Considered to have one of the nicest historic centres in Colombia, Popayan is nicknamed both the ‘white city’ and the ‘university city’.
It’s pretty easy to understand the first nickname as almost every building in the historic centre is painted white, including churches and supermarkets.
Due to its’ central location between Lima, Peru, Quito, Ecuador, and Cartagena, Colombia, Popayan was an important city during Colonial times. It was a key transfer point when gold and other riches were brought from the south up to Cartagena – to be shipped to Spain.
Unfortunately the city has been destroyed by a number of earthquakes, the last of which occurred in 1983. It took Popayan over 10 years to re-build and you can still see some abandoned areas today.
However, there is no doubt that Popayan is a cute, charming city and what has been re-built is definitely worth visiting. Despite having a population of about 260,000 Popayan feels very small and you only need a day or two to explore the city.
Furthermore, Popayan has a stellar culinary reputation as it is the only city in Latin America to be named a ‘City of Gastronomy’ by UNESCO.
On the edge of the historic centre, there’s a hill (El Morro del Tulcan) overlooking the city. From here, you can get a good view of Popayan and the surrounding mountains in the distance.
How to get here:
Popayan is located about 4-hours south of Cali and the bus costs $16,000 pesos (about $8cdn). It is also an 8-hour (30,000 pesos) night bus from Ipiales. Once you arrive into Ipiales, you can take a 10,000 peso taxi directly to the Ecuadorian border.
However, I would recommend first stopping by the famous sanctuary de las lajas in Ipiales before crossing over into Ecuador! From where the night bus drops passengers off, you can take a $10,000 peso taxi on route to the sanctuary.
While this church is less than 100 years old, its’ location in the middle of a canyon makes it quite remarkable to see!
The capital of the department of Cauca is well worth a stop-over on route to Cali or the Ecuadorian border. This ‘white city’ is fantastically unique but I would only recommend staying for a day – as there isn’t a whole lot to see. Additionally, Popayan is supposed to be one of the best places to experience Semana Santa (Easter week) in Colombia, so keep that in mind if you’re passing through in early April.
Overall, Popayan is ‘vale la pena’!
*a Colombian saying which translates to something like ‘it’s worth the trouble’*