Known as ‘The White City’ due to the colour of the stone used in the construction of the buildings in the historic centre, Popayán, for us, was all about extra Spanish lessons and an epic downhill bike ride!
We stayed at Hostel Caracol which is well placed in the historic district and is also where we booked our excellent Spanish teacher for ten hours of lessons. Caracol have bikes that are free to borrow but they are SHITE.
Miguel was an excellent teacher and the lessons were some of the most reasonably priced in Colombia, costing 200,000 Colombian pesos for 10 hrs for the pair of us – so about 50 quid all in. Not bad! Miguel’s classes even included a walking tour where he taught us some of the history and showed us some of the highlights of Popayán, including a visit to a great restaurant called Mora Castilla, which served traditional food from the region including the best potato empanadas and a slushy fruit treat called salpicon.
One of the most interesting things we learnt was that Popayán’s famous white buildings were not introduced as an aesthetic addition, but instead the chalk from the walls helped to combat the problem with the awful parasitic insects called ‘niguas’. The insects would live in the gaps amongst the cobbles in the old streets of Popayán, and bury themselves and lay eggs under human toenails. This caused the shoe-less indigenous people serious pain and the people of Popayán were known to walk like dogs as they kept their toes in the in the air and walked on their heels. Google niguas to get an idea of the damage!
If you ever find yourself in Colombia looking to do Spanish lessons, send us a note and we can pass on Miguel’s email address!
Though it made the perfect base for 4 days of Spanish lessons, and despite having a pretty enough main square and historic centre, there really wasn’t that much to do in the city and it isn’t very pretty outside of the most central streets. There are lots of churches but night life and decent, cheap bars were lacking. It is worth a day and a night before you move on to San Agustin.
The highlight of our time in Popayán, apart from meeting Miguel, was a the Coconuco Downhill Cycling Trip booked at the hostel with Popayán Tours.
We were driven uphill to the indigenous village of Coconuco around 10am. There we spent about an hour in a sulphur-stenched thermal baths where Ashleigh turned her shiny silver jewellery a dark grey colour, and I poached my foot in a dangerously hot thermal pool. It seemed weird to relax our muscles before we did the 30km bike ride back to the hostel, but it was pleasant enough.
The majority of the bike ride was downhill and it was brilliant fun, I was flying along having the time of my life overtaking mopeds and cars.
Ashleigh was apprehensive at first but soon we were both flying down the mountainside roads at serious speeds, completing the ride in a few hours, with a break for lunch.
We would recommend the trip for anyone visiting Popayán as it was more fun than strenuous. Just make sure the breaks work!
Another day was spent drinking a metre of beer at Popayán mall, watching the Euro 2016 final. We smashed it before full time.