The white city of Popayán is a unique and important destination in Colombia’s vast arsenal of enchanting places. Located in the country’s lush green Cauca department, the city boasts a large centre of imposing white-washed colonial architecture, a great university-town ambience, well manicured public spaces, impressive churches and unforgettable sightseeing opportunities.
Founded as a city in 1537 by Sebastián de Belalcázar, Popayán has long been an important colonial city due to its location between Lima, Quito and Cartagena. The city existed as a gold trading point under Spanish colonial rule and has rich mineral deposits and gold and silver. Popayán continued to mint coins after Colombia was declared a republic in 1826.
It is exactly this history of colonial importance that gifts Popayán its wealth of colonial architecture. The city’s architecture has a turbulent history as Popayán is located in a zone of seismic activity. The most recent earthquake being 31 March 1983 when many parts of the city were destroyed. The reconstruction took 10 years and today, on the whole Popayán has been restored to its former glory.
Do not underestimate the beauty of Popayán, it is revered by many as Latin America’s most beautiful and best preserved colonial city. It is a serious challenger to Cartagena’s crown as queen of the colonial cities.
As a destination in its own right, Popayán offers the visitor not only beautiful architecture but also a charming ambience in Parque Caldas, impressive churches such as San Francisco, Santo Domingo, La Ermita, San Agustín and Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and also a wealth of museums such as The House-Museum Mosquera, The Archdiocesan Museum of Religious Art and The National Museum Guillermo Valencia.
Popayán is somewhat multi-faceted as a tourism destination and there are a wealth of programme opportunities. It is served by Popayán Guillermo León Valencia Airport and has two flights per day from Bogotá. We offer airport transfers and recommend a stay of at least 2 nights in one of the city’s excellently preserved colonial hotels.
Within Popayán we offer a guided city tour in English, German or Spanish to enjoy the city’s highlights with an expert.
Popayán is also a UNESCO First City of Gastronomy and we will be delighted to recommend local delicacies to look out for as well as our favourite restaurants in the city.
Popayán also unassumingly finds itself as the perfect launchpad for some of Colombia’s most spectacular day trips. The incredible seismic páramo landscapes of Puracé, the Guambiano Indian town of Silvia and Tierradento, the superb Pre-Colombian burial site of the Paez Indians are all within easy reach. The discerning traveller could readily combine 5 nights in Popayán with 2 nights in Tierradentro to build the perfect one week experience in Colombia’s south.
Finally, Popayán is also perfectly located to be included in a truly impressive road trip. Cali– Popayán-San Agustín is a popular route that takes the traveller from Colombia’s vibrant capital of salsa, onwards to everything that Popayán has to offer, then finally across 3300m páramo landscapes to San Agustín’s archeological sites, El Estrecho del Magdalena, El Salto de Mortiño and Isnos.
For off the peg itineraries including Popayán then the city also features in our round trips The Colombian Heritage Experience.