Visit Mongui and Know its Heritage, Football Balloons and the Ocetá Páramo

Mongui is on the list of “Network of Colombian Heritage Villages“, being one of the most beautiful towns in the department of Boyacá, besides having a great history to tell its visitors in the middle of its cobblestone streets.

You will fall in love with its colonial and republican court buildings and the kindness of its inhabitants. Mongui has an average temperature between 8 ºC (46º F) and 16º (60º F), and it is located at an altitude between 2.923 and 3.854 meters above sea level.

In this guide, you will have the necessary information to visit this adorable town.

Discovering Mongui, Boyacá, Colombia

Mongui is located in the department of Boyaca, 3.5 hours (223 km) from Bogotá and 1.5 hours (88 km) from Tunja, the capital of the department.

In addition, Mongui has special geographic characteristics that favor a great variety of native fauna, flora, and soils throughout the municipality, and an important diverse biodiversity.

How to get to Mongui

To get to Mongui you must take a 3,5 -hours road trip (totaling 223 km) from Bogotá for until you reach Mongui; during your trip you will be able to appreciate the Cundiboyacence highlands.

Where to stay

In Mongui you will find numerous accommodation offerings for all budgets and personal tastes; our recommendation for is the Hotel Otti Colonial.

Ecotourism in Mongui, Boyacá

Ocetá Paramo

Ocetá paramo is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, this is because its valleys contain the largest number of species of paramo flora in Colombia.

Among the most characteristic fauna that you will be able to appreciate are the lupines, senecios, white-tailed deer and the beautiful hummingbird chivito de páramo; without forgetting to enjoy the magical viewpoints that will take your breath away.

Páramo de Ocetá

Mongui is the closest town to the paramo, so you can dedicate a day of your visit to the town to visit this beautiful valley of Frailejones, where you can visit the Black Lagoon, the Boat, the City of stone and it is also possible to see fields of senecios. If you are lucky and the sky is clear, it is possible to see the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy.

To get to the paramo you can choose the option of walking for 3 hours or take the service of a 4X4 car, but it is essential that you take the guide service to safely enjoy the paramo while you learn about this beautiful place.

Rock climbing

On the outskirts of Mongui you can test your endurance to climb a rock, with a duration of 4 to 8 hours depending on the intensity you want to practice.

In the center of town you will find guides who can offer you this service.

Mountain biking

2 available routes start downtown and extend over 20 km and 40 km, where you will have an ascent up to 3650 meters above sea level at the highest point; on the way you will be able to appreciate the beautiful landscapes. The average time is 5 to 8 hours and it is advisable to start the tour in the morning.

Know the Cultural Patrimony of Mongui

San Francisco Church, CC license

History of Balloons in Mongui

When Froilán Ladino was recruited in 1932 to render military service for Colombia in the war against Peru; when he was in Manaus he met Brazilian saddlers who were experts in the manufacture of leather balls; and two years later, when the war ended and he returned to Monguí, he joined his brother Manuel, to create his own tannery and to elaborate leather balls.

Froilán taught the craft of ball manufacturing to a group of twelve peasants who later became known as the “twelve apostles”. This activity was a new way to generate resources with an activity that could be combined with agriculture and cattle raising.

The Ladino company had its best period in the 1970s, when they were in charge of supplying demand throughout the country.

However, the boom in the entry of Chinese products in the 2000s caused a decline in the demand affecting domestic manufacturers like Ladino.

If you want to get more information and learn more historical data in the Ball Museum located in the village you will be able to learn.

Calicanto Colonial Bridge

The bridge was built by the Sanoha tribe in the XVII century over the Morro River, its name comes from the material with which it is made: calicanto, a glue made of a mixture of lime, sand, beef blood and molasses.

It represents a typical work of the Colonial era, after its construction was where the stones that were used to build the Basilica of Our Lady of Monguí were transported.

Basilica and cloister of Nuestra Señora de Monguí

This beautiful stone-built Basilica was finished during the seventeenth century and is considered cultural heritage of Colombia, besides being an architectural treasure of the department.

Its origin was a small chapel where the Franciscan missionaries met to evangelize the indigenous people who were in this region.

When you are in front of the front door you will be able to appreciate the coats of arms of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, as a symbol to remember the supremacy of Spain during the time in the region.

Franciscan Convent and Church

The Franciscan convent and church is located next to the Basilica, it has 2 floors and what you will appreciate most are the ceilings supported by Roman arches, at the entrance you will be able to appreciate a gigantic stone column in the form of a spiral of about 2.5 meters high.

Its construction took 100 years, since those responsible for its manufacture decided to devote the relevant time to each of the details; when you are walking inside the convent you will be able to see some paintings depicting scenes of Christianity, and some furniture used by the friars of the time.

Peasant for a day

Through sustainable tourism and the association of several farmers you can experience a day of a family in the sector; you can learn about morning activities, animal management techniques and the preparation of typical foods. This activity begins in the early morning and ends after lunch.

  • Network of Colombian Heritage Villages
  • Colombia Travel
About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Naturally Mummified Bodies of the Museum of Mummies in Colombia

When you think of mummies, you surely think about Egypt, and its famous mummified pharaohs buried in their imposing pyramids. Yes, Egypt is known for its magical history and its gigantic cultural contribution, with their special techniques to mummify their bodies. But did you know that you can find naturally mummified bodies in the museum of mummies of Colombia?

In a hidden village, approximately 99 km from Bogota, there is San Bernardo, a cozy village with very friendly locals. In the cemetery of San Bernardo, many of the dead become mummies for unknown reasons. It happens so often that the Church decided to build a mausoleum to keep them in glass urns, when the families allow it.

It is known for being the only town in Colombia where the dead buried there have a layer of skin between white and brown tones that gives them a very peculiar appearance.

In San Bernardo, death acquires a fantastic and mystical touch, since there is no scientific explanation for this process.

The following is the information you need to make the most of your visit to San Bernardo, the town of mummies in Colombia.

Exploring San Bernardo

The municipality of San Bernardo is the agricultural pantry of Sumapaz region, charming, magical and quiet land. Its gastronomy is recognized regionally and its agro-ecological fairs are the best in Sumapaz.

Its landscapes offer a great variety of climates and agricultural products; a natural paradise rich in natural niches such as the Sumapaz National Natural Park, its people are friendly and welcoming and always welcome you with open arms.

San Bernardo is the only place in Colombia where there is a natural mummification process that has not been explained.

Why are they mummified?

It all started in the 1950’s, when the new cemetery was inaugurated. The old one was on the banks of a river in the lower part of the municipality, but the current swept away some of the dead when the waters rose.

When they began to remove bodies for exhumations, mummified bodies began to appear.

Environmental Context for Mummification

The context in each case may be different, but in principle an extreme environment is needed: very hot, very dry or very cold.

After death, our cells begin to break down and release all sorts of substances – including enzymes – that create an ideal environment for bacteria and fungi, which enter this mixture and begin to break down the body.

In most cases, enzymes need an aqueous environment to work. But if the temperature is too high, the body dehydrates before the enzymes can take action, and this results in mummification.

When the temperature is too low this can also happen because the cold inhibits bacterial activity. Especially if the body remains covered with ice or snow.

Swamps (wet by nature) are another natural environment that favors mummification. This is because they are generally cold, acidic and anaerobic environments.

Another influencing factor is the composition of the soil, e.g. the presence of heavy metals in the soil can retard the action of enzymes. The material of the coffin, as well as the textiles that cover the body and absorb the liquids, can also have an impact on the process.

Finally, it also depends on the body characteristics of each individual.

What can be happening in San Bernardo?

San Bernardo lies on the hills of Sumapaz, in the south of Cundinamarca, and the cemetery was built on the side of a mountain where it smells of pine trees and flowers. This cemetery is placed in the highest part of the village, near to the Paramo.

The gravedigger tells that the dead are exhumed every five years, and it always happens that they are intact… when they are cut they still have blood, they have flesh and they have everything. Even the eyes!

But there is a particular detail, according to the gravedigger, when the bodies come out “exact”, there is a thin layer of ice that covers the whole body. His testimony may suggest the very cold environment cause for mummification.

However, there are no studies to support the hypothesis of freezing, in spite of the testimonies.

Funerary and Cultural Heritage

Recently, the mummies of San Bernardo, and all the natural process is proposed to be declared as Funerary and Cultural Heritage.

The aim is to promote the Mummies of San Bernardo as Funerary and Cultural Heritage given the characteristics of the phenomenon that occurs naturally and the manifestations and identities that derive from it.

It is Funerary Heritage because it generates alternative visions of the meaning of death and the transcendence of the body after death. It is Cultural Heritage because through popular and daily orality emerge all kinds of myths connected with others transmitted by generations about the reason for the phenomenon. The mummies are the living memory and identity of a region that resists oblivion.

How to get to San Bernardo

The town is located in the south-east of the Department of Cundinamarca in the Sumapaz Province. San Bernardo has an average temperature of 21°C (69º F), making it a pleasant climate for tourists.

To get to San Bernardo you must take a 3-hour road trip from the south of the city of Bogotá for 99 km. On your way you will pass through towns like Fusagasuga and Arbelaez. When you passing Arbelaez  you must take an unpaved road that will take you to the center of town.

Where to stay in San Bernardo

Being a very small town we tell you to dedicate a whole day to walk the streets and points of interest.  In the afternoon you can stay in the town of Fusagasuga which is to 36 km away. In Fusagasuga we recommend you to stay in the following hotels:

Attractions and activities in San Bernardo

San Bernardo has two attractions that you will have the opportunity to visit. So we recommend some other nearby activities and attractions that you will love.

Mausoleum José Arquímedes Castro, or the Museum of Mummies

Mummies of the Mausoleum of Mummies © Mausoleum of Mummies

This is a museum that exhibits the mummies. Their bodies did not decompose but were calcified, keeping the skin and some parts of the body intact.

Currently, there are 14 mummies exhibited, since their number was reduced for health reasons, but at some point there were about 180.

The inhabitants of the village believe that the origin of the mummification is based on the diet of the Sanbernardinos, based on the consumption of Guatila and Balú. Both foods are part of the food tradition and grow wild and naturally, without chemicals that alter them.

However, all the surrounding municipalities consume the same food, and do not present mummified dead, thus refuting this local hypothesis.

The Mausoleum is open every day except Tuesdays from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The entrance fee is 5000 pesos for adults and 4000 pesos for children. It is recommended to visit early in the morning so that you can make your visit at your leisure.

Before visiting the museum of mummies remember:

  • The mummies are deceased people so it is very important to maintain the due respect.
  • Avoid taking pictures of the mummies out of respect for the deceased and their families.
  • Do not throw garbage on the floor during your trip.
  • Your early visit allows you to go to places in and around San Bernardo with beautiful scenery.
  • Keep your hands clean and wear your mask correctly.

Macaracuay Ecological Farm

At the farm you can learn about the flora and fauna present in the village, have a sample of each of the products that are harvested. You will learn about the traditional farming techniques used in the village. It is possible to have contact with the animals of the farm and eat typical food of the area.

Water activities

In the Negro River, near the village, you can do activities such as rappel, rappel and hike through caves near the river. You should keep in mind that these activities can only be done with certified guides that you can find in the different agencies located in the center of town.

Horseback riding

If you are a horse lover you can take the horseback riding service available in town, the marked trails will take you through traditional paths used by the villagers to get around. In addition, you can also ride to the Rio Negro River or the Macacuay Ecological Farm. Please note that most horseback riding hours are between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

La Chapa Viewpoint

In the neighboring town of Pandi, you will find an imposing viewpoint, from which you will have a view of the Sumapaz River canyon, the municipalities of Pandi, Icononzo, Venecia, Alto de Boquerón, Chinauta and the Natural Park of the Nevados del Tolima, Ruiz and Santa Isabel. It is located 8.3 km (26 minutes) from the center of San Bernardo, so it is necessary to take a car service to reach this point.

Green and Aquatic Park

This beautiful park is located 3 km from the town of Fusagasuga and 40 km from San Bernardo (1.5 – Hours); during your stay in the park you can enjoy beautiful and unimaginable landscapes, abundant in water, and a majestic diversity of green in the mountains.

You will be able to do activities such as hiking where you will be able to do bird watching and recognize the species thanks to the information offered by the park guides. You can have the opportunity to stay in individual cabins or there is also a camping area.

Quinini Hill

In the municipality of Tibacuy is this beautiful nature reserve with a beautiful viewpoint, located 60 km from San Bernardo (2 – hours). Quininí refers to the “Sacred Mountain of the Moon or Moon Goddess”, which is what it means in the language of the indigenous communities that lived there. Quinini is also a recommender destination for birdwatching near Bogotá.

About the authors

Sara Colmenares.

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences and Specialist in Tourism Management and Nature Tourism. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody

The Paleontologist’s Perfect Fossil Trip in Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva, Colombia, is located in the Colombian Eastern Cordillera, in the department of Boyacá and, according to the Muisca denomination, in the Alto Valle de Saquencipá.

This town has an incredible historical, cultural and natural heritage, and it is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia.

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva was declared a national monument in 1954 because of its architecture, its museums, the traditions of its inhabitants and its history. Since the beginning of the XXI century, it became part of the Network of heritage towns of Colombia.

Environmental features of Villa de Leyva

The town of Villa de Leyva is about 3 hours by car from Bogotá. The nearest capital city is Tunja, which is a two-hour drive away.

It is between 2,000 and 3,200 meters above sea level. In terms of climate, it has three climatic zones: Dry, Sub-Humid,and Humid. October is the rainiest month and the first months of the year are the driest. Villa de Leyva’s average temperature is between 17°C and 18°C.

The “Dinosaurs” of Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva did not always have the current climatic and geographic conditions, and its fauna and flora have also changed.

Many people believe that in Villa de Leyva there were dinosaurs. The truth is that there were marine reptiles, which are different from dinosaurs.

We all sin of calling “dinosaur” to any big, rare and extinct creature of which only a few skeletons are preserved. But, in reality, many of those fossilized remains have nothing to do with dinosaurs. This will be a story of another post…

Half of the Colombian territory was covered by the Sea

During the Cretaceous, about 145 to 65 million years ago, the sea covered a large part of the Colombian territory, including the area of Villa de Leyva.

Late Cretacic Sea

This sea was inhabited by many organisms that are now extinct, but that dominated the oceans at that time. With the uplift of the Andean Mountain Range, this internal sea withdrew, exposing the rocks that were formed from sediments deposited during the Cretaceous.

Today we can find in these rocks a fossil record of great paleontological value.

The Fossils of Villa de Leyva

Some examples of these fossils are the famous ammonites, which are the most common in stores and facades of the town. There are also the marine reptiles, not dinosaurs, which are exhibited in museums and some private collections.

Illustrated Kronosaurus boyacensis, Villa de Leyva (Colombia) CC BY 3.0 Dmitry Bogdanov

Among the marine reptiles found in Villa de Leyva are: plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and the famous Kronosaurus boyacensis. The specimen is exhibited in the Fossil Museum (El Fósil, a private collection).

Kronosaurus boyacensis, Villa de Leyva (Colombia) CC BY-SA 2.5

This individual is the designated specimen (i.e., holotype) whose characteristics define this species of kronosaur endemic to Colombia.

These, and many more fossils found in Villa de Leyva and its surroundings (such as turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, and other marine organisms), allow us to reconstruct the geological and paleontological history of Colombia and the planet.

Researchers from El Fósil Museum explain that the marine environment is very suitable for fossils to be preserved.

This is because dead animals that fall to the bottom of the sea are covered by sticky sediments that quickly cover them, thus preserving them.

The importance of Fossil Records

Fossils are of great importance to understand the climatic and geographic changes that occurred in our country and our planet throughout its history. This will allow us to have clues about how future changes may occur.

For this reason, fossil material should only be collected for scientific purposes. This material has no legal economic value.

So, please, DO NOT BUY FOSSILS. Do not contribute to the growth of fossil trafficking in Colombia.

With the looting of fossils destined for sale, not only is humanity’s heritage being trafficked, but a great deal of useful information for science and understanding of the environment is being stolen.

Paleontology and Archeology Attractions Of Villa de Leyva

Prehistoric Museum

The Museum has been functioning for more than 30 years as a space to investigate and deepen in prehistory and anthropology, projecting it to the pedagogical, artistic and cultural field.

Brontosaurus sculpture at Prehistoric Museum – Situr Boyacá

There are about 25 sculptures in ferroconcrete, made by the master Luis Alberto Acuña. These sculptures are of prehistoric animals and samples of fossils found in the natural context of Villa de Leyva.

Paleontological Museum

This museum is attached to the Faculty of Sciences of the National University of Colombia. It houses a great paleontological and cultural heritage, highlighting the fossil pieces dating from the Cretaceous period (130 million years ago approx.). It has 2425 pieces in its collection and 441 pieces in the exhibition.


The museum’s house is a colonial architectural jewel built in 1570 by the Spaniards, where the Molino de la Osada or “de Losada” used to work.

Besides paleontology, there is the Arboretum project called “Padre Gustavo Huertas”. The project has a collection of about 130 species of the typical ecosystems of the country. This living collection of native species is used for research and conservation purposes.

The Fossil Museum

El Fósil Museum was founded in 1977 by the initiative of the farmers of the region after their discovery of a specimen of pliosaur when they were working in the field.

It was named by science as Kronosaurus boyacensis Hampe. This pliosaur fossil specimen is the most complete found to date in the world.

El Fósil Museum, Villa de Leyva, Colombia

The Museum currently exhibits more than 500 pieces of Colombian paleontological heritage.

A special feature of this museum is that it is still run by farmers who are members of the community action board of the Monquirá neighborhood.

The Archaeological Park: Muisca Astronomical Observatory

Near the town of Monquirá there is a group of lithic monuments, of phallic, funerary and astronomical character, catalogued as “Muisca Solar Observatoryin situ.

This ancient observatory was discovered by Dr. Eliécer Silva Celis around 1960. It is composed by stone columns of medium height arranged in a series of rows.

The stone columns are carved in cylindrical forms, and the rows delimit the sacred field to the north and south.

Phallic sculpture at the Muisca Solar Observatory in Moniquirá, Villa de Leyva, Colombia

In addition, there are forty monoliths of phallic character. Those monoliths where a symbol of male fertility for the indigenous people that live there in the past. The purpose of those constructions was to propitiate the action and fecundity of the earth.

 A few meters from the Solar Observatory, in the northeastern sector, there is a “Dolmen Tomb”, also built in lithic material.

Dolmen Tomb

I hope you liked this brief summary of the paleontological attractions of Villa de Leyva. If you want to know more do not hesitate to contact us.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.