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Colombiafrank‘s Popayan Colombia Travel Guide

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption Popayan Colombia

Updated on 04/08/2024

Dear readers
My name is Frank and I run a tour operator in Bogota, specializing in custom-made and Colombia luxury travel.
At the end of this guide you will find a list of many other helpful travel guides for Colombia.

Why visit Popayan?

Popayán is known as the White City for its colonial buildings painted white, giving the city an elegant and sober look. The historic center of Popayán is one of the best preserved in Latin America. Here you can admire churches, museums, mansions and squares that tell the history of the city and the country. Popayán is also famous for its Semana Santa (Holy Week), one of the most important in the world, which attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Popayán offers a variety of attractions for travelers in search of culture, history and nature as the city is surrounded by green and mountainous landscapes. Popayán is also the first city in the world to be recognized by UNESCO as a creative city of gastronomy in 2005.

In my opinion, Popayán is worth visiting because it offers a unique and diverse experience. It is a city that blends the old and the modern, the urban and the rural, the cultural and the natural. It is a city that invites you to discover its history, its art, its gastronomy and its people.

Another thing to know is that Popayan is a student town. Although one might think young academics are reasonably smart, during demonstrations they regularly smear paint on historic buildings. It may therefore be that the experience is a bit clouded during a visit.

You also have to know that the department of Cauca is still occupied by armed groups and that roadblocks are repeatedly set up by the indigenous population. If you only visit Popayan, that’s not a problem. However, I strongly advise against traveling around the region on your own.

Facts about Popayan

Popayán is a city in southwestern Colombia and the capital of the department of Cauca. It has about 258,000 inhabitants and was founded on January 13, 1537 by the Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar. The city lies at an altitude of 1,760 meters above sea level and has a subtropical highland climate with constant temperatures averaging 25° C throughout the year.

Popayán’s economy is primarily based on agriculture, with a focus on sugar cane, coffee, and livestock. The city also has a growing manufacturing industry, producing textiles, food and paper, among other things. In addition, tourism is an important industry in Popayán, as the city has a rich history and numerous colonial-era buildings and churches.

Tourist attractions in Popayan

Here are some of the places to visit during your stay in Popayán.

The clock tower

The Clock Tower is the city’s landmark and is located in the southwest corner of Caldas Park. It was built in colonial style between 1673 and 1682 from 90,000 bricks. The clock was imported from England in 1737 and still works. From here you can admire the architectural beauty of the historic center.

The historic center

It is a series of streets, squares, churches and colonial buildings that have retained their original appearance. Sights include the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción Cathedral, the Guillermo Valencia Municipal Theater, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Panteón de los Próceres and the Puente del Humilladero. You can also visit several museums, such as the Museo National Guillermo Valencia, the Museo Arquidiocesano de Arte Religioso and the Museo de Historia Natural.

Colonial Churches

Popayán has more than a dozen churches from the 16th to 18th centuries representing different architectural styles such as Baroque, Neoclassical and Mudéjar. Some of the most significant are:

  • The Cathedral Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción with its white facade and Corinthian columns in front of Caldas Park,
  • Church of San Francisco with its gold altarpiece and blue dome in San Francisco Square,
  • Church of Santo Domingo with its octagonal tower and high altar carved in wood in Santo Domingo Square and
  • Ermita Church on Avenida Bolívar, the oldest church in the city, dating back to 1546.

The Humilladero Bridge

The Humilladero Bridge is a Roman-style architectural work that crosses the Molino River. It was built from volcanic rock between 1873 and 1874 and is 240 meters long. Its name comes from the fact that travelers arriving at Popayán had to bend down to get under its arches. The bridge is surrounded by gardens and sculptures that make it an ideal place to walk and take photos.

Puracé National Park

If you love nature and adventure, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Puracé Natural Park, one of the most impressive protected areas in Colombia.

It is a nature reserve with an area of 83,000 hectares. Located about 60 km (37 miles) south of Popayán, it is home to a wide variety of ecosystems such as paramos, Andean forests and rainforests.

Here you can see a variety of endemic animals and plants such as the Andean Condor, Spectacled Bear, Andean Tapir and Wax Palm. You can also admire spectacular landscapes such as the Puracé Volcano, the San Rafael and La Magdalena Lagoons, the Bedón and San Nicolás waterfalls and the San Juan Hot Springs.

How to get to the Puracé Natural Park ?

You can take a bus from the transportation terminal to the village of Puracé at the base of the volcano and from there take a taxi to the park. The bus ride costs around 20,000 Colombian pesos (US$4) each way and the taxi ride costs around 40,000 Colombian pesos (US$8). Another option is to book a tour that includes transportation and a guide and is mandatory for entry to the park. The price of the tour may vary by agency and itinerary, but is typically around 100,000 Colombian pesos (US$20) per person.

You can engage in various activities in the park, e.g. B. hiking on the ecological trails, observing the flora and fauna of the Páramo, admiring the crater of the Puracé volcano, visiting the hot springs and lagoons in the area. The park is between 2,500 and 4,650 meters above sea level, so dress warmly and protect yourself from the sun. Also, you should take some food and drink with you to stock up during the trek.

Popayan Museums

Popayan ‘s museums are an excellent way to learn about the art, culture and history of this Colombian city, known as the “Jerusalem of America” for its rich religious heritage.

Archdiocesan Museum of Religious Art

This museum houses one of the most valuable collections of colonial-era religious art in southwestern Colombia, with works dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. You can admire paintings, sculptures, gold and silver work, textiles and furniture that reflect the piety and splendor of the time. The museum is housed in the former convent of Santo Domingo, a 17th-century building that has retained its original architecture.

National Museum Guillermo Valencia

This museum is dedicated to the life and work of the Payán poet, diplomat and politician Guillermo Valencia (1873-1943), considered one of the representatives of modernist literature in Colombia. Located in the house where the poet was born and lived, the museum preserves the furniture, personal effects, books and documents of the time. The museum also has a room for temporary exhibitions and an auditorium.

Mosquera House Museum

This museum pays homage to the Mosquera family, one of the most influential in Colombia’s political and cultural history. The museum is located in the house where General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera (1798-1878), four-time President of the Republic and leader of the Civil War of 1860-1862, was born. The museum displays family and historical items belonging to the Mosquera family, as well as artworks by local and national artists. The museum belongs to the University of Cauca and offers academic and cultural activities.

Negret Museum

named after the Payanese sculptor Edgar Negret (1920-2012), one of the pioneers of abstract art in Colombia and Latin America. The museum displays a selection of his works in metal and geometric shapes inspired by nature and pre-Columbian culture. The museum also has a room dedicated to the painter Efraím Martínez (1917-1999) from Payan, known for his Expressionist and Surrealist style. The museum is housed in an 18th-century colonial house that has been restored to house the works.

Natural History Museum

This museum is an educational and scientific facility that showcases a wide variety of animal and plant species from the Cauca region and other areas of the country. The museum features collections of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, and fossils presented in dioramas and showcases that replicate their natural habitats. The museum also offers workshops, lectures and guided tours to spread knowledge and biodiversity conservation.

Main things to do in Popayan

Here are some of the activities you can do in Popayán.

Tour of the historic center on foot or by bike

An ideal way to explore Popayán’s cultural and historical wealth is to walk or bike through the cobblestone streets to admire the white facades, flowered balconies and religious monuments. You can book guided tours or rent bikes in different parts of the city.

Enjoy the local gastronomy

Popayán is known for its typical cuisine that mixes indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Some dishes not to be missed are pipián (a peanut-based sauce), carantanta (a corn cake), tamal (a meat-filled dumpling), champús (a sweet fruit drink), and manjar blanco (a creamy candy). You can also try other delicacies such as empanadas, arepas, buñuelos, and brevas. You can stroll the streets around Parque Caldas or visit one of the restaurants at the foot of Carrera 9.

Visit Bioextremo Cauca

This is a place for adventure and adrenaline lovers as activities such as canopy, rafting, rock climbing and rafting are offered here. Located in the municipality of Rosas, about 40 minutes from Popayán, the site has an 80-meter waterfall that provides the perfect backdrop for these extreme sports. The cost of the activities varies depending on the level of difficulty and the number of participants.

Participate in Holy Week

If you visit Popayán during Holy Week, you can live a unique and unforgettable experience. Holy Week in Popayán is one of the oldest and most solemn religious celebrations in Colombia and South America. Since 1556, the inhabitants of the city of Popayán have commemorated the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with acts and processions that take place from the night of Friday of Sorrows to the night of Holy Saturday. These processions, with figures depicting biblical scenes, were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. Holy Week in Popayán is an opportunity to discover the cultural, historical and artistic richness of this city and to take part in a tradition that has been kept alive for more than four centuries.

Discover the culture at the Silvia market

If you want to learn more about the Cauca indigenous culture, we recommend a visit to the market in Silvia, a village near Popayán, where every Tuesday the Guambiano communities gather to sell their products and handicrafts. You can also take a private tour of the village and learn about its history and traditions.

Playing golf in Popayan

Club Campestre de Popayán is a social and sporting association whose main objective is the promotion and development of all kinds of leisure, sporting and social activities. It can look back on more than 70 years of tradition and offers its members and visitors excellent and high-quality services.

The club’s golf course has 9 holes. It is located in a beautiful green area with a panoramic view of the city and the mountains. The course is open daily and can be played individually or in groups.

In addition to the golf course, the club offers other entertainment options such as a swimming pool, tennis, squash, football and basketball courts, a restaurant, bar, social rooms, a children’s playground and a doll’s house. It also organizes cultural, artistic and musical events to the delight of its members.

https://www.clubcampestrepopayan.com/

Best time to visit Popayán

The ideal time to visit Popayán depends on individual preferences and interests. If you are looking for a warm, dry climate, the best time to visit is between June and September.

However, if you want to enjoy local traditions and festivals, you should consider the city’s cultural calendar. For example, Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Popayán, or December 8th, when Día de las Velitas, a festival honoring the Virgin Mary, lights up the streets with thousands of candles and lanterns.

If you want to visit Puracé Natural Park, the best time to visit the volcano is in December or January, when there is less cloud and rain.

Events in Popayan

Some of the most important events that take place in Popayán:

  • Holy Week, celebrated since the 16th century and included in Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. This festival gathers thousands of believers who take part in processions with sculptures depicting the Passion of Christ. In addition, there are other events such as the Festival of Religious Music, the National Handicrafts Fair and the Children’s Parades.
  • The National Gastronomic Congress of Popayán, held every year on the first weekend of September and has a Guest of Honor Country. It is an event that shows the gastronomic diversity of the countries and the region, with the aim of saving the culinary and folkloric traditions. There are tastings, workshops, conferences and culinary competitions. https://gastronomico.org.co/
  • Pubenza Carnival, held in January, pays homage to the racial, cultural and traditional diversity of each department. There are chariot parades, silleteros, comparsas, equestrian tournaments, sports competitions, concerts, and other activities that allow for the integration of ethnic and peasant cultures.

Nightlife in Popayan

Bars, nightclubs and more await you in this city full of charm and culture. Here are some ways to enjoy the nightlife in Popayán:

La Rola – Rock & Pola

Carrera 9 # 24N-78

A stylish bar with a rocker atmosphere where you can enjoy a wide range of wines, spirits and cocktails. There is also live music and a cozy decoration. The opening hours are from Monday to Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight and from Friday to Sunday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Kukaramakara Popayan

Carrera 9 # 33n-100, Comuna 1

A nightclub that offers the best in crossover music, from salsa and merengue to reggaeton. It features a large dance floor, powerful sound and top-notch service.

El Aguante

Calle 14 Norte # 11, Comuna 1

An ideal place for lovers of craft beer and typical food. Here you can taste different flavors of locally brewed beer.

Eat in Popayan

If you want to enjoy a good meal in this city, we present you the best and most emblematic places in Popayán.

Restaurant Carmina

This restaurant offers a variety of Italian and French dishes made with fresh and quality ingredients. You can taste from pasta and pizza to salads and desserts. The atmosphere is cozy and the service is excellent. It is located at Carrera 2 # 3-58.

Italian pizzeria restaurant

If you like pizza, you’ve come to the right place. The restaurant has been in existence for over 40 years and specializes in wood-fired pizzas with thin, crispy crusts. It also offers other Italian dishes such as lasagna, cannelloni and crepes. The restaurant is located at Calle 4 # 8-83.

La Cosecha Parrillada center

This restaurant is a good choice for meat lovers. There is a wide range of beef, pork and chicken here, accompanied by salads, potatoes and arepas. The eatery is spacious and cozy and offers good value for money. It is located at 4 # 7-79 Calle.

Mana vegetarian restaurant

If you are vegetarian or vegan you will love this restaurant. Here you can enjoy healthy and delicious dishes made from organic and local products. Some options are seitan with mushroom sauce, lentil burger and carrot cake. Located at Calle 7 # 9-56.

Terra Inca – Peruvian cuisine

This restaurant offers you the best of Peruvian cuisine, with typical dishes such as ceviche, lomo Saltado, Aji de Gallina and Arroz chaufa. The taste is authentic and the presentation is very neat. The eatery is modern and elegant and has a good wine and cocktail list. It is located at Carrera 8 # 13N-67.

La Sacristia del Vino

This restaurant is the ideal place for a romantic dinner or a special occasion. Here you can enjoy Spanish and Mediterranean dishes such as tapas, Galician octopus, paella and pil-style cod. The restaurant has a cozy interior and a large selection of wines. It is located at Calle 18 Norte # 6-63.

Accommodation in Popayan

If you’re planning a visit to the charming city of Popayán and are looking for the perfect place to stay, consider exploring hotels in Popayán. The Historic Center is ideal for those interested in colonial architecture and cultural attractions.

How to get to Popayan

Popayán is well connected to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, and other major cities nearby by various means of transport. Here are some ways to travel from Bogotá to Popayán:

Airplane

The fastest and most convenient way to get from Bogotá to Popayán is by plane. Popayan has its own airport, Guillermo Leon Valencia Airport, which has daily flights from Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport. The flight time is about 1 hour.

The airlines that offer connections are as follows:

Bus

Popayán can also be reached by bus from Bogotá. Several bus companies run daily between the two cities, the journey takes about 10 hours. The best known are Expreso Bolivariano, Flota Magdalena and Fronteras.

The easiest way to buy tickets is through Pinbus.

By car

It is also possible to drive from Bogotá to Popayán. The journey takes around 8-9 hours and involves crossing the Andes, so an experienced driver is recommended. There are car rental companies in Bogotá for those who prefer to drive on their own.

The following companies rent cars in Colombia:

  • hertz
  • advice
  • ABC

How to get around in Popayán?

Within the historic center of Popayán you will find almost all the monuments and points of interest for the visitor. Therefore, it is best to get around on foot. You can admire the colonial architecture, churches, museums and parks that are part of the city’s cultural heritage.

If your accommodation is a bit out of the way or you want to visit other places outside of the historical center, there is a taxi and bus service that connects the center with the different neighborhoods. Taxis have a fare based on distance and location, and buses have fixed routes, which you can check at the Tourist Information Point (PIT) on the west side of Caldas Park.

For trips to out-of-the-way attractions like Puracé Natural Park or Sotará Volcano, you can hire a taxi, ask at the transportation terminal, or go to the Tourist Police Office on the first floor of Cauca Government House.

Another alternative to public transportation in Popayán is the Uber service, which is available in the city. You can also rent a car or a bike if you want more autonomy and flexibility to move around Popayán.

Colombia Travel Guides

Here you will find travel guides for the most popular regions in Colombia, which we have put together during our extensive travels around the country.

Travel Guides to Colombia’s Small Towns

Here you will find travel guides for less popular destinations in Colombia. Some of these destinations are even real insider tips and not even known to the Colombians as travel destinations.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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