Popayán (Pronounced: Po - pa - 'yan), is a colonial-era city in southwestern Colombia, capital of the Cauca department.
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 4 to 6 hours. Be advised that 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.
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.
You can buy some crafthands. They are specially made for 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$ 1500 (June 2008).
Tamales de pipian
Empanadas de pipian
Manjar Blanco or Payanés
Paila's Ice cream.
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.
There is a lot of budget accommodation in Carrera 6, just across the Puente del Humilladero, north of the Rio Molino.
Residencial Florida, Carrera 6. Very simple rooms with shared toilet/bathroomSingles 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.$$$.
Hostel Trail, Carrera 11 #4-16 (20 meters from Hotel Monasterio), ☎ 314 696 0805, . The backpacker's choice in Popayan with private and dorm rooms, broadband internet, WIFI, Skype, DVD Collection, hot water, laundry and self-catering kitchen and breakfast service.Dorms: COP$15.000, Privates: COP$19.000PP, Singles: COP$28.000.
Hotel Camino Real, Carrera 5 # 5-59 (Half a block away from Parque Caldas), ☎ + 57 2 824 3595, . This is a very good hotel located in the the city center. The food is unexpectedly sophisticated. The service is cordial, especially important for non-Spanish speaking guests. The decor reflects the Spanish influence, but makes you feel at home. The rooms are comfortable for the business traveler as well as for visiting families. Reasonably priced rooms. Located in the heart of the city. $$.
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.
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.
Hotel Pass Home, Calle 5 no.10 114 (From the bus terminal/panamericana hwy, you can walk to carrera 11...take Carrera 11 until you arrive at Calle 5, turn left, the hotel is 50 meters on the left hand side.), ☎ 8243725. checkin: Anytime; checkout: 1PM. Located in the center, this hotel is clean, affordable, and the owners (a family) are very friendly. If you need a place for a tent, you can pitch here as well for COP $5,000 (approximately USD $2.50) and you can use the kitchen for COP $2,000. COP 15000 (dorm), COP $28,000 single room/COP$36 double occupancy.
Coconuco, one hour from Popayan, this small town offers the Hirviendes hot springs.