Popayan Colombia : The Complete Travel Guide

In this article, I will show you ALL the tips to travel to Popayan. We will cover all the best things to do, places to stay, where to eat, and more. So if you plan to travel to Colombia, you will love this new guide.Let’s dive in
popayan colombia

Table of Contents

Characteristics of Popayan

Popayan is a city rich in history and tourist sites.

It is the capital of the department of Cauca, in the west of Colombia.

Its renowned cuisine earned it the title of City of Gastronomy, awarded by UNESCO in 1997.

Number of Inhabitants

The town of Popayan has a population of approximately 265,700 (2010 estimate).


Popayan is originally an Indian village, conquered in 1537 by the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar.

He founded a new town there, attached to the Audiencia Real de Quito.

Located at the crossroads of several major cities, Popayan rapidly expanded and became a point of passage and transit for goods.

It also has gold and silver mines, and as such provides for the manufacture of the national currency.

Colombia became independent in 1826.

Built in a seismic region, Popayan has had to cope with several major earthquakes, the most recent and destructive being that of March 1983.


Located in the west of Colombia, Popayan is a city quite close to the Pacific coast.

Bordered to the north by the Cauca River, it covers an area of about 500 km².

It is built at an altitude of 1760 m.

What to see?

The city of Popayan has many tourist sites to see.

Visitors can visit the Santo Domingo church, the temple of San Agustin (16th century), the National Palace and Casa Caldas.

On the museum side, the city offers, among other things, the Religious Art Museum, the Mosquera House-Museum (which belonged to one of the most illustrious families in the city), the Natural History Museum and the Negret House-Museum, where contemporary works of art are on display.

Website of the Tourist Office of Colombia.

What to do?

– Discover the historic center of Popayan, one of the most beautiful in Latin America.

– Appreciate the magnificent white buildings of the city such as the basilica-cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, a characteristic that earned Popayan its nickname of “white city”.

– Participate in the Holy Week celebrations, if your trip takes place during this period.

– Taste the local gastronomy.

Shopping ?

During your trip to Popayan, you can purchase bufandas (scarves), a ruana (Colombian pancho), Indian pottery, leather goods, as well as beautiful blankets and gold jewelry.

You will also be able to bring back mouth-watering products such as typical biscuits (torta blanca, tortilla pastel) and various drinks (agua de toley etc.).

Gastronomy and local recipe(s)

The dishes: pipian (chicken stew with mashed potatoes, roasted and ground peanuts, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes and condiments), empanadas and tamales de pipian (stuffed slippers), corn wraps, ullucos (potato-like tubers), carantanta (corn bread), sancocho (chicken soup, corn, coriander and various condiments).

Desserts: rosquillas (fritters), molletes (muffins).

Drinks: aguardiente caucano (aniseed-flavoured alcoholic drink).

What to see in the area?

In the surroundings of Popayan, various tourist sites are to be seen.

The town of Silvia (perched at an altitude of 2500 m, 40 km from Popayan) and its famous Tuesday market; San Agustin and its 130 sculpted statues; the Puracé natural park and its volcanoes.

Health ?

No vaccinations are required to travel to Colombia.

For the coastal regions and the Amazon, DTP update and yellow fever vaccine are highly recommended.

Vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever and rabies may also be recommended.

To prevent dengue fever, carry mosquito repellents.

In case of emergency, dial 123.

Hospitals in Popayan

Hospital Universitario San José Ese

  • Popayan, Cauca Dept
  • +57 823 45 08.

Clinica La Estancia

  • Calle 15N No 2 – 350
  • +572 833 10 00.

Time difference

  • In summer : – 7h
  • In winter : – 6h

What to see in Popayán ?

This city, one of the most traditional in Colombia, is a jewel of colonial architecture, whose role was important during this period.

The tour of the historic center begins with the Chapel of Belén, perched on a promontory that dominates the city.

The visit continues to other sites of interest, including the churches of the “Ermita”, San Francisco, El Carmen and the “Encarnacíon”, as well as the Museum of Religious Arts, which contains valuable objects from the colonial period in Colombia.

Tradiational Guambiano Market

Enter the Guambiano indigenous village of Silvia, in the heart of the mountains.

An authentic encounter with the Indians awaits you; as well as the opportunity to share their crafts and traditions.

The Guambianos (a community of about 12,000 people) speak their own language, Paez, or ‘Nasa Yuwe’ in the Indian language.

Both men and women wear long skirts, draped in blue and edged in pink, as well as a poncho of the same colour, a striped scarf and a hat.

This colourful farandole is especially represented on Tuesdays, during the picturesque weekly market.


Archaeological site of Tierradentro

Situated in an isolated and austere valley (4 hours drive from Popayan and 5 hours from San Agustin), this archaeological site, classified by UNESCO, offers a large number of pre-Columbian remains.

In honour of their gods and their dead, the indigenous Paeces made tombs decorated with images of birds, animals or geometric figures.

The people of Tierradentro were true craftsmen (architecture, goldsmith’s trade, sculptures, ceramics…) and the atmosphere of the place can only seduce the visitor.

The underground galleries and other funerary monuments contribute to the mystical atmosphere of the place.

Diving into this rich past preserved by the descendants of these pre-Columbian peoples is a memorable experience.

Take full advantage of the region’s wealth of historical vestiges, culture and extraordinary landscapes, while hiking through the neighbouring villages.

Note: Hypogeums are scattered on the tops of several hills.

They can be reached on foot, via paths that are sometimes rough and steep, the nearest site being 20 minutes walk away (Alto de Segovia), the furthest one 2 hours away on foot.

Level: intermediate.

Note: Consult us to know the accessibility of this area in real time.

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