Sweet slow travel in Iza and the Boyacá highlands

The town of Iza, Boyacá, in the fold of the Lago de Tota. Photo: Richard Emblin

Iza, nestled in the serene Boyacá highlands, diverges from the bustling commercialism of its neighboring towns, maintaining its essence as a tightly-knit community of weavers, predominantly dedicated to crafting the traditional Colombian garment known as the ruana. Wander through the labyrinthine streets adorned with workshops and boutiques, offering visitors an authentic experience with 100% lambswool ruanas, alongside a cornucopia of pastries and traditional sweets that tempt the taste buds of tourists.

The central square, framed by colonial architecture, beckons with its charming reposterías, showcasing an array of colorful cakes that are as delightful to the eyes as they are to the palate.

Its picturesque location cradled within the folds of the high-altitude Lago de Tota elevates Iza to a coveted destination for weekend getaways, a mere two-hour drive from Tunja, the capital of Boyacá. Among the town’s many attractions stands the Church of the Divine Saviour – Divino Salvador – a neo-Gothic structure that graces the palm-lined Parque Central, offering a glimpse into Iza’s religious heritage.

As you delve deeper into the heart of Iza, the adobe-white walls adorned with blooming bougainvillea provide a striking contrast against the backdrop of the azure skies of the Sugamuxi valley. While the days may be scorching hot, and sunscreen is a must, the nights bring a refreshing coolness, prompting the donning of woolly accessories that range from artisanal to contemporary, ensuring warmth and comfort amidst the chill. Make sure to visit to visit the atelier of Norma Cerón, and her assortment of ruanas for every season.

Given its strategic proximity to Colombia’s largest inland lake, Lago de Tota, it comes as no surprise that fresh trout reigns supreme as the gastronomic delight of choice. The town has even fostered a culinary competition dubbed “Trout Masters,” encouraging local chefs to concoct innovative dishes inspired by this freshwater delicacy. This gastronomic extravaganza, which emphasizes the use of locally sourced ingredients from Boyacá’s fertile lands, has not only elevated Iza’s culinary scene but also reinforced its cultural significance as a hub of creativity and tradition. Iza has been nominated among the Most Beautiful Towns of Boyacá in the 2024 edition. Local tourism operators Izavitatours are very well-versed and offer a slate of activities for outsiders.

Designated as a Cultural Asset by the Ministry of Culture in 2002, Iza takes immense pride in preserving its cultural heritage while embracing modernity. Beyond its culinary delights and architectural wonders, the town boasts of verdant countryside, where dairy farms produce the region’s renowned cheeses, adding to the tapestry of flavors that define Iza.

For those seeking relaxation, natural hot spring wells are on the outskirts of town, offering weary travelers a rejuvenating soak in therapeutic thermal baths. In a world where time seems to slip through our fingers like sand in an hourglass, Iza serves as a gentle reminder to pause, savor the moment, and revel in the simple joys that make life extraordinary.

The trip to Iza was made possible thanks to an invitation from Fontur and the Tourism Secretariat of Boyacá.

Traditional ruana weaving in the workshop of Norma Cerón. Photo: Richard Emblin