Latin Amerika is full with indigenous tribes.
Some had huge empires and ruled the continent, others are less known but still exist today.
The Muisca don't exist anymore and the first time we heard of them was in Bogotá.The old indigenous group of the pre-Colombian era is omnipresent in this region.
170km North of Bogotá, in Villa de Leyva, we visited old ruins and a holy lake of the Muisca which lies at 3600m altitude.
Furthermore, Villa de Leyva is famous for the fossiles in the area, including the near-complete Kronosaurus fossile.
We also visited Ráquira, a village famous for ceramic art and lastly we shopped on the street market of Villa de Leyva.
Villa de Leyva
The lovely village with colonial architecture was founded 1572, lies at an altitude of 2100m and is located in the Boyacá department. About 16 000 people live on 128km² , the area of Villa de Leyva.
Around the village are high mountains and a semi-desert. The village still has cobblestone streets and buildings of the sixteenth century.
It is the best protected colonial city of Colombia with the biggest Plaza Major in America.
Besides the beautiful city, this place has plenty of remains of the indigenous group Muisca and many paleontological sites.
Every Saturday, a streetmarket is held on the little Plaza, Southeast of Villa de Leyva.
Farmers and retailers of the region are coming to the city and offer their products. They have everything: fruits, vegetables, clothes and other things for a low price.
On the market, we found boxes with chickens, quails, turkeys, geese and ducks which were all spraypainted in different colours .
Besides the products, they were also preparing a barbecue and other food for hungry people.
We really enjoyed the market, bought several fruits and tried some very tasty local food, like empanadas and apple-chocolate pastry.
We took advantage of the trouble on the market to take some pictures of the locals.
El Fósil y El Infiernito
In order to visit both a paleontological and a religious site of the Muisca, we rented a bicycle in Villa de Leyva. The route was in a bad condition and we had to drive uphill. The bicycles were very badly maintained too. They were too small and had an uncomfotable seat.
The first place we visited was the paleontological site "El Fósil". The place is famous for the near-complete Kronosaurus boyacensis, a marine reptile which lived thousands of years ago (see picture right).
Information about the species:
The Kronosaurus lived in the Early Cretaceous Period. It had an elongated head, a short neck, a stiff body propelled by four flippers, and a relatively short tail. Kronosaurus was carnivorous, and had many long, sharp, conical teeth. It had a length of 10 meters and weighed over 11 tons.
The fossil was left at the place where it was discovered 1977. The museum was built around it and shows plenty of other fossils which were found in this region.
The other point of interest of our bicycle trip was "El Infiernito", an astronomical site of the Muisca. The site was the center of religious ceremonies and spiritual rituals of the indigenous group.
The stones should represent the Muisca calendar which they used for their agriculture. Besides the calendar, a grave and some phallus-shaped monoliths are on the site.
A closer look to the monoliths, shows that they look similar to the mens best part and indeed, this is what the Muisca wanted to show with the in total 105 monoliths. The "penises" should fertilize the earth.
Interesting fact: The name "El Infiernito" was given by the Spanish conquistadors and means little hell.
Ráquira, the village of ceramic and handcraft
One hour busdrive away from Villa de Leyva is Ráquira, a small village which is well know for their ceramic art and handcraft.
The area around was already known and used by the Musica. The name Ráquira means "Village of the pans" in Chibcha, the language of the Muisca people.
To visit this place was an insider tip from the son of our host and it was indeed a good choice for a daytrip.
We visited plenty of stores, were facinated by the ceramic art and the diversity they had.
Another insider tip of our hostel was to climb up to El Santo, a monument on the mountain, East of Villa de Leyva. The monument of a Jesus statue who is holding his hand over the city, lies 300m above the city.
The way is going steeply uphill and is rocky. We went up for the sunset and had a great view.
Rainclouds, which came over the mountain, created a dramatic light, perfect for photos.
Parque Nacional Sanctuario de Iguaque and the Holy Lake
Still enthused from our last trip up to 4000m in the PNN Los Nevados, we were motivated to try it again: climb up to a high altitude. Furthermore, Ecuador is coming soon, which means that a lot of hiking at an high altitude is waiting for us. We need to prepare ourselves!
15 kilometers away from Villa de Leyva is the Parque Nacional Sabtuario de Iguaque. The park has a surface of 68km² and is protecting habitat of cloud forest, Páramo and about eight lagunas. The park is best known for the Laguna de Iquaque, an important place for the Muisca.
According to legend, mankind was originated in the Iguaque lake, when the goddess Bachué came out from the lake with a boy in her arms. When the boy grew, she married him and their children populated the Earth. They are considered the ancestors of the human race. Finally Bachué and her husband and son disappeared into the lake in the shape of snakes.
The first bus to the national park leaves at 7 am in Villa de Leyva. The first part to the Ranger station is climbing from 2500 to 2800 meters above sealevel, during 3km, through farmland and (Quercus-Fagacae) forest. After paying the entrance fee and registering at the ranger station, the Staff gave us some information about the park and the route. The whole way to the Laguna is only 4km long but goes up to an altitude of 3600 meters over sea level. The way is going constantly steep uphill. Some parts are more tricky.
Because I was altitude sick last time, we tried to make enough breaks and implement the tips of our guide Sebastian from the PNN Los Nevados. Indeed, it worked and we arrived without any problem at the holy lake.
The view was amazing and after a break we had to descend the same way again. We had to return before 4 pm, which is when the last bus is going to Villa de Leyva.
We loved our stay in Villa de Leyva!
It is a lovely city which only weekends gets very touristic. The market on saturday was very interesting and a very good place to buy some fruits, vegetables or for some street pictures of locals.
Fortunately, we weren't in the high season anymore. Only a few tourist visited the city at the same time as we did.
Furthermore, nobody else apart from us used the hostal. During 4 days we were the only guests of the lovely family which had a lot of good tips for us.
Following the footprints of an old indigenous group was very interesting. We have now visited several places of the Muisca and learned a lot more about who they were, what they believed and how they lived.
The fossil of the Kronosaurus was interesting too. It was the first time we visited a paleontological site in South America.
It was almost impossible not to buy something in the shops of Ráquira. They had plenty of beautiful ceramic art.
Furthermore, I'm proud we managed the hike in the National Park Iguaque and the altitude of 3650 meters over sealevel. It was interesting to climb up to this altitude again and it is good to see that we had no complications.
I'm excited for the next trip in Popayán and Ecuador.
Actually it's easier to photograph orchids than birds in the National Park Flora y Fauna Iguaque. Besides some very quick hummingbirds in the Páramo biotope, it was almost impossible to get photos of other birds.
Same same but different view (click on the picture for Laura's blog)