Popayan, a white city in Colombia

A girl dancing on a street, Popayan

Popayan is a small town perfectly capturing the atmosphere of Colombian province. The mild climate has attracted merchants and sugar cane plantation owners, who settled here looking for a quiet place away from overpopulated and sweltering Cali. The city started to develop in sixteenth century and has maintained its unique colonial character up to date. A major landmark is a square called Parque Caldas and from there on you can get nearly everywhere else on foot.

Two bridges made of stone are an interesting example of local architecture. The bridges were built long ago and have survived numerous earthquakes occurring in this area. Puente del Humilladero, the larger of the bridges was made with a concept to replace a smaller one, crossing which people needed to climb down to the level of the river and then up the hill before entering the city center. For many years only the privileged citizens were entitled to use the larger bridge.

Climbing to the vintage point el Moro you can admire the whole city’s skyline and being here you easily understand why Popayan is called “The White City”. A nearby Rincon Payanes is a miniature of Popayan containing highlights of the city. There is also white architecture, the two bridges, Parque Caldas with its clock tower and cathedral, all of them miniaturized.

Strolling through the center it is easy to get lost and the whole pleasure comes from walking the identical-looking narrow streets in search of the way back.

After a busy day of sightseeing, it is worth to stay in one of local bars. There are places with live music, salsa and rhythmic drums, as well as a bit more classical premises, where antique decor completes with sounds of vintage vinyl records.

This is indeed a small and a very friendly town. Strolling through the streets it is easy to get to know random people and even easier to have fun and experience a live tradition that is part of everyday life in Popayan. This way I happen to visit concerts, street parades, a Colombian birthday party, some performances of musicians, a Sunday’s family event on a hacienda or the annual corn festival.

December 2011

popayan