Popayán, in southwest Colombia, was founded in 1537. It was once one of the most important cities in South America, being strategically located between the three major Spanish ports of Cartagena, Quito, and Lima.
All the gold recovered by the conquistadors in Peru transited through Popayán on its way to Spain. Popayán became wealthy and important; it became the White City.
It remains one of the best preserved colonial cities in Colombia.
Popayán maintained its political importance over the years, rearing no less than 17 Colombian presidents, as well as giving birth to notable poets, painters, and composers.
Museo Guillermo León Valencia, Popayán
Museo Guillermo León Valencia (shown below) is the former home – some might say mansion – of the much acclaimed poet Guillermo Valencia (whose son went on to become president of Colombia).
There are several other period homes in Popayán also worth visiting, including the Mosquera House Museum.
Humilladero Bridge, Popayán
This twelve arch bridge, built in 1873, was once the main entrance to the city. It spans a natural, awkward depression in the landscape that locals used to scramble across on their hands and knees – hence the name: He Who Bows In Humility Bridge.
Mora Castilla, Popayán
Mora Castilla is a great little ma-and-pa restaurant selling all sorts of local dishes. Try the salpicón payanese, a drink made of blackberry, citrus, and crushed ice.
El Morro del Tulcán
A mysterious, pre-Columbian, grass covered-pyramid about which almost nothing is known, apart from that it is a mysterious, pre-Columbian, grass-covered pyramid.
Practical Information and how to reach Popayán:
Popayán is an easy, safe 2.5-hour trip from Cali – the so-called salsa capital of the world, and nearest hub.
The highway between Popayán and Pasto, near the border with Ecuador, is a little less safe; make sure you only travel during daylight hours. The same goes for travel between Popayán and San Agustín. More transport info here.