Introducing Popayan – Colombia’s White City and a Colonial Gem

Popayan, Colombia isn’t often on the radar of tourists passing through Colombia. Many only stumble upon it as a way to break up the trip from Cali to the Ecuador border.

If you’ve heard of Popayan, you’ll have heard that it’s the White City. Yes, another old-fashioned colonial city in Colombia, that is awash in white paint.

Don’t get me wrong, the city is absolutely beautiful, but unlike many other colonial cities, there’s actually a lot more on offer here from great dining, high quality coffee, and modern comforts surrounding the old town from movie theaters to supermarkets.

But any first time visit to Popayan should be spent in the heart of the old city, getting to know the area and what makes it special.

Here’s a few recommendations to get your bearings in Popayan, Colombia:

Explore the White City

The historic downtown core (in the blocks immediately surrounding Parque Caldas) are simply beautiful. The old school colonial architecture on display is relatively simple with its white washed style, but at the same time is quite ornate with subtle details upon closer inspection.

I found myself just wandering aimlessly and finding hidden treasures on any given block.

Be sure not to miss the Puente de Humilladero, a 19th century bridge that provides pedestrian only access to the center of town. It’s eleven arches span nearly 800 feet.

Drink Coffee at Oromo

Popayan has a handful of great coffee shops, which caught me be surprise given the size of the city. Oromo was hands-down my favorite coffee shop in town, and it would easily given even the best coffee shop in Medellin a run for its money.

The place is unassuming, laid back and casual, but they take their coffee seriously here.

Incredibly, you can get siphon brewed coffee here, which is something that is relatively rare in the United States, and almost unheard of in Colombia.

Morro de Tulcan

If you’re looking to take in a view of the White City, you can’t go wrong with a short hike up to the Morro de Tulcan.

The walk to the base of the hill from downtown is short and safe, and the area is full of the many students that call Popayan home.

Try the Delicious Pipian

Maybe after a hike up to the top of Morro de Tulcan, you worked up an appetite?

You can’t miss the empanadas or tamales de pipian, a local take on these popular regional dishes.

Pipian is a stuffing made from a potato base and mixed with ground peanuts, garlic, tomato, hard boiled egg and more.

Both the tamales and empanadas are served up with a spicy peanut sauce that you can drench over the top.

You will see signs for pipian all over town, but one of the best places in town is Mora Castilla, located just a few blocks from Parque Caldas.

You may think that “best places in town” would also mean expensive, but in this case it is actually absurdly cheap. It’s basically street food prices, served at a sit down restaurant.

You can grab 10 mini empanadas for just over a dollar. This is the place to go if you want some local delicacies — hopefully you can find a seat, it’s quite popular.

Visit Popayan

If you’re traveling through southern Colombia, I would highly recommend a stop in Popayan for a few nights. It is absolutely worth the time, and remains of my most pleasant surprises while traveling through Colombia.

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Ryan S.

Ryan was planning to backpack through all of South America, but he started in Colombia and never made it past Medellin. He has since called Medellin home, as he explores everything this incredible city and country has to offer.

  • Nice, I’ve never been, I’ll have to make a trip. Never heard of pipian, sounds delicious.