The city of Popayán has managed to retain its colonial character, which is remarkable given that it was partially destroyed by the March 1983 earthquake and extensively restored. Many of the streets are cobbled and the two-storey buildings are in rococo Andalucían style, with beautiful old monasteries and cloisters of pure Spanish classic architecture.

Getting there

is 20 minutes' walk from the centre. Popayán's
bus terminal
is near the airport, 15 minutes' walk from the centre. Luggage can be stored safely (receipt given); there is a charge to use the toilets. From the bus station, walk up Carrera 11 and take a left at Calle 4 to reach the centre. Take care if you cross any of the bridges over the river going north, especially at night.

Tourist office

There is a recently established office on the Parque Principal with a reasonable selection of maps and brochures.
Cámara de Comercio de Cauca, Cultura y Turismo
, www.cccauca.org.co


Popayán was founded by Sebastián de Belalcázar, Francisco Pizarro's lieutenant, in 1536, in the valley of the Pubenza, a peaceful landscape of palm, bamboo, and the sharp-leaved agave. The early settlers after setting up their sugar estates in the hot, damp Cauca valley, retreated to Popayán to live, for the city is high enough to give it a delightful climate. After the conquest of the indigenous Pijao, Popayán became the regional seat of government, subject until 1717 to the Audiencia of Quito, and later to the Audiencia of Bogotá. Popayán has given no fewer than eleven presidents to the Republic. The scientist Francisco José de Caldas was born here in 1771. It was he who discovered how to determine altitude by variation in the boiling point of water, and it was to him that Mutis (of the famous
Expedición Botánica
) entrusted the directorship of the newly founded Observatory at Bogotá. He was a passionate partisan of independence, and was executed in 1815 during Morillo's 'Reign of Terror'.

Today, Popayán is the capital of the Department of Cauca. To north, south, and east the broken green plain is bounded by mountains. To the southeast rises the cone of the volcano Puracé (4646 m). The Río Molino runs through the town, a tributary, of the Río Cauca, which rises near Puracé and flows past Popayán a few kilometres to the north.


 was built around 1900, is the third on the site and was beautifully restored after the 1983 earthquake. It has a fine marble Madonna sculpture behind the altar by Buenaventura Malagón.

San Agustín
, is notable for the gilt altar piece and the unusual statue of Christ kneeling on the globe.
Santo Domingo
, has some fine wood carvings, now used by the Universidad del Cauca whose building next door on Carrera 5, and is worth a visit.
La Ermita
, on the site of the first chapel established by Sebastián de Belalcázar, dates from the 16th century.
La Encarnación
, dates from 1764 and has a fine retable, is also used for religious music festivals.
San Francisco
, dating from about 1775, has been frequently damaged by earthquakes and is now partly restored, note the fascinating figures on the pulpit stairs.
El Carmen
, is a monastery church constructed about 1730 with

Museo de Historia Natural
, has good displays of archaeological and geological items with sections on insects (particularly good on butterflies), reptiles, mammals and birds. Other museums are
Museo Negret
, with works, photographs and furniture of Negret,
Museo Guillermo Valencia
, birthplace of the poet, and
Museo Casa Mosquera
, where General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera lived, four times President of Colombia. A small collection of indigenous artefacts is held in
Banco de la República

Walk to
Belén chapel
, with a fine view of the city, seeing the statues en route, and then continue to
El Cerro de las Tres Cruces
if you have the energy, and on to the equestrian statue of Belalcázar on the
Morro de Tulcán
, which overlooks the city. This hill is the site of a pre-Columbian pyramid. Next to El Morro is Rincón Payanés, also known as El Pueblito Patojo, which has scale models of the town's landmarks and a number of handicraft stalls and cafes.

A fine arched bridge built in 1868,
Puente del Humilladero
crosses the Río Molino at Carrera 6. Public presentations and concerts are given in the gardens below. It is said that Bolívar marched over the nearby
Puente Chiquito
, built in 1713.


The little town of
lies in a high valley northeast of Popayán. The local Guambianos wear their typical blue and fuchsia costumes, and are very gregarious and friendly. You can watch them spinning and weaving their textiles. The Tuesday market seems to be full of indigenous Otavalo from Ecuador and their goods - more expensive than in Otavalo. The market is at its best between 0600 and 0830. There's not much to buy, but it's very colourful. There are several indigenous settlements in the hills around Silvia, a typical one to visit is
La Campana
, 45 minutes on the bus, 2½ hours' walk downhill back to Silvia. It is not safe to park cars in the street at night in Silvia. There is a small
Museo de
, with exhibits of local crafts, past and present. Tourist information is 1½ blocks up from the plazuela on the right-hand side. There are beautiful places to walk and ride around Silvia.

About 25 km from Popayán, on the road to San Agustín, is
, a particularly beautiful spot, surrounded by green hills and cascading waterfalls. The village is famous for its hot springs.
Aguas Hirviendas
, just outside the village, has several concrete pools, one of which has water hot enough to boil and egg in five minutes. Open 24 hours, this is a popular spot at weekends but quiet during the week. Further up the valley is
Aguas Tibias
, whose waters are warm rather than hot. These pools, run by an indigenous family, have a rather more rustic feel to them and include a waterslide and therapeutic mud bath.

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
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