Set at the foot of the Volcán Galeras in the fertile Atriz Valley, Pasto is the cultural and political capital of Nariño. Though not a beautiful city in itself, it has several fine colonial buildings as well as a bustling downtown area. Pack a sweater because days can be cool and nights are downright chilly.
The town was founded by Lorenzo de Aldana in 1537 and was an important cultural and religious center in colonial and republican times. Earthquakes have unfortunately destroyed much of its historic character; a handful of churches and palaces have been rebuilt in the original style. The city is also known nationwide for barniz de Pasto, a processed vegetable resin used to decorate wooden objects in colorful patterns.
You may be surprised at the prosperity of this remote city. Some say the economy gets a big boost from drug traffickers in neighboring Putamayo and Caquete who come to make their big-ticket purchases. That said, it feels quite safe, with streets that bustle until well after dark.