baroque style temple of three naves with a structure made completely out of stone, built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
From Nobsa we went to “Pueblito Boyacense”. Despite the recommendations from a local girl of keep going to Corrales that, according to her, is the town that shows the best light decoration of Boyacá. We left to “Pueblito Boyacense” and in about half an hour we were already arrived. The entrance cost COP 2.000 and the toilet cover was COP 1.000. The town is beautiful, full of houses and small paths recalling the main towns of Boyacá and its main products, mostly, handicrafts. We made the tour in half an hour as there weren’t many people and the church, along with some restaurants and craft shops, was closed. It was about 9 o’clock in the evening. Outside the place there were small candy shops, fast food, handicrafts and a big parking lot.
From there we went directly in search for a restaurant. In fact, Duitama was already sleeping, and it was difficult to find an open restaurant. Finally, we found a “truck driver” kind of restaurant that still offered food. A simple, clean, big place, with plastic tables and chairs and some drivers eating. The service was fast, but we had to show some patience until we finally received our food. Therefore our Christmas dinner consisted of: a simple soup, then rice, homemade fried potatoes, onions and tomato salad and beef steak. An actual Colombian experience! Aura and I made it even better, drinking a traditional Colombian soft drink: Manzana Postobón. (we discussed what is the best Colombian soft drink, for me it is Glacial Crema Soda, for Aura, mmm, I don’t remember… sorry… Sebastián didn’t say and Frank just said: “ughh”).
Once we finished the meal, we thought “Happy belly, happy heart!” Finally we left almost at 10 pm to Villa de Leyva, two hours away from Duitama. On the drive, we played to guess names of artists and movies, but we got bored quickly. The navigation App guided us through a very dark neighborhood in Tunja. I was really scared!
In the night, as you can’t see the landscape, you realize you are getting close to Villa de Leyva for the curvy road, and for the brown color of the things outside. We arrived and found this small and white town soberly decorated at the central square. The huge square with the little fountain in the middle, threes made of light around it and on the atrium of the square, and the buildings delineated with lines of yellow light. According to our historian, the size of the square that big because in the past, it was used for military training and for military formations.
We met Natanael, a friend of Frank and each one had a drink in a salsa bar in front of the church. As a precaution note: do not pet the street dogs. Aura almost got bitten by a dog that was trying to sleep. I went to explore the surroundings of the square, until they called me to take the end of the year picture, in which another street dog, much nicer, posed with us. He might be used to it.
Sheltered by the early morning silence, we started our way back to Bogotá. I must confess I was scared about traveling so late, from that far. But the fear was just in my head. The road is fast and safe. If you want to do in Colombia tourism by car, you can definitely do it; the army and the police also show presence and in two and a half hours we got back into the city. At 3 am each of us arrived home, tired.
In conclusion, it is not possible to achieve the complete route in just one night, unless you are willing to spend most of the time inside the car, or to do extra fast tours in each place or to skip some of them, or all the previous options. The best would be to choose one or two places and focus on them, or make the route in two days.
Pelecanus Travel Colombia
Blog Sara Colmenares