Why should I visit Popayán?

Why should I visit Popayán? Cartagena has everything and more. In contrast, I have never heard of Popayán! – Colombia’s 480 Year Old Colonial ‘White City.’

Most people have heard of Cartagena, the colorful Spanish colonial city on the Caribbean coast.

A panoramic view of Cartagena in Colombia. Image under Deposit Photo´s subscription model.

Regarded as Colombia’s number one tourist destination, the name Cartagena conjures up images of a romantic, sun-kissed city. A city that´s full of cobblestone streets. With some of the most, brightly painted mansions, and mango-colored churches you have ever seen.

Yet, being crowned “the Most Beautiful Colonial City in Latin America” does have its drawbacks.

Just imagine, tacky souvenir stores, pointless attractions, scammers, tricksters, and “tourist tax” prices come with the crowds. Don’t even get us started on the cruise ship passenger herds. Before Covid-19, it seemed these one-day-only tourists were crammed into the city in more significant numbers every year!

Despite all this, Cartagena does remain a truly stunning place and utterly worthy of its reputation. But while Cartagena hogs the limelight, many travelers remain in the dark about Colombia’s other World Heritage-listed colonial city.

In contrast, nestled in the lush Valle de Pubenza is a far more laidback colonial gem, namely Popayán.

Popayán is nicknamed la Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for the whitewashed buildings that give its historic center a stately, distinctive appearance. Image taken from MotoDreamer Archives.

Popayán, nicknamed la Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for the whitewashed buildings that give its historical center a stately, distinctive appearance.

Still largely undiscovered by foreign visitors, Popayán is an authentic, unsanitized, tourist trap-free colonial city. It’s also nowhere near the ocean, making it safe from the cruise ship invasion for all eternity.

After reading the above, it makes sense that Popayán is Colombia´s second colonial city. 

One year after Cartagena. The Spanish Explorer Sebastian de Belalcazar founded Popayán on the 13th January 1537. Thus, establishing it as the capital of southern Colombia before Santiago de Cali eventually took its place.

Popayán’s historic downtown, a collection of beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings. In addition, there are dozens of striking landmarks, with some dating back to the 16th century. Now, plenty of the majority you´ll find clustered around a massive central plaza, the lovely, lively Parque de Caldas.

So why should I visit Popayán? What will I see?

Also as you wander the old streets of Popayán, and remember to look out for some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including:

  • Iglesia de San Francisco: a lavish 18th-century cathedral and one of the finest examples of Baroque-style architecture in Colombia.
  • Also, ask to see the ossuary, which was cracked open by an earthquake in 1983, revealing six unidentified mummies.
Iglesia de San Francisco: a lavish 18th-century cathedral and one of the finest examples of Baroque-style architecture in Colombia. Image protected by MotoDrreamer Archive copyright.
  • Iglesia Santo Domingo: built in the mid-1700s, this is the city’s most spiritually significant church. Popayan’s famous Holy Week celebrations are flooded with pilgrims, held between Good Tuesday and Easter Saturday.
Iglesia Santo Domingo: built in the mid-1700s, this is the city’s most spiritually important church. It’s flooded with pilgrims during Popayan’s famous Holy Week celebrations, held between Good Tuesday and Easter Saturday
Imagr from MotoDreamer Archives.
  • Natural History Museum: within the magnificent grounds of the University of Cauca, don´t forget, this excellent museum, dedicated to Colombia’s amazing biodiversity
Natural History Museum: within the magnificent grounds of the University of Cauca, this excellent museum is dedicated to Colombia’s amazing biodiversity. Image under MotoDreamer coipyright.
  • Puente del Humilladero: – this 240m long, 11-arch stone bridge, built in 1873 to connect the city center to the northern neighborhoods
Puente del Humilladero: – this 240m long, 11-arch stone bridge was built in 1873 to connect the city center to the northern neighborhoods. Image under MotoDreamer copyrights.

Ok, what other reasons answer why I should visit Popayan?

How about POPAYÁN being named the WORLD HERITAGE CITY OF… GASTRONOMY?

How about POPAYÁN being named the WORLD HERITAGE CITY OF… GASTRONOMY? Here are three female chefs displaying their latest culinery creations.

Earlier, we described Popayán as a World Heritage Listed city, which is true.

But while Cartagena’s fine colonial buildings brought it UNESCO recognition, Popayan’s architecture, although undeniably pretty, isn’t quite World Heritage league a la Cartagena.

In fact, Popayán received its World Heritage honors for something else entirely. Furthermore, in 2009, UNESCO’s Creative Cities initiative declared Popayán the first World City of Gastronomy in Latin America.

Furthermore, Popayan, known for its distinctive take on the national cuisine, drawing on pre-Colombian, Spanish, African, and European influences. In addition, it utilizes a vast array of native ingredients, some found only in southern Colombia’s mountains, forests, and coastal areas.

Why should I visit Popayan Must-try local dishes include:

Empanadas de Pipián: Snack-sized pasties, filled with a mixture of meat, potatoes, garlic, onion, and achiote

Empanadas de Pipián: Snack-sized pasties, filled with a mixture of meat, potatoes, garlic, onion, and achiote.
Culinery image from Deposit Photos under subscription.

Helado de Paila: A traditional ice cream of fruit juice and ice, hand-stirred and set in a copper pot.

Bat with straw, ice and salt and on top of this the bronze pan with blackberry ice cream ready. Image courtesy of Edgar Romero Actualidad RT

Breva Calada: Commonly enjoyed at Christmas, this dessert, made from figs soaked in panela (brown cane sugar), served on top of white cheese.

Brevas soaked with cheese and arequipe, culinery image courtesy of Pastofruver.

Champus: Altogether, this sweet, aromatically spiced dessert drink is a blend of pineapple, sour orange, lulo, cloves, and cinnamon.

Champus: This sweet, aromatically spiced dessert drink is a blend of pineapple, sour orange, lulo, cloves, and cinnamon.
Culinery image under subscription with Depósit Photos.

Salpicon Payanes: This delicious fruit cocktail is a blend of the Colombian fruits lulo, papaya, guanabana and mora.

Salpicon Payanes: This delicious fruit cocktail is a blend of the Colombian fruits lulo, papaya, guanabana and mora.
Another firm favorite for the Editor of this article titled Why should I visit Popayan?. Courtesy of Cafe Rincon Rayanes, Cali.

Why should I visit Popayán & where should I go to eat?

Hotel Camino Real: 

Dining room photo of the Hotel Camino Real in Popayan. Image courtesy of Vivecolombia . travel.

Then, there´s this hotel’s owners are key players in the Congreso Nacional Gastronómico. Altogether, set in an elegant Colonial mansion, the restaurant showcases skillful cooking across an innovative menu combining French and Colombian elements.

La Coescha Parillada:

ulinery image of  Beef, avocado, arepa, egg and plantain served on a ceramic black platter. Atypical Popayan meal from La Coescha Parillada. Image courtesy of 2pos . org

Of course, there´s a restaurant with smartly dressed, bowtie-wearing waiters, this restaurant has a friendly, old-fashioned vibe and specializes in giant cuts of beef cooked on an open grill.

La Fresa:

La Fresa Restaurant is in Popayán . It might not be more than a few plastic tables and chairs, but this cheap-eatery is famous for its scrumptious empanadas de Pipián. Image courtesy of Restaurant Guru.

It might not be more than a few plastic tables and chairs, but this cheap-eatery is famous for its scrumptious empanadas de Pipián.

Aplanchados Doña Chepa:

This Popayán based pastry shop is run by Doña Chepa, a veteran baker who’s been making her legendary aplanchados (shortbread-style flat pastries) for some 70 years.

An awesome pastry shop run by Doña Chepa, a veteran baker who’s been making her legendary aplanchados (shortbread-style flat pastries) for some 70 years.

La Semilla Escondida:

This Popayán based French-owned bistro is a cozy spot for delicious sweet and savory crepes. Image courtesy of yellow Place.

Before you go on a diet, try this French-owned bistro is a cozy spot for delicious sweet and savory crepes.

Why should I visit Popayan and What’s the nightlife like?

On the surface, Popayán may look like an old, relatively unchanging place. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover a city buzzing with youthful energy and a creative, independent spirit.

On the surface, Popayán may look like an old, relatively unchanging place. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover a city buzzing with youthful energy and a creative, independent spirit.

It’s Home to prestigious educational institutions, including the University of Cauca. Popayán attracts thousands of students from across Colombia every year. Thus ensuring a lively, authentically local after-dark scene most nights of the week.

Before you decide, to call it a night, Salsa fans should check out Bar Iguana and New York. For something a little more old-school, El Sotareno is an old-time locals’ favorite. 

Occasionally, El Sotareno loves playing classic Tango, Bolero, and Ranchera. However, for a more chilled-out bar experience, check if there’s live music playing at Wipala.  This is a cafe, bar, gallery, and performance space all in one.

Or, as an alternative, why not cozy up at Bendito. A labyrinthine student hang-out with a pop and rock soundtrack, craft beers, and tea-infused cocktails.

DAY TRIPS FROM POPAYÁN.

Popayán, a compact city, and its significant sites, see in a day. However, it’s worth extending your stay to explore the magnificent natural landscapes of the surrounding region.

Some of the best day trips from Popayán include:

Purace National Park is a vast, rugged park protecting a swathe of Andean paramo (high altitude alpine grasslands.) Each dotted with waterfalls and thermal springs. Furthermore, this is home to a small population of endangered Andean condors.

Purace National Park near Popayán is a vast, rugged park protecting a swathe of Andean paramo (high altitude alpine grasslands. Image courtesy of Mi Viaje.

Remember, in the park is Volcan Purace, one of the most active volcanoes in Colombia. However, Tour companies from Popayán offer grueling full-day trekking trips to the top of the volcano at 4,750m.

Alternately, for motorcycle riders, there are two highways that cut through Purace offer hours of fun dirt and gravel mountain roads through the prehistoric-looking paramo.

Silvia Tuesday Market: Silvia is a tranquil little mountain town, 60km northeast of Popayán. Every Tuesday, Silvia comes alive thanks to the weekly market, when Guambiano villagers in colorful traditional dress come to town to trade local wares.

While this authentic trading post is mainly dedicated to fresh produce and wool. The Guambiano set up stalls selling handicrafts, bead necklaces, and ponchos to the few tourists who visit. Image courtesy of utravelshare.

While this authentic trading post is mainly dedicated to fresh produce and wool, the Guambiano set up stalls selling handicrafts, bead necklaces, and ponchos to the few tourists who visit.

Remember, this is a real market and not a tourist attraction, so please respect the local people, who are generally shy of cameras.

Altogether, we highly recommend a few days to absorb the charms and natural beauty of Popayán. Since, it’s only two and half hours from Cali down a fast, straight highway. And remember, it’s a worthy stop for those planning to ride southern Colombia and its roads less traveled.

Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)

Edited for SEO optimization by Mike Bowley at www.mikedbowley.com

Finally, the rest of the world has started to realize that Colombia is a very unique and beautiful destination with a huge historical backstory.

Why not see it before the masses come on your next Motorcycle Adventure Tour. If you have the time why not consider back-to-back tours.

Six Reasons to Fall in Love with Medellin, Colombia 

Colombian cuisine for motorbike riders 

Best 10 Paved Roads in Colombia 

Calendar 

Why should I visit Popayán? Best we ride together with MotoDreamer and find out.

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