Founded by Sebastián de Belalcázar in 1537, the one-time regional capital of Popayán is best known for its abundance of whitewashed buildings, earning it the nickname "Ciudad Blanca" or the "White City." Today, Popayán remains among Colombia’s most remarkably preserved colonial cities, flanked by dramatic mountain peaks and home to one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities, which counts an impressive 16 Colombian presidents among its alumni.
Popayán's principal attraction is its colonial architecture, highlights of which include the San Francisco, Santo Domingo and La Hermita churches; the monumental Puente del Humilladero bridge; the central Parque de Caldas, overlooked by the landmark Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower); and the cathedral, which houses the 16th-century Crown of the Andes. Another draw is the nearby Purace National Park, where the now-dormant Puracé volcano has sculpted a landscape of snow-capped peaks, natural waterfalls and hot springs.
Popayán also made history in 2005, when it became UNESCO’s first ever City of Gastronomy (and the only one in Latin America), honoring the city’s varied culinary traditions and making it the ideal destination for traveling foodies to sample regional specialties like Sancocho, Tamales de Pipían and Carantanta.