Colombia is the perfect country to explore off the beaten path. There is so much more to see than the highlights Colombia, yet almost all travelers stay on the popular itinerary. Off the beaten track travel in Colombia is quite easy, but you need to know a little bit about how, what and where exactly. How do you combine these destinations with your itinerary through Colombia? How much time do you need for it? And what does such a route look like? In this article, I share a ready-made itinerary Colombia off the beaten path, from the popular Villa de Leyva through the unknown Lago de Tota to Barichara, one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia. At the bottom of the description, see the itinerary on the map.
From Villa de Leyva to Barichara: discover authentic Boyacá
From the popular Villa de Leyva to Colombia’s most beautiful village, Barichara, is a journey through time. Lago de Tota and its surroundings is among my favorites in Colombia for a reason. I’ve been there about 8 times and as soon as the opportunity arises I’ll go again. You will not only find the highest lake in Colombia (and yes you can dive there too!), ancient villages all with their own specialty (how about the ball village of Colombia), interesting museums, the best ponchos in the country and the safest village in Colombia, but this is also the place for a road trip along the pure life.
Here you can read and see what this itinerary looks like.
1. Villa de Leyva – Toca (65 km, 1 hour 45 minutes)
Toca, a village you probably never heard of. But did you know that this mini-village is known as the safest village in Colombia? Toca was founded in the year 1555 and is located at an altitude of over 2,800 meters just 27 kilometers from Boyacá capital Tunja. Due to its high altitude, the average temperature of about 13 degrees makes it nice and cool. Police have nothing to do and just play a game of soccer with the boys in the village.
What is there to do in Toca?
Apart from strolling around, enjoying the very special church in the square, eating at a local bakery, watching daily life and taking pictures of people in ponchos, there is not much to do. Now you may be thinking: why do I need to go there? Well that’s exactly why. Just to witness pure Colombian life, without tourists. Oh yeah, and the scenery is spectacular!
What to do in the area?
Especially if you come with your own car then you can really explore. Go for a drive around the area, doesn’t really matter where. Just going along the dirt roads full of holes and potholes, watching people live and farmers walk their cows. Enjoying beautiful views, old villages and the many cows and horses.
Embalse de la Copa
Toca is located on Lake Copa, an artificial lake in the center of Boyacá. This 880-hectare lake is one of the main destinations in this part of Boyacá for practicing water sports. You can also bike and hike like the best here.
Where to stay.
Already twice I was in this amazing finca. Highly recommended if you want to go off the beaten path and like unusual stays. Finca Casa Yerbabuena is located directly on Embalse de la Copa and from the finca you can go canoeing, horseback riding through the mountains and mountain biking. There is also a tennis court, table tennis and barbecue. And that’s only outside the finca…. In fact, Casa Yerbabuena is beautifully authentic and you will fall in love with it immediately.
In the evening enjoy by the warm fireplace, cook in the large wooden kitchen and gaze at the full moon in the jacuzzi. Not to mention the spectacular sunset. Really: this is seriously special. There is no Internet, no phone coverage, no stores, no restaurants. Delicious! Everything you need to know about Casa Yerbabuena can be found here.
2. Toca – Paipa (41 km, 1 hour 5 minutes)
The next destination is not far from Toca: Paipa. Paipa is a popular destination among Colombians to go to a thermal bath or spa. In addition, Paipa offers history, conviviality and beautiful surroundings. There are more Colombian tourists here in high season, so book early.
What is there to do in Paipa and the surrounding area?
Stroll along the promenade along Lake Sochagota. Especially in the evening, it is beautiful here. Buy typical snacks such as obleas and enjoy the beautiful sunset. The lake was built for tourism.
Relax in the spa. Need a moment in a luxury spa or thermal bath during your trip? Then Paipa is a good place. You will find many of them in the village and surrounding areas.
Visit the famous monument of Pantano de Vargas. On July 25, 1819, an army of Venezuelans and Colombians, led by Simón Bolívar, prevented Spanish troops from entering Bogotá. Along with the victory over the Spaniards at Puente de Boyacá marked the independence of Colombia (then Nueva Granada). To celebrate 150 years of independence, this monument was created. It consists of 15 horses and riders sculpted from bronze. The monument is 100 meters long, 30 meters wide and 33 meters high. And did you know that each bronze horse weighs nearly 2 tons? Consequently, this monument is the largest in Colombia and worth a visit. You will find the monument along the road between Paipa and Firavitoba.
Where to stay.
It is not necessary to stay overnight in Paipa. It depends on how much time you have and what you want to do. You can easily visit the lake, the village and the monument in a few hours and then travel on to the next destination. However, if you want to spend a night or two relaxing in a Spa, Paipa is definitely a good place for this. Check here for hotels in Paipa.
3. Paipa – Lago de Tota ( 50 a 60 km, 1 hour 50 minutes)
Lago de Tota is really a beautiful place. Not only because of its enormously high altitude, but also because of its many authentic villages. You can spend days there and this place also lends itself perfectly to a cool road trip through pure Colombia. Where you stay is up to you: there are hotels in the cute villages, somewhere in the mountains or by the lake. And on the way from Paipa, stop for a bite to eat or a coffee in the white village of Firavitoba.
What is there to do in, on and around Lago de Tota?
Lago de Tota
Lago de Tota is Colombia’s highest lake at 3,000 meters and the second highest lake in South America after Titicaca. This high altitude makes it cold, often rainy and cloudy, and spectacularly beautiful due to the surrounding mountains. You can also eat trucha (trout) there like the best. The lake is 55 square meters in size and about 60 meters deep. There are several uninhabited islets in the lake that you could reach by boat. It is not at all touristy (except for Playa Blanca, see below) and here you can really enjoy authentic Colombia and its amazing nature. In this mini-guide you will read all about Lago de Tota and its surroundings.
The most famous part of Lago de Tota is Playa Blanca. This little white sand beach on the lake is also located at an altitude of 3,000 meters, making swimming quite a challenge because it is freezingly cold. From the lake you can boat and there are some restaurants to eat especially trout.
Museum Village of Pueblito Antiguo
Also located directly on the lake is Pueblito Antiguo. This nature reserve is on the list of 100 greenest destinations in the world, and rightly so. The remote pueblito is a representation of a typical village of Boyacá in the 1970s. It really is a beautiful place and worth visiting. Please note that without a car, you can only get there on foot (from Cuítiva) or by cab. Read all about visiting Pueblito Antiguo here.
Diving in Lago de Tota
Of course, every traveler wants to dive in the most idyllic place: on a white beach with colorful coral where the sun shines into the sea. Want something different and off the beaten path? Then you can also consider taking a dip in Lago de Tota. Because of the high altitude, the water is freezing cold and you can’t get in without a diving suit and gloves. It’s not very clear either. Diving in Lago de Tota is something you do for the special experience. And, of course, it is wonderful to surface and see nothing but green mountains. Read (and watch!) all about diving in Lago de Tota here.
Road trip around the lake
By bus not possible, but by own car a fantastic experience: a road trip around the lake. Set aside a day or half day to drive around the lake, visit small villages and witness farm life. The views are beautiful, the nature insane, the smell delicious and the roads not too good. A fantastic experience and truly off the beaten track! Just follow the road along the lake and take occasional side roads to see a little more of the interior. Beautifully beautiful.
Visit villages of Iza, Pesca, Cuítiva and Tota
Around Lago de Tota you will find villages of Iza, Pesca, Cuítiva and Tota. Each village is small, historic, beautiful and authentic. In Pesca, for example, we once found ourselves in the middle of a sheep festival where everyone walked around in ponchos, and we ate desserts in dessert village Iza. The villages are small and you will find a different atmosphere and specialty in each one. If you don’t take too long for each village, you can visit them all in one day (with your own car).
Where to stay.
If you are looking for beautifully located special hotels or fincas you should definitely go to this region.
We stayed in:
Hotel La Casona de Suanoga. Far away from everything, this is truly a gem if you love peace and nature. There is nothing close by and you sleep in the middle of nature. The owners are incredibly nice and the hotel very beautiful and authentic. If you do not have your own car, you should arrange a cab or ask the owner for advice. Absolutely worth it, this is really recommended!
And there’s more! Look here for all hotels and fincas in the region. Including beautiful hotels on the lake or in the meadows.
4. Lago de Tota – Monguí (46 km, 1 hour 50 minutes)
Of course, if you go to this region, one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia should not be missed: Monguí. Monguí is the perfect base for other villages and sights in this part of the region. The village is certainly the most touristy, but don’t expect mass tourism.
What is there to do in Monguí?
Visit a ball workshop. Monguí is the ball village of Colombia: here you can find all kinds of balls. Leather balls, soccer balls, basketballs, small balls, you name it. They hang everywhere and they are also made here. So you can also visit a ball workshop.
Stroll the white streets. Monguí belongs to the white villages of Colombia and that calls for a village walk. Enjoy the historic architecture and white houses and get lost in history.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Monguí. This church in the central square is certainly one of the most beautiful churches I have seen in Colombia. Don’t forget to check it out inside, too!
Walk across the Puente (bridge) de Calicanto. This beautiful old bridge leads you across the Morro River.
What to do in the area?
Páramo de Oceta. This nature reserve is known as one of the most beautiful páramos in the world. An amazing experience not to miss when you are in this area. Nature here is outstanding, something you never saw before. Click here to read everything about Páramo de Oceta.
Villages of Topaga and Mongua. If you go to Monguí, do not miss these villages. To be reached by a dirt road, each village has its own character and beautiful views. Also on the road. Not to be missed!
The Museo Arqueologico museum in Sogamoso. This archaeological museum is very well known and is incredibly beautiful and interesting. You can visit the museum on the way from Lago de Tota to Monguí. Or, if you stay in Monguí, you can visit on a detour to Sogamoso. Read all about Museo Arqueologico in Sogamoso.
The poncho village of Nobsa. On the way to Duitama (see item 5) or on a trip from Monguí, you will find Nobsa. This village is known as ruana (poncho) village and so this is where you buy a real Colombian ruana. By the way, do not think that a ruana is just for decoration, as this garment is really very useful. Curious about its special features? Read this article!
Yoga retreat and workshops. In this region you will find several places for a Yoga retreat. One of these places is Agama Yoga Colombia, near Sogamoso. Another one is Finca San Pedro.
Where to stay.
We stayed in cute Finca San Pedro, at the same time a place to practice yoga and volunteer to stay longer. Here you will find several foreigners. A fine and very nice place to stay, but due to its location close to the larger city Sogamoso I would prefer to stay in Monguí or at least near there next time. Click here for hotels in and around Monguí.
Extra tip! The region of Sogamoso – Monguí – Aquitania belongs to the province of Sugamuxi, part of the department of Boyacá. This region is known for its indigenous people Muisca and has much more to offer than the destinations in this article. If you really want to venture off the beaten path and explore this province in detail (including high waterfalls!), check out this website.
5. Mongui – Duitama – Barichara (33 km, 55 minutes; 158 km, 5 hours 20 minutes)
The last destination before leaving for San Gil and Barichara is Duitama. You can spend a night here, but this is not necessary. Most ineresting is Pueblito Boyacense. This museum village is somewhat similar to Pueblito Antiguo, only much larger, more touristy and people actually live there. If you come in low season it will be very interesting and also great fun for children. So decide if you still want to make this stopover or travel directly from Monguí to Barichara. For hotels and fincas in and around Duitama click here.
Once in Barichara, you can go explore Colombia’s most beautiful village and explore the beautiful province of Santander. Check out a mini-guide Barichara & San Gil.
The itinerary on the map
Please note that road trips along the villages and around the lake are not shown on this map. You can check this out yourself with navigation at the point of arrival.
Travel route Colombia off the beaten path: what will you find on this itinerary?
The region of Lago de Tota is really suitable for travelers who love nature and cute, historic villages. Travelers who want to explore a different part of Colombia and take the time to do so. This is not a sun and party destination. You will fall in love with this region for its impressive nature and authenticity. From the lovely people and the delicious food. An experience never to be forgotten!
- Historic villages with their own character and specialty (think balls, desserts and charcoal)
- The highest lake in Colombia
- Beautiful nature
- A cold climate with lots of clouds and regular rain
- A special destination for diving in Colombia
- Remarkably located hotels and fincas
- Interesting monuments and museums, such as Pueblito Antiguo and the Archaeological Museum in Sogamoso
- Yoga retreats
- The most beautiful ponchos in the country
- The safest village in Colombia
- And much more!
Colombia travel itinerary off the beaten path: practical information
How much time to spend on this itinerary?
The time you spend on this route depends entirely on what and how much you want to see and do and how you travel. You can choose to do the whole itinerary and really get to know this region, or just go to see Monguí, for example. If you want to do the whole itinerary and you are traveling with your own car, I would allocate about 10 days for that. It can also be faster of course, just depends on what you want to do. If you only want to see Monguí, it will cost you about 2 extra days.
Who is this off-the-beaten-path itinerary for?
This itinerary is meant for travelers who really want to discover a different side of Colombia, want to do things a little differently than usual and have the time. If you are only in Colombia for two weeks, the highlights are more obvious. On the other hand, you can choose to see just this part of Colombia and travel from Bogotá to Barichara and back via this route.
What do you bring?
This itinerary goes through high mountains, which makes it cold and rainy. When the sun is shining, it can warm up to about 18 degrees. Therefore, bring warm clothing. Close walking shoes, long pants, a warm sweater/vest, a raincoat, an umbrella, sunglasses and sunscreen. A rain cover for your backpack and daypack is also a wise idea. Arriving in San Gil and Barichara, the weather is warm….
By car or by bus?
This route is the most fun and easiest by car. This allows you to really get off the beaten path and it simply saves a tremendous amount of time. Read all about car rental in Colombia here. Keep in mind that many roads in this area are not paved. Some interior roads are even very bad. An ordinary car is possible, a slightly higher car or 4×4 is easier. We did most of it with a regular, low car. It can be done but the car did suffer some damage on certain routes….
If you want it a little more adventurous, it can also be done by bus, but keep in mind that buses don’t go everywhere. Outside the larger towns, cabs aren’t readily available either, so you’ll have to be a bit more flexible and take more time to see everything. Going around the lake by bus is not doable, so you will have to skip that or arrange a cab somewhere.
I already mentioned it, but since the climate in Colombia is always a question I want to emphasize it again: this is not a sun destination. Keep an eye out for rain, then it can only be better. It rarely rains all day, but it can happen. You can’t predict the weather, so it remains a guess. But not to worry: even with clouds and rain, it is so beautiful here!
I love this route and I really recommend it: this is SO beautiful! Discover the real Colombia and go off the beaten path for once, it will give you such wonderful memories and experiences….. Find more complete off-the-beaten-path routes here!
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