Getty Images/iStockphoto


A small colonial-era city known for its chalk-white facades (its nickname is La Ciudad Blanca, or "the White City"), Popayán is second only to Cartagena as Colombia's most well-preserved historic town. Perched beneath towering mountains in the Valle de Pubenza, it was the capital of southern Colombia for centuries, before Cali overtook it.

Founded in 1537 by conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar, Popayán became an important stopping point on the road between Cartagena and Quito. Its mild climate attracted wealthy families from the sugar haciendas of the hot Valle de Cauca region. In the 17th century they began building mansions, schools, churches and monasteries.

Popayán is now home to numerous universities, and the streets of its old center are filled with students in the daytime.

Explore Popayán

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Popayán.


Learn more about Popayán

Uncover the heart of travel and be inspired to see new sights with one of Lonely Planet’s in-depth, award-winning guidebooks.