The city was founded in the year 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 twentieth 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.
By air: 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 6 AM and 6 PM (daylight hours). There are no flights between Cali and Popayan as of this writing (December 2008). The airport in the neighbor city of Cali (100 minute car ride) serves many domestic and international destinations.
By taxi: in Colombia it is common to travel by taxi between major cities. You can get on a shared cab at any major transportation terminal. If you want a cab just for yourself, you will need to pay a fare equivalent as if the cab was full.
By bus: the bus from Cali to Popayan takes only two hours and there are numerous bus companies available. The most reliable are bus operators are Expreso Palmira and Expreso Bolivariano. Avoid Expreso Puerto Tejada. If you are in southern Colombia and traveling northwards, the bus from Pasto to Popayan takes about 6 hours 25.000 COP (as of May 2015) the route is safe but avoid night busses. There are daily buses from the border town of Ipiales, around 8 hours.
By train: unfortunately, Colombia no longer has a rail service to speak-of. Until the early 1970's you could still travel between cities like Cali and Popayan by rail, but the Colombian government let the national rail company go bankrupt. Sadly enough, many rail tracks were stolen for use in construction projects in rural areas.
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: Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia La Ermita, and Belen which is perched on top of a small hill overlooking Popayan. As for government buildings the Gobernacion and the Universidad del Cauca have excellent colonial premises. Another architectural site is the Puente del Humilladero, which is a long walking bridge over a river in Popayan that was constructed in old Roman style.
Popayan's central square is called the Parque de Caldas, named after one of Popayan's most famous citizens: Francisco Jose de Caldas (1768-1816). 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 eartquake 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.
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 kilo and so dislocated shoulders are frequent. It's a major cultural event that is witnessed by people from all over the country.
Popayan is famed for its architecture and as one of the most picturesque cities in Latin America, most visitors to the city like to take a walk around town to appreciate the fine colonial buildings. The coffee shops and restaurants are famous on an international level and so the gastronomy element of the city is also strong. Museums tend to be dedicated to the famous 'founding fathers' of Popayan and although the city is lacking a museum dedicated to the history of the area, the Natural History Museum is one of the best in the country.
Popayan's surroundings also have a wide range of activities on offer including thermal springs, cycling trips, hiking in the nearby Purace National Park and the indigenous village of Silvia which is just a hour outside town.
Popayan Tours, (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Most of the outdoor activities in Popayan are run through Popayan Tours - the most popular activity being their downhill cycling trip to the nearby thermal springs of Coconuco which costs 45,000 Pesos pp. Other activities include a Rickshaw tour of the colonial centre and trips to Silvia and Purace National Parkedit
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$ 1500 (June 2008).
Tamales de pipian
Empanadas de pipian
Manjar Blanco or Payanés
Paila's Ice cream.
El Muro: Carrera 8a, #4-11, 6 dishes and a drink for $4000.
Hotel Real Santo Domingo (calle 4 # 2-39), ☎ 092-8208022. Wow just an amazing place to eat I had Crepes + Gaseosa (option of chicken or meat or fruits) $7000 pesos (April, 2015) - just wow I see why its awarded city of Gastronomyedit
Cakes and more, carrera 2 #2-35, ☎ +57 32 836462. a new place that has amazing cakes - and more. very unique - unique to the region and Popayan - can't find this any place else in the world. edit
Maná, Calle 7 #9-??. Great vegetarian restaurant, with lunch for 4000COP (July 2013). Choose 7 dishes (soups, fruits, mains, dessert and juice) out of the menu of aprox. 10-12 dishes). Often a lot of peoople during lunch (12.00-14.00) and some dishes might be sold out at the end of lunch, so come early.4000. edit
Hostel Caracol, Calle 4 #2-21 (4 blocks east of the main square and just 300m from La Ermita church), ☎ 311 626 8840 (email@example.com), . Opened in October 2011, this is one of the most laid-back hostels in the city. Located in a beautiful 16th Century colonial building in the heart of the colonial centre. Offers: Free Wifi, Free CityBike rental, Computers with internet, 24 hour access, Kitchen, Coffee Shop (Mon to Fri), Lockers with power sockets, lots of information on trips. The hostel also offers the best deals on long-stay rates.Dorms: COP 22.000, Private Doubles: COP 52.000, Singles: COP 38.000 (2015). edit
ParkLife Hostel, Calle 5 #6-19 (In the central park besides the Cathedral), ☎ 300 249 6240/304 401 1561 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . checkin: 1pm; checkout: 12am. This hostel is right in the center of Popayan, in the main square (Parque Caldas). As Lonely Planet explains in its Colombia 2012 edition: "You’d be hard pressed to find a hostel with a better location than Parklife – it’s attached to the cathedral wall" It is located in a beautiful colonial building with average views of the city. The area is pedestrians only so that tranquillity is a guarantee. Its relaxed and quiet atmosphere have attracted many backpackers and travellers visiting the city and/or its surroundings. The services include free WIFI, laundry service, big common areas, free use of the kitchen TV upstairs. The area is very close to several coffee shops, supermarkets and the main commercial street. Many rooms in hostel smell of mold (May 2015). http://www.parklifehostel.comDorms COP 23,000, doubles COP 40,000-60.000 (as of May 2015). edit
Hostel Trail, Carrera 11 #4-16 (20 meters from Hotel Monasterio), ☎ 314 696 0805 (email@example.com), . checkout: 12am. The backpacker's choice in Popayan since 2006 and considered by the rough guide to be "one of the best hostels in the country..." with free WIFI, free city bikes shared with hostel Caracol, DVD Collection, lockers with power points, electric hot water showers, laundry (no laundry service offered May 2015) and self-catering kitchen. Top tip - ask for the 3 bed dorm, same price as other dorm, but less people. HostelTrail also runs most of the tours in Popayan including the "downhill" cycling trip to Coconuco. Organise your Volcano hike or Biking trips direct from reception.Dorms: COP$22.000, Private Doubles: COP$48.000-65.000, Singles: COP$35.000-48.000 (as of May 2015). edit
Hotel Pass Home, Calle 5 #10-114 (five streets down the hill from the central park), ☎ 8243725 (Landline); 3164489513/3207355088 (Cellular Phones) (firstname.lastname@example.org). This hotel is clean and the owners (colombia 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.Dorms COP $15,000, singles COP $25,000, doubles COP $36,000. edit
Residencial Florida, Carrera 6. Very simple rooms with shared toilet/bathroomSingles from COP$ 7000. edit
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.$$$. edit
Hotel Camino Real, Carrera 5 # 5-59 (Half a block away from Parque Caldas), ☎ + 57 2 824 3595, . This is a very good hotel located in the the city center. The food is unexpectedly sophisticated. The service is cordial, especially important for non-Spanish speaking guests. The decor reflects the Spanish influence, but makes you feel at home. The rooms are comfortable for the business traveler as well as for visiting families. Reasonably priced rooms. Located in the heart of the city. $$. edit
Casa Familiar Turistica, Carrera 5 No. 2-07, ☎ (092)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.edit
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. Checkin can be arranged for guest convenience. COP 70.000. edit
Hostel Caldas (Hostel Caldas), Calle 5 7-62 (At 50 meters from the plaza Caldas), ☎ +57(2)8208782; Cel 312 8941930 (email@example.com), . checkin: 11:00; checkout: 14:00. Established in typical colonial style house of the nineteenth century, in calm and relaxing ambience, just 50 meters from the Plaza Caldas and close to the main attractions of Popayan. Facilities: Free Wi-Fi, Computer with internet access, 24h reception, Kitchen, Laundry service, Lockers, Bicycles for hire, Tour information.From 17,000 COP for Dorms to 50,000 COP for Double Room Bathroom attached, towels included for all rooms. (2.441777,-76.607485)edit
There is a lot of budget accommodation in Carrera 6, just across the Puente del Humilladero, north of the Rio Molino.
Coconuco, one hour from Popayan, this small town offers the Hirviendos and Agua Tibia hot springs. HostelTrail (see Sleep) also runs the most popular trip in Popayan which is a 'downhill' cycling trip to Aguas Hirviendos (Not all, but mostly downhill). The tour leaves at 10am from HostelTrail and takes about an hour and a half to get to the springs, passing through Coconuco on the way. You can return at your leisure on the bike provided, 2 hours mostly down hill. 50,000 COP all inclusive for 2, 45,000 for 3 (as of May 2015)
Vulcán Purace, climb the vulcan to the crater at ~4500m. Not for everyone - it is often both windy and rainy and the climb is partly very difficult.
The tourist centre around Parque Caldas is inconveniently located just north of Barrio Anfonso Lopez, one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Avoid going further south than the Exito supermarket on Calle 6 as muggings are common.