A few hours in Popayan – my highlights in the White City
Located in the South of Colombia, you will find the now small city of Popayan, which is also called the White City. It’s the perfect gateway to the Cauca region and great when you plan on visiting the archaeological sites of San Agustín and Tierradentro. Why you should spend at least a few hours in Popayan – I’ll tell you now:
The white city in Cauca
The houses in Popayan are white. And once a year, just before Easter, they are repainted (white) to preserve the colour. The reason for this colour goes back several years: there were no asphalted or cobbled streets back then, and in the dirt, bacteria was thriving and hence caused a plague break out. The disease attacked the legs and feet of Popayan’s inhabitants, leaving them with unsightly blisters and disfigured limbs. Many people also lost limbs to the disease.
Back in the day, however, the people of Popayan found out that one could counteract the plague with chalk and so they started to paint all houses in Popayan with chalk. And the plague was banned.
Today, the city is plague free, the colour on the houses has remained, however.
Let us not speak further of the plagues and devote ourselves to more pleasant things: food. In 2005, Popayan was named the first UNESCO city of gastronomy – a small gourmet town. Mhhhh!
What you can do in a few hours in Popayan
Popayan itself is a city where I felt comfortable and safe – and I would definitely have spent more time here. But as is often the case, I, unfortunately, had to go back to Bogotá after a half day in Popayan.
Enjoy the view from Piramide Cerro de Morro
This is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down but the view of the city is gorgeous any time of day.
Tip: bring your own food with you! Up here is the perfect spot for a picknick.
Cheesecake in the Pinemma Cafe
Cl. 4 #2-21
Feasting! I especially loved the cafe’s most famous dish – cheesecake with blackberries. (For the cafe supposedly not so much, but I can not confirm that as I do not drink coffee. Maybe one of my lovely readers knows more about this?)
Local specialities in Mora Castilla
Cl. 2 #4-44
In addition to Salpicón Payanés as a drink, I can also recommend Champú – sounds soapy, but it is absolutely delicious.
For snacks I recommend two really typical things: Empanaditas de Pipián (mini-pastries) and Carantanta con Hogao (dough pockets with a light tomato sauce)
I would call this park Papayansmain square because the Parque Caldas is the heart of Popayan. A cathedral, a cosy park and people who wander around and the white buildings that line the square.
Free Walking Tour
This tour was recommended by other travellers and is advertised with a duration of two hours. My two guides, unfortunately, did not know some things about Popayan and some things they said have turned out to be wrong when I looked them up myself. Perhaps I was a little unlucky with my two guides, but the tour is still beautiful and you will most definitely learn about Popayan on this tour (but don’t believe everything you are told and do your own research as well).
What else can you explore around Popayan?
Sadly the South of Colombia often gets overlooked and underrated. I wish I had more time to properly travel this part of Colombia. There are a few gorgeous hiking spots close to Popayan but don’t forget to ask for more information once you are there. Many of the national parks cannot be entered without a guide.
For those who want to relax, I can recommend the thermal springs of Coconuco. The mountain scenery is absolutely stunning.
After a five hour drive on unpaved streets, you can reach either San Agustín or Tierradentro. These two cities, however, again lie 5 hours apart and form a triangle with Popayan. These two archaeological sites are the most important in Colombia and Tierradentro, because of the secluded location, is still very much off the beaten path. A hiking trail connects individual sites and can be hiked in one day – and it is simply wonderful because you can walk through the landscape without a guide.
What I can not recommend
I stayed at the ParkLife Hostel which is directly next to the Cathedral on Park Caldas – unfortunately, I cannot recommend this hostel. The beds are old and the mattresses saggy, the bathrooms need to be renovated and it was pretty loud in the evening – the location is top though!
I was way too hungry when I got to La Deliciosa (Carrera 4 #412). I was the only guest and it still took them forever to prepare my veggie wrap. Unfortunately, they got my order wrong and served a veggie sandwich instead. It wasn’t good at all and if I hadn’t been so hungry I would have left it. To make matters worse the server started yelling at the chef for getting the order wrong. The venue is very loud and it is pretty much impossible to relax and have a chat.