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Downtown Popayán with Puracé volcano in the background.


Nickname(s): "The White City"
Location of the City and municipality of Popayán in the Cauca Department.
Popayán is located in Colombia
Location in Colombia
Coordinates: 2°27′N 76°37′W / 2.45°N 76.617°W / 2.45; -76.617
Country  Colombia
Departamento Cauca
Foundation 13 January 1537
 - Mayor Ramiro Navia
 - Total 483.11 km2 (186.5 sq mi)
Elevation 1,737 m (5,699 ft)
Population (2005 census)[1]
 - Total 258,653
 Density 535.3/km2 (1,386.4/sq mi)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) not observed (UTC-5)

Popayán is a municipality and def. is a capital city of the Colombian department of Cauca, with a population of about 215,000 people. It was conquered by Sebastián de Belalcázar on 13 January 1537. It is known as the "white city" because of its beautiful colonial houses. Located at an altitude of 1,737 meters, the city is well-known for its colonial architecture and its contributions to Colombian cultural and political life. The city's Cathedral was home to the Crown of the Andes, a 16th century Marian devotional object featuring emeralds taken from the captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa before its sale to finance local healthcare institutions. More presidents have come from Popayán than any other city in Colombia and it was also home to noted poets, painters, and composers. Here is also located the Universidad del Cauca (est. 1827), one of Colombia's oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education. Much of the city's original splendor was destroyed on 31 March 1983, when an earthquake toppled many buildings. Though many were rebuilt and repaired, the colonial center still bears ruins and empty lots from the disaster. Nearby is Puracé National Park, a geothermal wonderland of hot springs, waterfalls, and a (currently) inactive volcano from which the park derives its name. The nearest large city is Cali, in the neighbouring department of Valle del Cauca, to the north.


The word Popayán comes from an Indian dialect. It means:

Po: Two

Pa: Straw

Yan: Village

Two villages with straw roofs. However there is no straw roofs in town any more although there is plenty of them in the city neighborhood.

There are no records regarding the pre-Hispanic history of the indigenous town of Popayán, but in 13 January 1537 Spanish conqueror Sebastian de Belalcázar came to the conquered town and declared the foundation of Popayán. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Popayán was administered by an appointed governor under the jurisdiction of the royal audiencia, court, of Quito. It was a very important town during the colony because its location between Lima, Quito and Cartagena. Even after the discovery of the Pacific Ocean, Popayán was a transfer point of gold and riches going to Cartagena on its way to Spain. Popayan also served as a colonial mint producing various denominations of the gold Escudo coins and silver Reales from 1760 through 1819; and continued to produce coinage for the new Republic of Colombia after 1826. [1] As a result Popayán is one of the most traditional Colombian towns and very rich in Colonial architecture; although in 1983 an earthquake destroyed part of the city. There are several colonial bridges, museums and churches in the town.

Natives populated the town before the conquest. Next to the city there is still a huge mound built by the Indians similar to a pyramid and presently covered by grass. Legend says the inner structure holds richness and gold. Conquistadores settled next to the Indians taking advantage of their good heartiness and cheap labor. Catholicism was offered and taken by the Indians in exchange for their gold and work.

Humilladero Bridge
Clock Tower
Belen Church
Purace volcano

The city is home to an ancient pre-Hispanic pyramid known as El Morro del Tulcán. El Morro was already abandoned when the Spanish first arrived to the city in 1535. Analysis of dental samples taken revealed that the individuals buried there probably belonged to the most important social class from their respective Indian society.

Popayán is the city with most Colombian presidents, a total of 17 presidents were born there.

Popayán has been destroyed by several earthquakes. The most recent and the most destructive lasted for eighteen seconds and occurred on 31 March 1983. The reconstruction of the colonial city took more than 10 years and still today it is possible to see some lots that have not been reconstructed. The first earthquake seismic design code was established in Colombia as a consequence of this earthquake.

External links


  1. ^ Krause "World Coins 1701-1800" 4th Ed and "1801-1900" 5th Ed, Colin R. Bruce II, Sr. editor

Popayán travel guide from Wikitravel

Coordinates: 2°26′N 76°37′W / 2.433°N 76.617°W / 2.433; -76.617


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Popayán (Pronounced: Po - pa - 'yan), is a colonial-era city in southwestern Colombia, capital of the Cauca department.


The city was founded in the year 1537 by Sebastian de Belalcazar. Because of its beautiful colonial houses, it is known as the "white city". Popayan has played a major role in Colombia's history dating back to the early days of the Spanish conquest and into the twentieth century. A number of Colombian presidents were born in Popayan including, most recently, Guillermo Leon Valencia from 1962 to 1966. Other well-known citizens include Francisco Jose de Caldas (1768-1816) and Camilo Torres (1766-1816). Popayán has one of Colombia's oldest universities: the Universidad del Cauca, founded in 1827. The University is well known throughout the country for its Law School, Medical School, and its Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering programs.

  • By air: Popayan's airport does not have heavy traffic but you can reach the city by air. There are about four daily flights from Bogota to Popayan and vice versa. The airport is open between 6 AM and 6 PM (daylight hours). There are no flights between Cali and Popayan as of this writing (December 2008). The airport in the neighbor city of Cali (100 minute car ride) serves many domestic and international destinations.
  • By taxi: in Colombia it is common to travel by taxi between major cities. You can get on a shared cab at any major transportation terminal. If you want a cab just for yourself, you will need to pay a fare equivalent as if the cab was full.
  • By bus: the bus from Cali to Popayan takes only two hours and there are numerous bus companies available. The most reliable are bus operators are Expreso Palmira and Expreso Bolivariano. Avoid Expreso Puerto Tejada. If you are in southern Colombia and traveling northwards, the bus from Pasto to Popayan takes about 4 to 6 hours. Be advised that there is significant guerrilla activity in the countryside near Popayan and it can be risky to travel by land during periods of disturbance if you are not a local. There are daily buses from the border town of Ipiales.
  • By train: unfortunately, Colombia no longer has a rail service to speak-of. Until the early 1970's you could still travel between cities like Cali and Popayan by rail, but the Colombian government let the national rail company go bankrupt. Sadly enough, many rail tracks were stolen for use in construction projects in rural areas.


Since Popayan was a seat of power during Spanish colonial times, there are numerous architectural gems in the city. Some of the most impressive are, naturally, churches. Do not miss: Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia La Ermita, and Belen which is perched on top of a small hill overlooking Popayan. As for government buildings the Gobernacion and the Universidad del Cauca have excellent colonial premises. Another architectural site is the Puente del Humilladero, which is a long walking bridge over a river in Popayan that was constructed in old Roman style.

Popayan's central square is called the Parque de Caldas, named after one of Popayan's most famous citizens: Francisco Jose de Caldas (1768-1816). On one side of the square is a city landmark called the Torre del Reloj or the 'Clock Tower.' The clock was designed by Caldas himself and was constructed in Croydon, England before being shipped to Colombia. A few doors down from the Torre del Reloj is the city's Cathedral, which was badly damaged during the major eartquake that almost destroyed the whole city on March 31, 1983. The city took almost 20 years to fully recover from the quake but the vast majority of the buildings in the white colonial centre have now been restored to their former glory.

The city is world-renowned for its Easter celebrations, or the Semana Santa. In fact, the celebrations are the second largest in the world (after Seville, Spain) and are a major sight! Every night during Semana Santa, there are processions in the streets and tens of thousands of people line the sidewalks to watch as floats pass by with religious motifs. The floats are carried on the shoulders of human volunteers. It's a great honour to be selected for the Semana Santa processions but the floats can weigh up to 500 kilo and so dislocated shoulders are frequent. It's a major cultural event that is witnessed by people from all over the country.

  • Universidad del Cauca [1]


You can buy some crafthands. They are specially made for guambiano indians


In 2005, Popayan became the first city to be designated a City of Gastronomy as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative. For cheap and genuine food, try the market near Plaza Bolivar, north of the Puente del Humilladero. Meals from COP$ 1500 (June 2008).

  • Carantanta soup
  • Tamales de pipian
  • Empanadas de pipian
  • Champús
  • Manjar Blanco or Payanés
  • Manjarillo
  • Cortado
  • Breva Calada
  • Paila's Ice cream.
  • Envuelto
  • Rosquilla


Aguardiente caucano is a drink based on Anis and it has some degrees of alcohol. It's the favorite drink in informal parties.

  • El Sotareño, Calle 6, 8-05. A small and friendly bar with oldish music and good atmosphere.  edit


There is a lot of budget accommodation in Carrera 6, just across the Puente del Humilladero, north of the Rio Molino.

  • Residencial Florida, Carrera 6. Very simple rooms with shared toilet/bathroom Singles from COP$ 7000.  edit
  • Hotel Monasterio, Calle 4, between Carreras 10 and 11. This is a city landmark in itself. It used to be a Monastery and it was converted into a very nice hotel. It is behind the Iglesia de San Jose. It is about 4 city blocks from the Parque de Caldas.  edit
  • Hostel Trail, Carrera 11 #4-16 (20 meters from Hotel Monasterio), 314 696 0805, [2]. The backpacker's choice in Popayan with private and dorm rooms, broadband internet, WIFI, Skype, DVD Collection, hot water, laundry and self-catering kitchen and breakfast service. Dorms: COP$15.000, Privates: COP$19.000PP, Singles: COP$28.000.  edit
  • Hotel Camino Real, Carrera 5, #5-59, 011-57-2-8243595. This is a very good hotel located in the the city center about 1 block away from the Parque de Caldas. The food is unexpectedly sophisticated. The service is cordial, especially important for non-Spanish speaking guests. The decor reflects the Spanish influence, but makes you feel at home. The rooms are comfortable for the business traveler as well as for visiting families. Reasonably priced rooms. Located in the heart of the city.  edit
  • Casa Familiar Turistica, Carrera 5 No. 2-07, (092)8244853. This is a smallish family run hostel with an excellent location right inside the historical center. The family seems mostly indifferent, neither helpful or rude. It offers two hot showers, kitchen use (with a fee), laundry service and breakfast for COP$3.000. Price for a dormbed was COP$13.000 but has been rising.  edit
  • Coconuco, one hour from Popayan, this small town offers the Hirviendes hot springs.
  • Purace
  • Salvajina
  • Silvia, about one hour from Popayan, in the land of the Guambiano Indians. There is a spectacular market there on Tuesdays.
  • San Agustin, a small town with dozens of pre-Colombian statues, waterfalls and beautiful views can be reached in about 7 hours vie rough unpaved roads.
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

POPAYAN, a city of Colombia, capital of the department of Cauca, about 240 m. S.W. of Bogota., on the old trade route between that city and Quito, in 2° 26' N., 76° 49' W. Pop. (1870), 8485; (1906, estimate), 10,000. Popayan is built on a great plain sloping N.W. from the foot of the volcano Purace, near the source of the Cauca and on one of its small tributaries, 5712 ft. above the sea. Its situation is singularly picturesque, the Purace rising to an elevation of 15,420 ft. about 20 m. south-east of the city, the Sotara volcano to approximately the same height about the same distance south by east, and behind these at a greater distance the Pan de Azucar, 15,978 ft. high. The ridge forming the water-parting between the basins of the Cauca and Patia rivers crosses between the Central and Western Cordilleras at this point and culminates a few miles to the south. Popayan is the seat of a bishopric dating from 1547, whose cathedral was built by the Jesuits; and in the days of its prosperity it possessed a university of considerable reputation. It has several old churches, a college, two seminaries founded about 1870 by the French Lazarists, who have restored and occupy the old Jesuit convent, and a mint established in 1749. The city was at one time an important commercial and mining centre, but much of its importance was lost through the transfer of trade to Cali and Pasto, through the decay of neighbouring mining industries, and through political disturbances. Earthquakes have also caused much damage to Popayan, especially those of 1827 and 1834. The modern city has some small manufacturing industries, including woollen fabrics for clothing, but its trade is much restricted, and its importance is political rather than commercial.

Popayan was founded by Sebastian Benalcazar in 1538 on the site of an Indian settlement, whose chief, Payan, had the unusual honour of having his name given to the usurping town. In 1558 it received a coat of arms and the title of "Muy noble y muy Leal" from the king of Spain - a distinction of great significance in that disturbed period of colonial history. It is noted also as the birthplace of Caldas, the Colombian naturalist, and of Mosquera, the geographer. There are hot sulphurous springs near by on the flanks of the volcano Purace, especially at Coconuco, which are much frequented by Colombians.

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