South of Cali is Popayán, one of the country's oldest Spanish settlements, which gleams like a beacon in the crisp sunshine of the Cordillera Central's mountain air. Its colonial centre may have suffered severe damage after a March 1983 earthquake hit the region, but an extensive restoration program has left little sign of the tragedy and the city's dazzling white buildings appear much as they would have to the Spanish sugar plantation owners who first came here to escape the heat of the Cauca Valley. Popayán has a cultured air about it, no doubt aided by its large student population. But there must be something in the water because it has produced more Colombian presidents than any other city, while down the years it has been a home to many notable painters, writers and composers and its famously austere Semana Santa celebrations are second in size only to those of Seville in Spain.
To the Spanish, Popayán was a strategic link between Lima and Quito and Bogotá and Cartagena. For today's traveller, the city makes a convenient jumping-off point for visiting the remote archaeological sites of Tierradentro and San Agustín, the indigenous market at Silvia, or a break from the heat and partying in Cali.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF