Situated in the Andean cordillera halfway between Bogota and Quito, (see interactive map from Expedia, it soon drew settlers who established sugar plantations in the Cauca river valley. The mild climate attracted others and the town became an important religious center with many churches, monasteries and seminaries, as well as a prosperous trade center. Much of the activity of the area is recorded in the Popayán Papers, correspondence between the inter-related members of the local aristocracy, plus patriotic writings from Colombia's struggle for independence.
As the economic importance of the town waned, Popayán lost business, but retained its importance in religious and cultural spheres. The University of Cauca was founded in 1827, following the requirements established by Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, on the site of an indigenous village.
The colonial architecture remained intact until the devastating earthquake of 1983 left only one of the many churches standing. A massive reconstruction effort followed, restoring the town to its colonial look in the monasteries, cathedral, colonial houses, streets and museums. Popayán is a Colombian historical site listed on the national registry, and an attractive destination, particularly during the famed Semana Santa, Holy Week, celebrations. See these Popayan Area photos.
Daily domestic flights from Bogotá.
Bus service from Cali, Bogotá and other cities. These are mountainous roads and service may be halted by troops, protest groups or the FARC.
Things to Do and See
- Iglesia de San Francisco, noted for its fine side altars
- Iglesia de Santo Domingo
- Iglesia and convent de San Augustín
- Iglesia La Ermita is the oldest church, dating from 1546, and has a fine altar and frescoes which were discovered following the earthquake
- the Cathedral was almost completely destroyed and rebuilt
- Carmen, Encarnacion and San José churches
- Capilla de Bélen which offers a panoramic view of the city
- Casa Museo Mosquera for the collection of colonial art
- Museo de Arte Religioso, located in the Franciscan monastery, for the collection of religious art
- Casa Museo Negret displays contemporary art
- The colonnaded Museo Guillermo Valencia is dedicated to the poet
- Museo de Historia Natural displays insects, butterflies and birds, plus a collection of pre-Columbian pottery
Shopping and Other Tips
Colombia is still an uncertain tourist destination. Depending where you go, and what you do while you're there, your safety may be at risk. Travel with caution and please post a trip report on the forum.