The end of year holidays are almost upon us, and now is a good time to start thinking of where to go if staying local. With no shortage of destinations to choose from, The City Paper decided to jump ahead of the travel queues, with several road trips that combine stunning landscapes and patrimonial towns. With highways leading from the capital in all cardinal directions, within one hour (and keeping to the speed limits), you’ll be either sweltering from the heat or putting on a woolly jumper. Regardless of your climate preferences, make sure your car papers are in order, especially the third-party liability insurance (SOAT) document and First Aid kit.
Bogotá – Villa de Leyva. Distance: 160 Kms. Driving time: 3 hours.
Route 55 leads north from Bogotá to the department of Boyacá, one of the country’s preferred highways given excellent service facilities and views of the landscape of the Eastern Andes. Once past the first toll booth near the Chía bypass, the highway is a two-lane meander through the industrial parkland of the Savannah de Bogotá, until the first climb up toward El Sisga reservoir. Crossing the iron bridge spanning a narrow gorge, those who know the road tend to stop off at El Refugio del Sisga, a rustic single-tier restaurant with pleasant grounds. The house specialty are trout empanadas. From Chocontá to Villapinzón the highway traverses every shade of green, home to chimney stacked cottages with grazing sheep. The border between Cundinamarca and Boyacá comes as a toll before entering Ventaquemada, and last valley before the historical landmark Puente de Boyacá, scene of the last Independence battle that secured victory for the Republican coalition on August 7, 1819. With the statute of the Liberator looming over a knoll on your right, take the sideroad to Samacá that offers a stunning landscape of the high-altitude Boyacá moors before descending straight into the main square of this small agricultural community. From orchard groves to cactus forests, once in the dust bowl of the La Candelaria desert, the charm of colonial Villa de Leyva with its cobblestone passages and fossil encrusted walls are just minutes away.
Panela Road: Bogotá – Villeta. Distance: 90 Kms. Driving time: 2:30 hours
One of the most pleasant highways leads from the capital to Honda, on the Magdalena River, and known for its 19th century quarter with many homes and former shipping depots restored to their Republican grandeur. Coveting both banks of the majestic river, Honda was the last navigable point for steamers heading to the interior from Barranquilla and shares many architectural similarities with the Caribbean port, including a neo-Gothic Customs House.
When leaving the city head West on Calle 80, crossing the Río Bogotá, and toward the flower producing town of El Rosal, nestled at the edge of the Savannah. A few curves and you reach El Vino, a hydration spot for the many endurance cyclists who tackle the steep 20 km to La Vega. As the gateway to the panela producing region of Cundinamarca, La Vega is a bustling commercial hub and your best place to stop for gas, refreshments or gardening supplies. Cradling the Río Tobia most of the route from La Vega to Villeta, Highway 50 meanders through an exuberant landscape, where trees provide necessary shade until the two lanes broaden with roadside grills announcing your final destination. One of many weekend retreats in the so-called Tierra Caliente (Hot Country), Villeta is a downsized Honda with several Republican buildings still standing, including the old “sugarcane” train station. With its many white balconied facades and hot tin roofs, Villeta’s tumbledown charm includes its main attractions: the palm-lined La Molienda plaza and the yellow steepled church of San Miguel Arcángel (St.Michael Archangel). As an obligatory stop on the old Bogotá to Honda road, Villeta is steeped in historical association and visitors will find no shortage of decent accommodation either in town or in a resort setting.
Fruit Route: Bogotá – Fusagasuga. Distance: 76 Kms. Driving time: 2:30 hours.
Head out of the capital early to beat the exodus of the Autopista Sur and highway that connects Bogotá with the departments of Tolima, Huila, Quindío and Valle del Cauca. Once past the urban sprawl of Soacha, Highway 40 enters ancestral Muisca territory at Chusacá, and first toll before embarking on a crawl to Alto de las Rosas. Cloaked in mist and with pine forests working to convert CO2 emissions from the factories you’ve just left behind, the highway flanks a ridge of the Eastern Cordillera with framed vistas of the Magdalena River valley between the stacked tires of truck stops at El Soche. Among the many foodie landmarks on this route is La Vaca Que Ríe at San Raimundo, and you’ll know you’ve arrived in the foothills of the lactose tolerant by the Vegas-style billboard. From Smiling Cow its all downhill to the fruit stall capital of Cundinamarca: Silvania. Populated in the late 19th century by many Europeans with an agricultural vision. Silvania’s main food strip flanks the main road, serving customers – mainly bus passengers – 24/7. If still hungry after your arepa de queso, in this Alpine outpost you’ll find bandejas and sancochos at the Embajada Paisa, Fonda Antioqueña, El Rincón Huilense or Parador La Paisa.
Silvania to Fusa is a 15-minute drive, and even though you’ve only journeyed 14 kilometers, the capital of the Sumapaz province basks in a subtropical microclimate, and closest destination to Bogotá to sit poolside. For historical buffs, the old stairwell of the Hotel Sabaneta, Colombia’s infamous detention camp where 100 Germans were interned between 1944 and 1946 still stands, and not easily found without asking locals. Other attractions near Fusa include a coffee tour of the Hacienda Coloma, one of the oldest in the region, and Eco theme park Cutucumay.
Pilgrims Route: Bogotá- Chiquinquirá. Distance: 134 km. Driving Time: 3 hours
Chiquinquira ranks among the holiest places in the country and an important destination for Catholics, as this town’s most important landmark is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nuestra Señora del Rosario) and where the patroness of Colombia looms over pilgrims with her emerald encrusted gold crown. A beautiful plaza awaits those who venture from Bogotá on a three-hour trip across the Savannah de Bogotá and into the pre-industrial revolution landscape dotted by brick kilns and towering chimneys. If the Bronte sisters had to settle in a region that reminded them of Yorkshire, the conjoined towns of Tausa and Sutatausa would be solid candidates. Dipping into the valley of Ubaté, the single-lane road 45A crosses the floodplain of the Fúquene lagoon, where swamp reeds cleared to make way for cow pasture are sold roadside as handicrafts.
As you are in one of Cundinamarca’s most productive dairy heartlands, many travelers take advantage of good prices buying from family-owned businesses, among them Lácteos Colfrance, just past the small town of Capellanía on the Chiquinquira road. With the tranquil Fúquene lagoon glistening on the right side of your vehicle, the landscape pans out at Susa, one of the most picturesque views on your drive. Onion fields, fruit orchards, ruana clad campesinos and future cycling champs are part of the road’s attractions, and even though the border of Boyacá is several kilometers away, the icons of the department are embedded in the surroundings. One last hillock at El Santuario and it’s a straight line to Chiquinquirá. For a hearty meal walk toward the Basilica facing the central plaza (between Calles 17 and 18) with its many quaint eateries and cafés before saying your prayers for a safe trip home.