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 and a half hours and there are numerous bus companies available. The most reliable bus operators are Velotax (4am-10pm, every 30mins), Tax Belalcazar (5am-8pm, every 30mins) and Expreso Bolivariano, these companies generally only stop a couple of times on route. Avoid Expreso Puerto Tejada and Expesos Palmira as they stop often and take much longer. 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. The bus from Medellín to Popayan takes 12-14 hours 68.000 - 78.000 COP.
- By train: unfortunately, Colombia no longer has a rail service
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 flat and compact and best explored on foot or bicycle.
There are 3 independent public bus companies - Libertad, Transpubenza and Sotracauca Mettro. They are very inexpensive US$0.50 (1,500COP for a single ride). Bus stops are few and far between and so a culture exists of buses stopping every 200m or so to allow people to embark or disembark. Taxis are plentiful and the minimum fare is around US$1.20 (3,800COP). The taximeter was introduced in 2015 to make the pricing farer.
- Since May 2013 Popayan has a public bike sharing system, called ‘’’EcoCiclo’’’. The cost is currently US7$ (20,000 COP) per month, although hourly rates do exist too. Many of the hotels have agreements with the project which allow tourists to use the system for free. The system currently has just one station in the centre of the city. The local council is currently working to expand this system in 2016.
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.
Hike up Volcan Purace (4756 meters) yourself. The first bus (direction: La plata) from the terminal leaves at 5 am (16.000 COP Sootracauca, february 2017). You tell the driver to let you off at Cruce de la Mina (3000 meters of altitude). From there it's a 30 minutes hike to the ranger station where you have to pay the entrance fee (50.000 COP, June 2017) and the obligatory guide (35.000 COP, June 2017). They really insist on the guide but you can split the price with other travellers. It is a quite easy hike for that altitude, it gets more challenging after the military base. It takes about 3-4 hours to the summit and 3 to get back to the cruce de la mina to take the bus back to Popayan (last bus at 5pm). The return-buses are cheaper but do not leave regularily. At 2:30 pm and 5 pm buses should be leaving. You can also stay at the ranger station, they offer cabañas (20.000 COP, february 2017), apartments (10.000 COP, february 2017) and camping (5.000 COP, february 2017). For further information look up on summitpost and park life hostels webpage, even that it is a bit outdated.
- Popayan Tours, ([email protected]), . 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 60,000 Pesos pp. Other activities include "Hike Volcan Purace" (130,000 Pesos) "Hike and Bike Volcan purace "(150,000 Pesos pp), a tour to a local coffee farm (30,000 Pesos pp) and Urban Bird watching (60,000 Pesos) edit
- Universidad del Cauca 
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 $3500 (August 2015).
- Carantanta soup
- Tamales de pipian
- Empanadas de pipian
- Manjar Blanco or Payanés
- Breva Calada
- 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 Gastronomy edit
- 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 4700 COP (february 2017). 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
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. 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 protected]), . Opened in October 2011, this is one of the most laid-back hostels in the city. Located in a beautiful 18th Century colonial building in the heart of the colonial centre. Offers: Free Wifi, Free CityBike rental, Free 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. 2017 Prices: Dorms: COP 27.000, Private Doubles: COP 62.000/75,000 (without/with bathroom), Singles: COP 45.000/55.000 (without/with bathroom). edit
- Hostel Trail, Carrera 11 #4-16 (20 meters from Hotel Monasterio), ☎ 314 696 0805 ([email protected]), . checkout: 12am. The backpacker's choice in Popayan since 2006 with free WIFI and Free Computers with internet, free city bikes shared with Hostel Caracol, TV room, free lockers with power points, electric hot water showers, laundry service and self-catering kitchen. HostelTrail also runs most of the tours in Popayan including the downhill cycling trip to Coconuco and the "Hike and Bike" trip from the Purace Volcano. Organize your Volcano hike or Biking trips direct from reception. 2017 Prices: Dorms: COP$27.000, Private Doubles: COP$55.000/75.000 (without/with bathroom), Singles: COP$45.000/55.000 (without/with bathroom). edit
- ParkLife Hostel, Calle 5 #6-19 (In the central park besides the Cathedral), ☎ 300 249 6240/304 401 1561 ([email protected]), . checkin: 1pm; checkout: 12am. This hostel is right in the center of Popayan, in the main square (Parque Caldas). As Lonely Planet explains in its Colombia 2012 edition: "You’d be hard pressed to find a hostel with a better location than Parklife – it’s attached to the cathedral wall" It is located in a beautiful colonial building with average views of the city. The area is pedestrians only so that tranquillity is a guarantee. Its relaxed and quiet atmosphere have attracted many backpackers and travellers visiting the city and/or its surroundings. The services include free WIFI, laundry service, big common areas, free use of the kitchen TV upstairs. The area is very close to several coffee shops, supermarkets and the main commercial street. Many rooms in hostel smell of mold (May 2015). http://www.parklifehostel.com Dorms COP 25,000, doubles COP 52,000-62.000 (as of february 2017). edit
- Hotel Pass Home, Calle 5 #10-114 (five blocks from the central park), ☎ 8243725 (Landline); 3164489513/3207355088 (Cellular Phones) ([email protected]). Camping possible on stone ground for 10,000 COP. The camping tariff does not include wifi nor kitchen use. Unwelcoming atmosphere for campers. Common area is shared with the family. Dorms 15,000 COP, singles 25,000 COP, doubles 36,000 COP. edit
- Residencial Florida, Carrera 6. Very simple rooms with shared toilet/bathroom Singles from COP$ 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 protected]), . 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
- Hospedaje Niyireth, Calle 4 Norte #10-45 (Via principal aereopuerto) (Right next to the Bus Station on the street that takes to the airport. Has no sign outside and the entrance is located on a Tyre shop), ☎ Mobile +57-3117270472 | Phone: 8319302 ([email protected]), . checkout: 12:00. Recently renovated, this family house has been arranged like a proper hotel and pricewise is a great choice. It is a relaxed place with free drinking water, clean rooms and bathrooms and just a step away from the station. It isn't a party place. Perfect for couples or groups that want to go see the beautiful market in Silvia Cauca or chill in Popayan. Offers: Free Wifi, Free drinking water, 24 hour access, Flat TV with HDMI input. Only Spanish. Feb 2016 Prices: Single Private w/ priv Bathroom: COP 30.000 (1 person)/40.000 (2 ppl), Private Doubles w/ Priv Bathroom: 50.000 (3ppl)/60.000 (4ppl). 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 to get to the springs via car, passing through Coconuco on the way. You can return at your leisure on the bike provided, 2-4 hours mostly downhill. 60,000 COP.
- Volcán Puracé, Standing at a height of 4,650m (15,256ft) this active Stratovolcano is currently the only active volcano in Colombia which one can summit. Weather conditions vary wildly and the climb to the summit can be a challenge due to both the cold conditions and the altitude. Trekking the volcano requires no technical experience and takes around 8 hours roundtrip from the entrance to the national park at 3,400m. PopayanTours runs a "Hike and Bike" where they drive you much higher up the mountain (4,050m) in a 4x4 which means you have just a 3 hour hike. For those adventurous enough, you can bike the 54km back to Popayan (1,750m).
- Tierradentro, Considered one of Colombia's most important archaelogical attractions. This site lies next to a small village (San Andres de Pisimbala) 4 hours from Popayan and it boasts dozens of underground burial chambers.
- 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 hundreds of pre-Colombian statues, waterfalls and beautiful views can be reached in about 4.5 hours via rough unpaved roads.
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.
The water in Popayan is safe to drink