La Ciudad Blanca de Colombia
02.01.2015 - 03.01.2015 68 °F
Popayán is today the capital of the Cauca department in southwestern Colombia but in colonial days it was the most important stoping off point on the long trek from Cartagena to Quito. Founded in January 1537 by Sebastián de Benalcázar, Popayán is known as La Ciudad Blanca. With its white-washed adobe structures and cobblestone streets set in a cool Andean valley, Popayán is a magical delight any time of year but its Holy Week processions make that time of the year something truly spectacular. Its historic center has nearly a dozen late Baroque churches filled with stunning religious art dating back to the 17th century.
The city's Torre del Reloj was built between 1673 and 1682. Its current clock was manufactured in England and installed in 1737! Beyond the spectacular colonial architecture and Baroque churches, Popayán delights with its variety of cafés, restaurants and shops. The city is known also for its empanadas and tamales served with a spicy peanut sauce. By Colombian standards, Popayán is a small city with only a little more than a quarter of a million inhabitants. At 1760 meters (5770 feet) above sea level, Popayán enjoys a pleasant spring like climate with warm days and cool nights. Its historic district centers around the Parque de Caldas named for Francisco José de Caldas. Known as El Sabio, the Wise One, Caldas was a true son of the Enlightenment. Born in Popayán in 1768, Caldas, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, was a lawyer, a naturalist, a geographer, an astronomer, a journalist, and martyr of Colombian Independence. He was executed by General Pablo Murillo during his reign of terror in Santa Fé de Bogotá in 1816. Around the park that bears his name in Popayán can be found some impressive structures including the Alcaldía and the Cathedral. All date to the colonial period.
Stay at the Hotel Los Balcones, a stone's throw from the Parque de Caldas, an elegant and spacious hotel that once home to two Presidents of Colombia (17 Colombian Presidents hail from Popayán and its environs). Run by María Estella Castrillón Muñoz and owned by her family, she is an affable and erudite host providing her clientele with the ins and outs that any visit to Popayán should include.