Popayán is known throughout Colombia for its whitewashed colonial city center. It’s one of the best-preserved colonial cities in all of Latin America. Homes, government buildings, churches, museums, and shops are all painted white.
Popayán used to be an important stop on the road from Lima and Quito to Cartagena and it has done a wonderful job of preserving its past. Many of the buildings were destroyed or severely damaged in a 1983 earthquake and it took over 10 years to rebuild most of them.
Other than the beautiful colonial churches and interesting museums, the “White City” can be a rewarding place to walk through. The focal point of the historic city center is Parque Caldas. This huge plaza is home to the cathedral, government buildings, and a nice clock tower.
In the center are tall trees and a monument to Francisco José de Caldas, a national hero of Colombia originally from Popayán. Street vendors are scattered throughout.
Panteón de los Próceres
Just north of the plaza is the Panteón de los Próceres. Several important sons of Popayán are buried inside, including Caldas and José Hilario López, the signer of the declaration ending slavery in Colombia in 1851.
Teatro Municipal Guillermo Valencia
On the next corner is Teatro Municipal Guillermo Valencia, a theatre which opened in 1927. The rooftop is adorned with eight of the nine muses of Greek mythology (missing is Calliope). We asked to look inside but were denied.
Puente del Humilladero
Puente del Humilladero is an arched bridge on the northern boundary of historic Popayán. It was built around 1860 to allow easier access to the city center from the north. It has 11 arches and is 240m long.
Puente de la Custodia
Next to Puente del Humilladero is the tiny Puente de la Custodia, the original bridge built in 1713 to allow priests to attend to the sick in the poorer northern suburbs.
El Morro de Tulcán
For great views of Popayán, head to El Morro de Tulcán. This grass-covered hill is thought to be a pyramid built in pre-Columbian times. Legend says it’s filled with gold and riches. The hill is topped with an equestrian statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar, a conquistador the founder of Popayán in 1537.
Finally, next to El Morro de Tulcán is a miniature version of Popayán, Rincón Payanés. This is a place to buy local arts and crafts. There were only a couple shops open at the time we visited and it wasn’t very interesting. It’s better to walk around the actual city.