Popayán is the capital of the Cauca department in Colombia. The downtown is considered one of the most beautiful and
well preserved Colonial centers in Colombia. High in the mountains of Valle de Pubenza, Popayán radiates historical
richness. Particularly the chalk-white buildings and facades contribute to this, making it also known as La Ciudad Blanca,
the white city.
However, this old lesser-known capital of southern Colombia surprises you more. You walk and see the center of the city
with many Colonial buildings through the ornate churches and squares, while the busy streets full of students are buzzing
with energy. This makes Popayán one of the most interesting colonial cities on your trip through Colombia.
La Ciudad Blanca and a city of gastronomy
Founded by Sebastián de Belalcázar in 1537 on his passage from Cartagena to Quito, Popayán soon became an
important political, religious and cultural center. It is located in southwestern Colombia between the Western Mountain
Range and Central Mountain Range and its mild climate attracted wealthy families, which led to the construction of
mansions, schools and a number of imposing churches in the seventeenth century.
A devastating earthquake in March 1983 toppled many of colonial houses and churches and killed hundreds of people.
The reconstruction lasted almost twenty years and the White City was reborn.
Popayán was also declared by UNESCO as the first city of gastronomy because of its variety and meaning to the
intangible patrimony of Colombian culture. The culinary history of the Cauca was chosen because it maintains traditional
food preparation methods that have been passed down orally for generations. Traditional culinary practices are protected
and encouraged in Popayán, such as the traditional cooking methods called “desamargodos” which have survived the
industrialization of cooking processes.
Iglesia de San Francisco
You should begin your walk at the largest and most impressive colonial church in Popayán; Iglesia de San Francisco.
With its late baroque architecture, this church is considered one of the most important churches in Colombia. Once you
enter the church, you will be greeted by a huge altar in the middle and the collection of seven unique altars on the side.
This church is also known for keeping the unidentified mummies that were found in the ossuary by the 1983 earthquake
attack. Two mummies have been kept still in the church that you can visit them if you ask the staff.
Other places of interest in Popayán
Continue to the river, where you can admire Puente del Humilladero. This 240-meter long bridge was built in the
nineteenth century to improve the accessibility of the northern neighborhoods of Popayán.
Also, take a look at one of the interesting museums in Popayán. Stroll through the colonial streets full of whitewashed
mansions. But never forget to take a map with you. Although the center of Popayán is small, you might easily get lost
because all the streets look alike to each other. When the day is almost over, probably it is a great idea to have a nice
drink at the bustling center.