During the Cretaceous period (66-145 million years ago), the area around Villa de Leyva was submerged in an inland sea. Some of the marine species that lived in the area included the pliosaurus, plesiosaurus, and ichthyosaurus.
Towards the end of this period, many species became extinct. Simultaneously the Andes mountains were created when the earth shifted. As the waters gave way to mountains, the bones of these species became imbedded in rock, guaranteeing their preservation. Today there are a handful of paleontological sites worth visiting, where you can view fossils of parts of massive dinosaurs to small ammonites, of which there are thousands. Excavations continue throughout the valley.
In 1977, locals made a fantastic discovery: a distant relative of carnivorous marine reptiles from the pliosaurus family, to be classified as a Kronosaurus boyacensis Hampe. It roamed this part of the earth some 110 million years ago. The first ever find of this species in the world can be seen, imbedded in the earth extending for about 10 meters, in the location of its discovery at the Museo El Fósil de Monquirá (Km. 4 Vía Santa Sofía, Vereda Monquirá, COP$6,000). Guides give a brief tour of the museum, which has hundreds of other animal and plant fossils on display. This is a major tourist sight, and there are souvenir shops and juice stands nearby.
Across the street from Museo El Fósil de Monquirá is the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas (cell tel. 314/219-2904, 9am-noon and 2pm-5pm Mon., Wed., and Thurs., 8am-5pm Fri.-Sun., COP$8,000), which opened in late 2012. On view here are parts of a Platypterygius boyacensis, as well as a Callawayasaurus colombiensis, which were all found nearby. While the center is a museum as well, the main focus of this nonprofit organization is research. Technicians in lab coats and white gloves carefully work behind the glass preparing and preserving fossils (Fri.-Sun.). An informative 20-minute tour of the center in Spanish is included.
Gondava (Km. 6 Vía Santa Sofía, 9am-5pm Tues.-Sun., COP$13,000) is more about fun than paleontology. This park is geared toward kids, taking visitors back in time, around 100 million years ago, when Earth was the domain of giant dinosaurs. This park has to-scale replicas of dozens of terrestrial and aquatic dinosaurs. The largest is the brachiosaurus, which stands 14 meters (46 feet) high. Other park attractions include a playground, labyrinth, and a 3-D movie theater.
On the northeastern edge of town is the Museo Paleontológico de Villa de Leyva (Cra. 9 No. 11-42, tel. 8/732-0466, 9am-noon and 2pm-5pm Tues.-Sat., 9am-3pm Sun., COP$3,000). Run by the Universidad Nacional, this museum provides an introduction to the fossils that have been found in the area, which date back 110-130 millions of years ago. On display are ammonites, which have become a symbol for the area, and other prehistoric animals that roamed the area. In addition, the museum has an arboretum with gardens of palms, oaks, and an Andean forest. This is behind the museum. It is about a 15-minute walk from the Plaza Mayor to the museum. On weekday mornings it can be a zoo with school groups being herded through.