The town of Popayán is a small and perfectly formed colonial town often referred to as the White City due to the prevalence of the chalk-white facades of the homes and buildings in the historical center. Founded in 1537 by the Conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar, it played an important role in colonial times as it was the middle point in the journey between Cartagena and Quito. Its temperate climate attracted many wealthy colonial landowning families from the Valle del Cauca and Cali in addition to gold prospectors from Barbacoas in Chocó. These settlers built stately houses in Popayán and equally fine churches decorated with artwork brought from Spain. Popayán was an important administrative point in the times of Nueva Granada and was, besides Santa Fé de BOGOTÁ, the only town to have its own coin mint.

Popayán’s historic center is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved in Colombia with important houses that have become heritage symbols such as Mosquera House Museum, a mansion that was once home to General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, a Colombia’s President on four occasions. The Guillermo León Valencia National Museum is dedicated to the Popayán-born poet who once lived here. There are also stunning churches such as the San Francisco Church, the largest and most beautiful in town; the Santo Domingo Church; San José Church as well as the oldest, the La Ermita Church. Although the original town was damaged by a 1983 earthquake, all of the historic buildings were completely restored. Popayán is also famous for its Easter Week processions, a tradition from colonial times which its inhabitants have lovingly preserved.  In 2009 Popayán’s Holly Week celebrations were declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.