After spending a night in a tent near Las Lajas Sanctuary, we headed to Popayan, the White City of Colombia. Although we only spent three days there, we managed to get acquainted with it a bit. To be honest, we had just one day for this acquaintance, but it turned into a full adventure for us. Let us share the details.
Popayan – the white city of Colombia
Popayan was founded in the Kingdom of Peru back in 1537 by Spanish conquistadors and is considered one of the oldest cities not only in Colombia but in all of South America.
This city was significant for the Spanish, which is why it boasts beautiful colonial architecture in the Baroque style. Despite being severely damaged by several powerful earthquakes, it has been well restored and retains its former appearance.
But why is Popayan called the “White City”? Why did we name it the White City of Colombia? It’s because a couple of days before arriving in Popayan, we visited another white city, Ibarra, not in Colombia but in Ecuador.
Ibarra, just like Popayan, was heavily affected by an earthquake that claimed many lives. In order to prevent epidemics, Ibarra was painted white. However, unlike Ibarra, Popayan has always been a white city. At least, that’s what our friend Carlos, who was born and raised in this city, told us during a short tour of its historic center.
Carlos told us that from the beginning, there was a law to paint all the buildings in the city white, except for theaters, churches, museums, and other government buildings, which could be painted in various colors.
In the historical center of the city, there are indeed many Catholic churches. Seven of them are highly significant, and during Easter, pilgrims from all over the country gather here. The celebration of Holy Week in Popayan (Semana Santa) was even declared by UNESCO in 2009 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
UNESCO also recognized Popayan as a City of Gastronomy in 2005 for its rich traditional cuisine. People not only pass down recipes from generation to generation but also preserve the traditions and methods of preparing dishes. Unfortunately, besides small pastries, we didn’t get to try much here. Their pastries are so small that we would call them dumplings rather than pastries.
However, Carlos’s mother treated us to a variety of delicious dishes. Carlos himself is a professional chef, and he plans to open his restaurant. We wish him great success. Perhaps the next time we visit Popayan, we will stop by his restaurant and try something traditional.
City of Universities
Popayan is also known as the “City of Universities.” It boasts numerous universities, both private and public, with various faculties of the state university scattered throughout the city. The presence of these institutions infuses the city with a vibrant and youthful energy, making it feel lively at any time of the day.
During our tour with Carlos, we explored much of the city center and visited several universities. He also shared some of the historical landmarks with us. For example, this pedestal was once the site of a monument to Sebastian de Belalcazar, who, despite his other accomplishments, was involved in the slave trade. The decision was made to remove the monument, leaving the place empty, awaiting a monument that truly befits the location.
This place is called Morro del Tulcán, and it offers an incredible panoramic view of the entire city.
Right here, you’ll also find “Pueblito Patojo,” a small miniature version of Popayan that depicts what the city was like in its early years. The city hall office is also located nearby.
Carlos also showed us the “Puente del Humilladero” (Humiliation Bridge) and told us that, in the past, all the slaves brought by the Spaniards to Popayan entered the city through this bridge. We didn’t walk to the other side of the bridge because Carlos added that the area was not entirely safe, although it was inexpensive.
The journey home turned into an adventure.
On the way back, we encountered a real hurricane. We were just a kilometer from Carlos’s home when it started raining. Within minutes, it turned into a huge storm with thunder, heavy rain, and strong winds that tore roofs off houses and sent torrents of water flowing through the streets. There was nothing we could do but take shelter under a small roof with other people. Two men on a motorcycle approached and also sought refuge under our roof. We huddled behind their motorcycle to shield ourselves from the cold splashes.
However, the wind became so fierce that water was coming at us from all directions. That’s when these men pulled out a large poncho and covered all of us, including themselves. Even after the storm subsided, we were still soaked to the bone. The hurricane was a real spectacle, and the thunder was so loud it was genuinely frightening. So our journey home turned into a thrilling experience. Scary, but fun!
The next day, we had to wait for our clothes and shoes to dry, so we spent the day at home. Then we headed to Cartago, which we’ll tell you about in the next post.
With love from Popayán, Nastya and Vasya