Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara Real was meant to be quite an impressive colonial church and complex resplendent with a profusion of religious artwork from the period but was unfortunately closed when we were in town. There was no notice to the effect but it was literally around the corner from our hotel so we went by the 1571 convent numerous...more
While Casa Cultural Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was not up to par with either of our other colonial casa visits, it was interesting enough and since it was free, we couldn't complain about our Spanish-only-speaking guide. Home to the famed former president of Colombia by a military coup, the museum features an art collection and memorabilia and photos of...more
Though quite pretty from the outside, Iglesia de San Ignacio was never open while we were in town and perhaps is no longer in service. Despite it's prominent position in town and its exterior being in great shape, I found very little about it on the Internet nor was it mentioned in my guidebook. The little I do see is in Spanish and since I'm not...more
Iglesia de San Augustin turned out to be one of our favorite sights in town perhaps not despite it no longer being a church but because it now houses a library. The quiet courtyard was at the time displaying a fine collection of fairy tale artwork which was one of the more interesting exhibitions we saw while in Colombia. It's a bit on the edge of...more
Since we had such a great experience at Casa Del Fundador Suarez Rendon we decided to check out its bookend colonial masterpiece across the square. Casa de Don Juan de Vargas did not disappoint. In fact, the home Tunja's most noted writers is every bit the 16th century stunner, again with rich ornately painted ceilings and great period furnishings....more
Sometimes you cannot judge a book by its cover and certainly churches by their exteriors. At the end of Pasaje de Vargas you pop out on rather large but simple looking Iglesia de Santo Domingo with its plain white facade. Once inside the 16th century marvel, you are overwhelmed by what is easily one of the most stunning church interiors in all of...more
Casa Del Fundador Suarez Rendon was one of the top highlights sight-wise for us during our stay in Tunja which was surprisingly crammed with colonial marvels like this one. Its stunning exterior is perfectly captured late afternoon but do not miss its equally impressive interior. Period furnishings hint at the aristocratic lifestyle on the...more
While Tunja's Plaza de Bolivar is no stunner it is the center of a very vibrant city, full of students going about their daily business. This is no made for tourists Disney-incarnation of a South American city as some may allude to neighboring Villa de Leyva. Though there are some garish modern buildings on the square, there are some nice ones as...more
In a quest to find fruit juice drinks to rival previous trips to South America, and not having found them, we check out a very busy fuiteria in the Conquistador Hotel. We figured with that much fruit on display and lots of people sucking them down, their jugos must be good. It was certainly convenient, being right on the main square, but despite...more
After finding so many great cheap places to eat on our wanderings around Tunja it was hard to succumb to using our guidebook, especially for a relatively higher priced one. But El Maizal proved to be a good choice for some very local dishes and an interesting glimpse into a more upscale but still very authentically Colombian restaurant. It had a...more
Las Cascades was a fairly generic looking place on Pasaje de Vargas which is pretty much packed with cheap eateries. It would have very likely escaped my attention if a prospecting young Christian guy named Daniel had not brought us here as one of the cheapest places in town. We only had a beverage with him but decided to go back as it was good and...more
While suggestions from guidebooks have led me to some great and often very out-of-the-way eateries, there is nothing quite like finding one simply by walking around. That's how it was with Delicio Almojana. Actually, it would have been very easy to walk by this tiny little place if it were not for the parade of people stopping by to pick up a few...more
South America should be better known for their rotisserie chicken and Colombia is no exception. Pic Pollo was our first stab at the juicy bird in the latter and after one bite we knew well that it would not be our last. We had seen plenty of similar places in Bogota but we were still hung up on trying Colombian dishes but make no mistake about it,...more
The cake find of the trip without a doubt came quite without warning and in the town after the one we were expecting it in. Villa de Leyva had the much vaulted but somewhat disappointing French bakery we had been in only a couple days before. Who would have thought such a non-touristy authentic Colombian town like Tunja would have the best place...more
Santo Domingo de Guzman would have likely drawn our attention even if not mentioned in our guidebook due to its great display of fruits in the narrow entrance way of this very popular restaurant. It was deceptive as once inside, the place was quite large and busy with Colombians enjoying a wide variety of dishes. It is full of religious decoration...more
I was out one morning looking for breakfast while my wife was home nursing a less than perfect tummy and I noticed a small coffee shop type eatery that turned out to be in my guidebook. I decided to give it a try as along Pasaje de Vargas there were many similar places but none so inviting. It was a fairly modern but simple eatery with a few other...more
One thing you have to do when in any South American country is to try the street food. Colombia is no different and there every town has its own special treats. On our way back to our hotel, I noticed these fried balls in the doorway of a very small eatery and decided I had to try one. Pan de patata are very doughy fried potato balls that are best...more
If you are traveling around Colombia by bus, it's hard to not be in Tunja at some point. It is about 3 hours and 20000 COP ($10) to Bogota to the south and 4.5 hours and 30000 COP ($15) to San Gil to the north.
Mini buses go to Villa de Leyva very regularly for 5500 COP and take about 45 scenic (read winding) minutes.
Haggling on the regular buses is recommended as prices do seem very negotiable. The terminal is at Calle 17 & Carrera 7, just on the outskirts of the old town and an easy enough walk to many budget hotels. I didn't check but my guess is the ones closer to the terminal would have been very cheap and still close enough to the city center.
What to buy: Tunja was also a great place for street eats and fruit. We had an ample serving of papaya for 1000 COP (50 cents), the sourish green mango with lime and chili from Mr. Mango for 2000 COP ($1) and best of all a kilo bag of ushuva, an exotic fruit from Colombia) for only 2000 COP ($1). Doreen is used to paying at least ten times as much back home so she was elated with that find! These stands change every day and we never saw the woman again. She probably came into town with bags of them and was happy to get money for something that evidently grows like weeds in certain areas of the country.
It seems Juan Vargas loved illustrations and had a fantastic collection of books with a wide variety of mythological figures. He commissioned various painters to make a mishmash of seeming unrelated motifs and these are what now adorn the ceilings of both the Casa del Fundador Suarez Rendon and his former residence, Casa Don Juan de Vargas.
Luggage and bags:
We used our backpacks for two treks while in Colombia but even traveling around the country, they make things easier and opened more options. Walking from the bus terminal to our hotel would have been a lot harder with a suitcase in hand!
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Tunja can be a cold place so warm clothing is a must but dressing in layers will come in handy. At this elevation, if the sun comes out, it can get warm too.
Photo Equipment: A wide angle lets you bring things into the foreground of your photos to make them more interesting. In the narrow streets of Tunja, it will make it possible to get the whole building into your photos too! A zoom is great for sneaky people/food vendor shots you'd be afraid to take otherwise.
Miscellaneous: My wife was quite the trouper despite being sick park of our stay in Tunja. We even stayed an extra day so she could fully enjoy the snacking around possibilities of this great authentic Colombian town.
The 16th century Iglesia de San Francisco was said to house an incredibly realistic sculpture of Christ and intricate archway but the exterior looked in a bit of disrepair and it was not open the two times we passed by it. Hopefully, it is being restored to its former glory and is open to the public to help Tunja become the tourist attraction it...more
When we left the museum, we were ready to part ways with Daniel no matter how charming he was. We figured he was going to expect some kind of tip for his “services” at some point. He asked if we were hungry and we said yes so he wanted to show us his favorite restaurant. He explained that many places in town were tourist traps and more expensive....more
One of the big surprises of Tunja were its charming colonial mansions that have been turned into excellent museums. There are two right on the main square and not to be missed if in town. There are even tours done in English. We were walking across Tunja's main square our first day in town and though we tried to avoid what we thought was a hawker,...more
While Tunja does not lack in beautiful colonial architecture it may not quite live up to the fairly tale-like images of nearby Villa de Leyva. But what it does have is a true authentic feel and an abundance of such foods. The best thing to do is just wander around and eat what looks good. You can't go wrong. While many people bypass Tunja as a...more