In this Sum-up we are going to talk about three places in the South-West of Colombia: Ipiales, Popayan and Cali.
Ipiales is a small city that has exactly 1 important sight seeing spot. The cathedral of Ipiales, also called the Santuario de las Lajas, which is located 20 minutes outside of the city, is the only reason Ipiales really get’s visitors.
You can either take a collectivo (public van) or a taxi in order to visit the cathedral. The collectivo will cost you 1€, a cab ride probably 3-4€. We love to walk/hike, but in this case it would mean walking along a road for 10 km, which we don’t recommend.
The neo-gothic cathedral, build on a stone bridge into a valley is a spectacular sight and worth the trip. Although you can also visit the inside (a bit modern), we found the outside of the basilica way more impressive. From the bridge, that the church is build on, you can oversee the valley and gaze at the nearby waterfalls. The locals of Ipiales know that the sanctuary attracts visitors and therefore the 1km long walk from the collectivo station till the cathedral is full of little food trucks and souvenir shops.
Other than the cathedral there is not much too see in Ipiales. But if you want to check out real local life, then Ipiales is probably a pretty good choice, as nothing in the city is set up for tourism. Hostel and food prices are fairly cheap. We paid 12€ for a private with bathroom and if you eat out you can expect to get a meal for 2-3€.
We only stayed for one night in Ipiales, which in our opinion is enough. From Ipiales we took a van till Pasto and from there we continued our trip to Popayan.
Apparently there are no direct buses and therefore the stop and bus/van change in Pasto is needed. For the whole trip we paid 5€ and it took round about 8 hours. All transports in that region are actually done with vans instead of buses and there are always several companies to choose from. They all try to convince you that they offer a better service than their competitors. From our experience the service is always the same and the vans are all similar to each other, therefore just go for the cheapest price.
Popayan is a small city that also get’s left out by most backpackers. From what we understood that is due to the fact that the whole region used to have a bad reputation and is considered to be less safe than other parts in Colombia. We didn’t experience any issues, problems or weird situations. What is often the case, is that because Colombia has so many attractions and most tourists/backpackers don’t have unlimited time, people focus simply on other parts of the country.
Popayan is beautiful though. The center is full of white colonial architecture, there are beautiful buildings, little parks, the central square was decorated for new years and on the weekend there is a big market. In Popayan you’ll find only a limited amount of hostels and most hostels are actually hotels. Regardless of being in a hostel or hotel the prices are pretty low here too, you should be able to get a private for less than 15€ a night, which compared to the rest of the country is low.
We recommend Popayan to everybody that is visiting the South of Colombia. We stayed 1 night and 2 days which is enough time to get to know the city, as the city isn’t huge.
The van to Cali should under normal conditions not take more than 3 hours from Popayan. In our case it took 5 hours more, due to traffic jam and a road blockade. We finally arrived there on the 29. of December in the evening. Cali is one of the biggest cities in Colombia, it is also probably one of the less cleanest and messiest places. Cali has charm, but don’t expect to see a beautiful city and stunning, historical buildings
Some districts in Cali don’t have the best reputation. Getting into the city you will actually see a lot of poverty in the outskirts. The most recommended area to stay in for tourists, based on safety and things to do is the district of San Antonio. We also stayed in San Antonio at the „Pajara Pinta“ hostel, which we can recommend. It has a well equipped kitchen, is good located, a private costs 20€, a dorm bed round about 10€ and it has a small pool on the rooftop. We normally don’t care much for pools, but in Cali we would say it’s actually needed and a welcome treat. It get’s really really hot in Cali, in december/january we had 35-40 degrees Celsius and no wind, especially around midday you will feel the heat.
If you are heading to Cali for the biggest Salsa festival of the country, „la Feria de Cali“ then be aware that it doesn’t go until New Years, in fact it ends on the 30. of December. Trust us we checked in advance, but there was a lot of information out there stating that the festival would finish with the 31., which is sadly not the case. Therefore we actually missed la feria by a day. Although Cali is famous for it’s night life and wild salsa parties on New Years there is not that much happening. Probably because Colombians prefer spending New Years Eve at home with their family. Also they party during the „Feria de Cali“ for one week straight, maybe even Colombians do get tired after one week of dancing. Getting together with all the people of the hostel we managed to have a great hostel party though and around 1am the clubs in the neighborhood of San Antonio do open and we had a great new years eve party at the end.
Besides partying, we recommend to at least for one day walk around the district of San Antonio, as it is full of cute buildings, a nice park and many small restaurants and cafes. In San Antonio we also stumbled into La Linterna, a historical poster printing factory. They still use machines from decades ago and do beautiful work, they are also very friendly and open to show you around. For all art lovers, this is a hidden gem.
The city center is also worth a visit, we actually participated in a free walking tour and got a good insight into the culture and history of Cali. One of the must impressive buildings is the Iglesia la Ermita.
A must do if you like dancing, is a salsa class and a visit to one of the famous salsa dance clubs (we recommend Topa Tolondra). Even if you consider yourself to be a good Salsa dancer, in Cali they dance different, they have more steps, they dance way faster than cubans and they are all very very skilled (guess it’s in their blood).