Today we discover Popayan, the capital of Cauca’s Department, world-famous as one of the UNESCO’s Gastronomic Capitals and its Holy Week, which is the most popular in Colombia and has been declared Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO.
In this article we will explain in detail what this “White City” has to offer to its visitors, international tourists and citizens from inland Colombia.
Step by step: discovering Popayan
- The city is in the southwest of Colombia and it’s the capital of Cauca’s Department.
- In reference to its demography, it’s not one of the most populated cities in the country, but currently has 300.000 inhabitants, which allowed the city to face development and industrialization and preserve its historical, colonial and traditional attributes, which are really appreciated for its visitors.
- Founded in 1.500 as a Franciscan monastery, it’s one of the oldest cities in America and it one of the best preserved cities. Its old town is one of the best preserved in Colombia and one of the most emblematic places in South America, as well as Quito’s one.
- Its beautiful colonial architecture and varied gastronomy make Popayan popular, which in 2005 and 2009 was designated UNESCO World City of Gastronomy and Intangible World Heritage, because of its famous Holy Week. For this reason, this city is a pilgrimage site for many Catholic-Christians.
- Holy Week celebrations in Popayan have been held since 16th century.
- This city is 113 kms away from Cali’s city, and more than 500 kms away from Medellin and Bogota. That’s why the best way to reach Popayan is flying from main cities’ airports in the country, offering daily flights (this topic will be addressed lately, at the first step of the “3 steps to enjoy Popayan”).
3 steps to enjoy Popayan
Popayan is a dynamic and vibrant city, so you must explore it, talk with locals and take some pictures to enjoy it to the fullest. The city hides historic spots that you should explore calmly and follow these two tips: experience and enjoy it.
Here’s a list of the 3 main steps you should follow on your first visit to the city.
1. Plan your travel
You should choose how you will reach Popayan taking into account distances to other important cities in Colombia.
If you live in Spain or in another Latin American country, before reaching Popayan you will have to cross another cities in Colombia like Bogota, Medellin or Cali.
There are direct flights to these cities from Spain. Once in Colombia, you have two possibilities to reach the White City:
- Travel by plane to Popayan: the airline Avianca flies to the city as well as to the main cities in Colombia. There are 4 daily flights to Bogota. The airport Guillermo Leon Valencia is almost inside the city, so it’s easy to access it.
- Travel by express bus: Panamericana Avenue is the biggest in Colombia and connects with other important cities in the country. You can take an express bus from Bogota, Cali, Medellin or Pasto and arrive to Popayan Transport Terminal in the centre of the city. Prices are really affordable.
Both transport means to Popayan are great. You should choose one or another depending on your needs and preferences.
2. Book your accommodation
You should book your accommodation in Popayan in advance. The city is a tourist attraction in Colombia, so you should book in advance to make sure you can stay at the city.
We recommend you some of the best hotels in the city, which are perfect for their quality, design, services and customer care.
Recommendation: Dann Monasterio Popayan Hotel
We can guarantee you that’s the best hotel in the city. It’s the only 5-star hotel in Popayan.
Dann Monasterio Popayan has a great colonial infrastructure with perfect finishes and modern and innovative services in the city. Here’s a list of reasons why we recommend you this luxury hotel.
Why we recommend the hotel?
There are 4 main attributes which differentiate the hotel from the rest of the hotels in Popayan. We could also write a new article just detailing the facilities and services of Dann Monasterio Popayan Hotel, but we just want you to focus on its 4 main differential attributes.
More than just a privileged location
It’s located in the centre of Popayan city, in the old town of Cauca’s capital.
Its location allows you to visit another emblematic places in the city within a few minutes from the place. As an example, San Francisco Church is near the hotel as well as the biggest museum in the city.
A gourmet restaurant offering local food
This hotel is one of the best innovative proposals in Colombia hotel refering to gastronomy. The restaurant must have the level of a 5-star hotel. This hotel managed by Dann Hotels went beyond that, offering their customers the possibility of tasting typical dishes of Popayan and Colombian cuisine, which make this city deserve the designation of UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.
As it is a restaurant open to international visitors, it also offers themed menus with international recipes.
The biggest and most beautiful pool in Popayan
Below we talk about must-visit places and thermal waters in Popayan. However, hotel guests usually have problems to decide which is the best option: swimming in the pool or bathe in the thermal waters.
The pool is a reflection of the hotel luxury category. It’s the perfect place for families, couples or friends to enjoy the nice weather of the city.
Personalized and close attention
Customer attention at Dann Monasterio Popayan Hotel is perfectly personalized and close. All guests are extremely pleased with the hotel attention. The hotel staff is also really kind and friendly. They are always happy to help you, so you will want to stay longer at the hotel.
These are the main 4 attributes of this popular 5-star hotel in Colombia.
- What you should see and do in Popayan
Popayan is a great reflection of world history and evolution. This city preserves almost totally its original architecture, except some old town renovations, which didn’t affect to its colonial history. It also takes special care to maintain its culinary culture and history.
Below there’s a list of must-see and eating places in Popayan (essential).
Visit and discover the history of Puente del Humilladero
Puente del Humilladero is close to Monasterio Popayan hotel. You can reach it by foot if you travel in group, so you will have fun and meet people on the way.
This bridge also has its own history, which makes it popular among Popayan visitors. According to locals, not many centuries ago, only rich people could cross this bridge, but small farmers and poor people had to pass under the bridge.
Like a dump is a place full of garbage, a “shrine” is a place full of humiliation.
Visit the National Museum of “Guillermo Leon Valencia”
WE can find many Important historical figures in Popayan:
Guillermo Leon Valencia was the president of Colombia from 1962 to 1966. In the museum, in which he had previously lived, we can find some of his personal items and documents of great historical value.
It’s a unique museum you should visit, and locals will improve this experience for sure.
Walk through Morro de Tulcan
Despite there’s a statue of founder of Popayan, Sebastian de Belalcazar, at the top of the hill, morro de Tulcan was founded many years before the city foundation.
According to local historians, this pyramidal monument was built by indigenous from Pubenza (Valle de Pubenza is in Popayan) between 500 and 1600 before Christ. Morro de Tulcan and its churches are emblematic places in Popayan.
Discover Popayan churches
Popayan is considered a religious city, so you can find many churches.
You must visit the following ones:
- Belen Chapel
- Saint Augustine Church
- Saint Francis Church (near Dann Monasterio Popayan hotel)
- Saint Dominic Church
- La Ermita Church. The oldest church in the city built in 1546.
- Not to mention Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Popayan. Or simply: the Cathedral.
Enjoy the thermal waters
Purace Volcano is 22 kms away from Popayan, so its presence affects the existence of thermal waters around the city.
Some of the best thermal waters:
- “Agua hirviendo”: Agua Hirviendo thermal waters is a water and ecological park in Coconuco, within a few kilometers from Popayan. Apart from pools, it also has huts up to thirty people.
- “Agua tibia”: these thermal water with this particular name are located also in Coconuco, and from there you will have the chance to see its thermal fountain. It’s impressive!. Pools have a temperature of 35ºC although water emerges at 57ºC.
Discover the historical centre
Our last stop is in the historical centre which has been perfectly preserved in Colombia. Its colonial architecture gives Popayan the name of “White City”.
After 1783 earthquake, the city was almost totally rebuilt, so most of the historical buildings are preserved. 247 por lo que muchos de los edificios históricos se mantienen en pie. 247 years later, in 1983 there was 5.5 magnitude earthquake in the city and affected many historical buildings. However, a new restructuring reduced the damages.
In the city historical centre you should visit Torre del Reloj, Palacio Arzobispal de Popayan, or Parque Caldas.
The Cathedral is also in the historical centre.
If you visit Popayan, you should taste some of its typical dishes like the following:
What you should taste
Paila ice cream is typical from countries like Colombia or Ecuador and it is not made as the traditional ice creams. You can taste it in different places. The name comes from its preparation, which is made by shaking the ice cream ingredients in a metallic paila (aluminium, bronze,…) over a big ice bowl, so it starts slowly to freeze. You must taste it. Moreover, it’s 50% less fat than traditional ice creams.
This animal is reared in Nariño or Cauca’s Department. Cuy is a rodent fed mainly with cereals. That’s why its meat is lean and low fat, making it a healthy food.
It can be roasted with garlic, cumin and peppers. If you love meat, you should ask for a well-done cuy.
A traditional Popayan recipe that you should taste to know that it well worth the visit. Pipian is prepared by mixing chicken with peanut, mashed potatoes, eggs and a stew that can contain chili, peppers, tomatoes and onion.
This stew is inside the pies made with corn dough. Don’t forget to mix it with hot sauce if you taste them.
Traditional fermented drink from Colombia. It’s served cold and is perfect to share with friends in an informal dinner. You will surely find someone drinking it at many spots of Popayan. If you like Andean chichas, you should taste this beverage.
The Colombian “white city” will amaze you
Popayan history and people make you love the place. Its gastronomy, history and multiple activities allow you to feel comfortable at any time. A quiet place with fresh air and peaceful atmosphere. A place with colonial atmosphere that will take you back to the past. A place where you will find one of the best hotels in Colombia as you can see at the photos of Dann Monasterio Popayan. Enjoy Popayan!