The small, unassuming town of Aguadas, one of Colombia’s prestigious Pueblos de Patrimonio, has contributed a lot to the country’s culture. Sitting high in the mountains in the department of Caldas, it’s known not only as the sombrero capital of Colombia, but also the home of Colombia’s best pionono pastry, the capital of pasillo music, and last but not least, the city of “brumas” (clouds that frequently engulf the town). If that’s not enough, Aguadas is included in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. That’s quite a lot to live up to.
The Sombrero Aguadeño is the typical hat of the Paisa region. It’s not much different from the more famous Panama hat and is made from a palm straw called iraca. Although these hats are sold everywhere, the finest come from Aguadas.
While asking around, we were sent to a house a few blocks from the main plaza to buy our authentic hats. The house has a sign outside, Sombreros Pipintá. Knock on the door and you’ll be escorted through the house into the small showroom to choose your hat. They’re all handmade by Jorge Valencia López with prices ranging from COP$45,000 for basic but durable hats to over COP$100,000 for the finest quality stitching. Hats sold in the stores around town will cost almost double, and the locals who guided us to Sombreros Pipintá said Jorge’s hats are the finest in town. In any case, a visitor to Aguadas should always come home with an authentic Sombrero Aguadeño.
Ask Jorge for a tour of his workshop and he’ll happily show you to the back of the house. There you’ll see the molds and presses where he makes the hats and the sewing machines where he finishes them off.
The pionono is a popular pastry all over South America, but in Aguadas you’ll find Colombia’s finest. Many street vendors at bus stations and small souvenir shops all over the country will sell piononos. They’re all filled with arequipe and some have raisins or guava or some kind of fruit mixed in. None compare to the quality of the Pionono Aguadeño. The moist bread is filled with arequipe and has figs and guava mixed in. Absolutely delicious. They’re sold all over town but we were sent to Piononos Trukky for what many locals consider the best. They’re boxed nicely and sold in full rolls (COP$15,000), half rolls (COP$8,000), and individual portions (COP$1,500).
Pasillo music is also a specialty of Aguadas. The Fiesta Nacional del Pasillo Colombiano (National Festival of Colombian Pasillo) takes place every August in the town attracting people from all over the country. There are parades, parties, concerts, competitions and more. The video below is of the winning vocalist of the 23rd annual festival in 2014.
In the heart of the town, there’s not much to see outside of the beautiful plaza, which has a few colonial buildings surrounding it and a fountain in the center.
The church is nice to visit as well.
A block uphill from the plaza and across the street from the police station is the Casa de la Cultura. There you’ll find the Museo del Sombrero, which pays homage to the different traditional hats worn in Colombia. Both times we’ve tried to go, it’s been closed.
The rest of the town is fairly sleepy but wandering around might be rewarding for lovers of colonial architecture.
On the southern end of town is a small replica village of what Aguadas used to look like. You’ll find small homes and offices filled with antique furniture, tools, and items along with a café. It’s a bit out of the way but a nice place to visit.