Popayan – The white city, founded in 1537
April 27, 2014 – April, 30, 2014
Hurrying ahead of the threatened farmers strike, we rushed to Popayan from Salento, the traditional colonial city known for its solid bright white buildings. The ride was uneventful, no farmers with pitchforks blocked our bus’s path, there was however a noticeable increase in police and military presence along the side of the road. It seemed every two or three kilometers there was a group of policemen or military personal standing alongside the road watching the traffic. Our bus was pulled over halfway to Popayan, just south of Cali and everyone was asked to get off the bus, and to stand with their arms out and were searched along with our bags. Nothing of any interest was found and our bus was allowed to continue uninterrupted to Popayan.
A modern city with a traditional colonial center, Popayan is similar to many other colonial towns but every building is painted bright white. Admittedly after seeing so many colonial town centers the charm wore off after a couple hours of sightseeing. While beautifully maintained there is not very much to do in town.
We stayed at the Parklife Hostel which had a view of the main plaza, something which stepped up our experience of Popayan quite a bit. A short walk from the central plaza will take you to the one of the cities oldest surviving structures, a small stone bridge built in 1713 to allow the priests to cross the river. The larger bridge constructed right next to the smaller bridge was built in 1873 to accommodate more traffic. Earthquakes have destroyed much of Popayan’s oldest buildings.
On our second full day we took a bus to the small nearby town of Silvia to check out their weekly Tuesday morning market. The Guambianos, the local indigenous people descend from the surrounding hills in brightly colored buses to sell their produce and handicrafts. Remarkably shy, it is difficult to get photographs of the Guambiano people. The market was interesting but quite small. It was fun to the Guambiano men and women in their traditional dress.
The market itself is not a touristy market, there is a lot of real haggling over produce and meat here. Buyers come from surrounding towns every Tuesday to buy in bulk. The constant haggling can be fun to watch.
While Popayan was a pleasant place, the city itself does not have a tremendous amount to offer travelers. Though we did like Popayan, if you have a limited amount of time in Colombia your time is probably better spent elsewhere.