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South America > Colombia > Pacifica (Colombia) > Cauca > Popayan


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Popayán (pronounced: Po - pa - 'yan) is a colonial-era city in southwestern Colombia. It is the capital of the Cauca department.


The city was founded in 1537 by Sebastian de Belalcazar. Because of its beautiful colonial houses, it is known as the "white city". Popayan has played a major role in Colombia's history dating back to the early days of the Spanish conquest and into the 20th century. A number of Colombian presidents were born in Popayan including, most recently, Guillermo Leon Valencia from 1962 to 1966. Other well-known citizens include Francisco Jose de Caldas (1768-1816) and Camilo Torres (1766-1816). Popayán has one of Colombia's oldest universities: the Universidad del Cauca, founded in 1827. The university is well known throughout the country for its Law School, Medical School, and its Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering programs. Nowadays around 220,000 people live in the city.

View of the cathedral and the Torre del Reloj during Easter

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Popayan's airport does not have heavy traffic but you can reach the city by air. There are about four daily flights from Bogota to Popayan and vice versa. The airport is open between 6AM and 6PM. There are no flights between Cali and Popayan. The airport in the neighbouring city of Cali (100-minute car ride) serves many domestic and international destinations.

By bus[edit]

There are numerous bus companies available. One of the most reliable bus operators is Expreso Bolivariano. Avoid Expreso Puerto Tejada and Expreso Palmira. There is significant guerrilla activity in the countryside near Popayan and it can be risky to travel by land during periods of disturbance if you are not a local. There are daily buses from the border town of Ipiales.

  • from Cali: COP$12,000, 3 hours with minibus COP$14,000, 2 hours
  • from Armenia : COP$40,000, 7 hours (several a day)
  • from Medellin: COP$60,000, 11 hours (7PM, 8PM, 1AM)
  • from San Agustín: COP$34,000, 5 hours (six a day)
  • from Tierradentro: COP$20,000, 4 hours (5AM, 8AM, 10:30AM, 1PM, 3PM)
  • from Pasto: COP$25,000, roughly 6 hours, but double check before you go
  • from Ipiales: COP$25,000 - 40,000, 7-8 hours (better during the day) - Many buses leave in the early morning.

Get around[edit]

Popayan is a small city and it is an easy 10-15 minute walk between the bus station and the centre. The historical centre is fairly compact and best explored on foot. Taxis are plentiful and can bring you at the bus terminal for around COP$3,000.


Since Popayan was a seat of power during Spanish colonial times, there are numerous architectural gems in the city. Some of the most impressive are, naturally, churches. Do not miss:

  • 1 Iglesia de San Francisco, Calle 4 and Carrera 9. Large baroque church built during the 16th century but then destroyed by and earthquake in 1736. It was rebuilt in 1790. Its tower contains one of the biggest bell of America made from gold and bronze. Inside the church, there are ten decorated altars. free.
  • 2 Iglesia La Ermita, Calle 5 and Carrera 2. The church Ermita de Jesús Nazareno is the oldest church of the city dates back to 1546. It has a refined altar and colonial paintings (frescoes) that were discovered after the 1983 earthquake.
  • 3 Belen. Small church perched on top of a small hill overlooking Popayan.
  • 4 Parque de Caldas. Popayan's central square, named after one of Popayan's most famous citizens: Francisco Jose de Caldas (1768-1816). A statue of him is visible in the center of the square. On one side of the square is a city landmark called the Torre del Reloj or the 'Clock Tower.' The clock was designed by Caldas himself and was constructed in Croydon, England before being shipped to Colombia. A few doors down from the Torre del Reloj is the city's Cathedral, which was badly damaged during the major earthquake that almost destroyed the whole city on March 31, 1983. The city took almost 20 years to fully recover from the quake but the vast majority of the buildings in the white colonial centre have now been restored to their former glory.

As for government buildings the Gobernacion and the Universidad del Cauca have excellent colonial premises.

  • 5 Puente del Humilladero, Carrera 6 and Calle 2. Another architectural site which is a long walking bridge over a river in Popayan that was constructed in old Roman style.
  • 6 El Morro de Tulcán, Calle 7 and Carrera 2. a hill which was an Indian pyramid dating before 1535. On the top of the hill there is a statue dedicated to the Conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar which founded the Spanish establishment of Popayán. The top offers a perfect view of the city and during week-end, a crowd is there to enjoy the sunset. free. El morro del tulcán on Wikipedia El morro del tulcán (Q3050102) on Wikidata

Also you can see other older religious traditions like of the Amo Jesus Nazareno of Puelenje is a Catholic image, that is worshiped in the temple of Puelenje, district of Popayan, Colombia. Patron Saint of this place. It is a polychrome wood sculpture of Jesus Christ of the eighteenth century made ​​in the Quito school. Is Baroque. The image also scrolls the Holy Wednesday. In the processions of Holy Week in Popayán that are inscribed in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.This religious festival is celebrated by the natives of Puelenje for 15 days, where there are fireworks, processions, religious ceremonies and cultural events as the Chirimia.


The city is world-renowned for its Easter celebrations, or the Semana Santa. In fact, the celebrations are the second largest in the world (after Seville, Spain) and are a major sight! Every night during Semana Santa, there are processions in the streets and tens of thousands of people line the sidewalks to watch as floats pass by with religious motifs. The floats are carried on the shoulders of human volunteers. It's a great honour to be selected for the Semana Santa processions but the floats can weigh up to 500 kg and so dislocated shoulders are frequent. It's a major cultural event that is witnessed by people from all over the country.


  • 1 Universidad del Cauca, Calle 5 and Carrera 5. The University of Cauca has 9 faculties in which it provides undergraduate and graduate training in different areas of knowledge like Telecommunications, Civil Engineering, Human Sciences and Arts. University of Cauca on Wikipedia University of Cauca (Q1137779) on Wikidata


You can buy some handicrafts. They are specially made by guambiano indians


In 2005, Popayan became the first city to be designated a City of Gastronomy as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative. For cheap and genuine food, try the market near Plaza Bolivar, north of the Puente del Humilladero. Meals from COP$5,000.

  • Carantanta: A kind of chip typical from the Cauca departement made from corn, It can be eaten with a soup.
  • Pipian: A sauce made from peanuts. Can be served with tamales or very small "empanadas", which are potato doughnuts.
  • Champús: Drink made from crushed maize, in addition to panela, lulo, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and leaves of the orange tree.
  • Manjar Blanco or Payanés: a typical sweet cream made from milk, sugar and rice.
  • Manjarillo: dulce de leche with panela (unrefined whole cane sugar).
  • Dulce cortado de leche: another variation of dulce de leche with cloves and cinamon.
  • Breva Calada: dessert made of figs cooked with panela served on top of white cheese. Usually made for Christmas.
  • Helado de Paila: Ice cream made in a large shallow and heavy copper bowl.
  • Envuelto: Corn cake wrapped in a plantain leef. Can be eaten with cheese.
  • Rosquilla: the Popayan version of the donut.

1 Cuaresnor Pan Tolima, Carrera 6 and Calle 4, +57 2 8205291. 6AM–9PM. Simple place to try some of the Cauca specialties. The place has also a nice bakery. Lunch COP$7,000.

Vegetarian option:

2 El Muro, Carrera 8a, #4-11. dishes and a drink for $4000.

Real santo domingo (calle 4 # 2-39), +57 92-8208022. Crepes + Gaseosa (option of chicken or meat or fruits) $3,900

Cakes and more, carrera 2 #2-35, +57 32 836462. Amazing cakes.

Stay safe[edit]

Popayán is in Cauca, which was considered one of the most dangerous departments in Colombia in 2011.[1] In 2011 several car bombs rocked central Popayán, with the authorities blaming local armed and mafia groups for the actions.[2] stay alert for information regarding drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitaries, as this city and its surroundings sees the presence of countless armed groups.


Aguardiente caucano is a drink based on Anis and it has some degrees of alcohol. It's the favorite drink in informal parties.

  • El Sotareño, Calle 6, 8-05. A small and friendly bar with oldish music and good atmosphere.


  • 1 Hostel Caracol, Calle 4 #2-21 (4 blocks from the main square and just 300m from La Ermita church), +57 311 626 8840, e-mail: . Opened in October 2011, this is one of the most laid-back hostels in the city. It's in a beautiful 16th-century colonial building in the heart of the colonial centre. Offers: Free Wifi, Computers with internet, 24-hour access, kitchen, DVD room, Lockers with power sockets, lots of information on trips. The hostel also offers the best deals on long-stay rates. Dorms: COP$27,000, private room: COP$48,000, doubles: COP$62,000.
  • 2 Hostel Trail, Carrera 11 #4-16 (20 meters from Hotel Monasterio), +57 314 696 0805, e-mail: . The backpacker's choice in Popayan since 2006 and rated considered by the rough guide to be "one of the best hostels in the country..." with private and dorm rooms, the fastest broadband internet in the city, free Wi-Fi, Skype, DVD Collection, lockers with power points, hot water showers, laundry and self-catering kitchen and breakfast service. HostelTrail also runs most of the tours in Popayan including the downhill cycling trip to Coconuco. Wednesday night is curry night. COP$10,000 for a curry and a drink. Dorms: COP$23,000, doubles: COP$62,000, singles: COP$40,000.
  • 3 ParkLife Hostel, Calle 5 #6-19 (In the central park besides the Cathedral), +57 3002496240, +57 3044011561, e-mail: . Check-in: 1PM, check-out: noon. This hostel is right in the center of Popayan, in the Prque Caldas. It is in a beautiful colonial building with amazing views to the Popayan main square. In the past few months the area has been reserved only for pedestrians so that tranquility is a guarantee. It's good karma and low prices have atracted many tourists trying to visit the city or its surroundings. The services include free Wi-Fi, laundry service, big common areas, and free use of the kitchen. The area is very close to several coffee shops, supermarkets and the main commercial street. Dorms COP$25,000, doubles COP$55,000.
  • Hotel Pass Home, Calle 5 #10-114 (five streets down the hill from the central park), +57 8243725 (Landline), +57 3164489513, +57 3207355088 (Cellular Phones), e-mail: . This hotel is clean and the owners (Colombian family) are very friendly. If you need a place for a tent, you can pitch here as well for COP$10,000 and you can use the kitchen for free. Free WiFi. Private rooms have cable TV with 106 channels in English, German, French, Chinese, Spanish, etc. You can also purchase a breakfast, lunch, and dinner package with local Popayan cuisine for COP$10,000 per day. Dorms COP$18,000, singles COP$25,000, doubles COP$36,000.
  • Residencial Florida, Carrera 6. Very simple rooms with shared toilet/bathroom. Singles from COP$7000.
  • Hotel Monasterio (Dann Hotel), Calle 4, between Carreras 10 and 11. This is a city landmark in itself. It used to be a Monastery and it was converted into a very nice hotel. It is behind the Iglesia de San Jose. It is about 4 city blocks from the Parque de Caldas. $$$.
  • Hotel Camino Real, Carrera 5 # 5-59 (Half a block away from Parque Caldas), +57 2 824 3595. This is a very good hotel in the city center. The food is unexpectedly sophisticated. The service is cordial, especially important for non-Spanish speaking guests. The decor reflects the Spanish influence, but makes you feel at home. The rooms are comfortable for the business traveler as well as for visiting families. Reasonably priced rooms in the heart of the city. $$.
  • Casa Familiar Turistica, Carrera 5 No. 2-07, +57 92 8244853. This is a smallish family run hostel with an excellent location right inside the historical center. The family seems mostly indifferent, neither helpful or rude. It offers two hot showers, kitchen use (with a fee), laundry service and breakfast for COP$3,000. Price for a dormbed was COP$13,000 but has been rising.
  • La Casa de Mima, Calle 3 # 2 -37 (5 blocks away from Parque Caldas), +57 2 8243 197. Once a family home, now attended by owner. Very convenient location in a quiet downtown street. Rooms are large, most with private bathroom. Back garden, small swimming pool. Check-in can be arranged for guest convenience. COP$70,000.
  • 4 Coffee Break Hostel, Carrera 1 #3-27. Hostel located in the university neighbor. The center is at a five minutes walk distance as well as other attractions. The staff is very friendly and will help you organize tours. Rooms are comfortable and clean. The common space is nice with hammocks and pizza oven. Large and clean kitchen with everything to cook. COP$25,000 for a dormitory bed, COP$50,000 for a double room..
  • There is a lot of budget accommodation in Carrera 6, just across the Puente del Humilladero, north of the Rio Molino.

Go next[edit]

  • Coconuco, one hour from Popayan, this small town offers the Hirviendos hot springs. HostelTrail (see Sleep) also runs the most popular trip in Popayan which is a downhill cycling trip to Aguas Hirviendos. The tour leaves at 10PM from HostelTrail and returns at around 3-4PM in the afternoon.
  • Puracé National Natural Park, a national park two hours from Popayan, where it is possible to trek to the top of the Purace volcano or look for Andean wildlife. The bus leaves for the park at 5am from the main station.
  • Silvia, about one hour from Popayan, in the land of the Guambiano Indians. There is a spectacular market there on Tuesdays.
  • San Agustin, a small town with dozens of pre-Colombian statues, waterfalls and beautiful views can be reached in about 5 hours.
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