Continuing from my previous post. After Salento, I continued my journey down south. When I told my friends in Medellin that I will be exploring South Colombia solo. Almost everyone told me “Cuidate” (Take care of yourself). South Colombia is traditionally known to be unsafe. Particularly, the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Putumayo & Nariño. I explored Cali, Popayan, Ipiales, Pasto, Mocoa/Villagarzon during my travel to South Colombia. This was my experience. Read on!
CALI: EXPLORING CITY OF SALSA WITHOUT SALSA
After Salento, I traveled to Cali. Cali is the capital of the Valle del Cauca department in the southwest of Colombia. Cali is world-renowned as The City Of Salsa. Salsa is a popular dance form that originated from Latin America. Unfortunately, I traveled to the city when there was no sign of salsa due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even dancing in public places was prohibited stripping the city of its nightlife. In Cali, I stayed in a hostel in the San Antonio neighbourhood. During the course of 4 days, I explored San Antonio church, Cristo Rey, Ermita church, Cat Park, Hill of three crosses and the city centre. It was a mixed bag experience. I enjoyed visiting the San Antonio church, especially the neighbouring garden and the city view from there. I went all the way to Cristo Rey to found out it was closed which was a bit disappointed but saw some nice panoramic views of the city of Cali. Ermita church looks stunning from the outside and even more so during the night. It was closed due to the pandemic. It was an interesting experience to visit Cat Park(locally known as El Gato del Río). A must visit place for cat lovers. My hike to the Hill of three crosses was somewhat marred due to the hot weather as I started my ascend late in the morning. It is highly advisable to start the hike early in the morning. The city centre has some stunning architecture. All the museums were closed during my visit. As far as safety is concerned, I never faced any issue. One day I returned from San Antonio church to my hostel by walk close to midnight. It was a 10 minutes walk. Upon my return, the manager of the hostel was a bit concerned about me. He advised me to avoid walking late at night on empty streets. A bit ironic I thought given the city is known as “The City of Night”. Many local people told me that I have to come back to Cali when things go back to normal to see the city in its full glory. Well, I did manage to take a few salsa classes at my hostel and would love to return back to Cali someday to experience this vibrant city.
POPAYAN: COLOMBIA’s WHITE CITY
After Cali, I continue my journey down south. I reached Popayan in the department of Cauca. Popayan is known as “Colombia’s White City” due to all the buildings are painted in the colour white virtually. I used Couchsurfing for accommodation which made my visit memorable. As anticipated, several attractions were closed in the city. Traveling after the quarantine was quite different but for me, people always hold more importance than places. The biggest takeaway from Popayan was the food and exploring the city with locals. I am no fan of Colombian food but I really liked food from Popayan especially the empanadas de pipian which really hit the spot. On the first night, we explored the city centre by walk. Navigating through the white city in the dim yellow lights was majestic. The city centre is really beautiful and should be explored at night! The next day, my hosts invited me to their grandparents’ house in the countryside not so far from the city. It was a great experience. We went to a nearby river, played a Toad game, had a nice lunch. It was a really satisfying day. Colombian hospitality at its best. Popayan houses many museums but all were closed during my visit. One day, we went to the Hill of three crosses and it started raining. Yep, there are many “Hill of three crosses” in Colombia! We were completely soaked. We had a hot coffee with empanadas. You know sometimes you have a meal and you never forget its taste. It was that kinda meal. It was great fun hanging out with locals. I totally enjoyed my time in Popayan. As far as safety is concerned, I never faced any issue. I explored the city alone one day and my host gave me instructions about which area is a no-go and I following his instructions religiously.
IPIALES: MOST BEAUTIFUL CHURCH IN COLOMBIA
After Popayan, I traveled to the border city of Colombia which shares its border with Ecuador. When I reached in the early morning, It was really cold. The city is without a doubt, the coldest place I have been in Colombia. The city in question is Ipiales which lies in the department of Narino. I had two reasons to visit Ipiales. To visit the Las Lajas sanctuary and Tulcan cemetery. Tulcan cemetery lies in Ecuador which I couldn’t able to visit since borders were closed at that time. I went to the border to try my luck but I was politely refused. I went to Las Lajas Sanctuary instead. Traveling to Ipiales and surviving the extreme cold weather just to visit the Las Lajas sanctuary was worth it. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. I guess pictures say it all and I don’t need to use more adjectives. The church was built inside the canyon of the Guaitara river which makes it breathtaking to look at. There are a church, waterfall, hikes, parks, viewpoints, museums in the Las Lajas sanctuary. A must visit place when in Ipiales. After my visit to the sanctuary, I was too tired to face the cold weather at night and went straight to sleep. Again, I have not faced any issue with safety. I stayed in an Airbnb for just one night in Ipiales.
PASTO: HEARTWARMING HOSPITALITY
The next day, I traveled back a couple of hours to reach Pasto. The city of many beautiful churches. Pasto too lies in the department of Narino. I had no plans to visit Pasto but when someone accepted my request on Couchsurfing, I decided to divert my journey. It was a great Couchsurfing experience. I am really glad I chose to change my plans. My host who is a dance teacher welcomed me to his humble home where he lives with his mother. As the saying goes: Privileged people have small heart and Underprivileged people have big heart. I was humbled by their hospitality. His mother is a gem of a person. We cooked together and had a conversation in my not so great Spanish(Now, I speak much better Spanish). Pasto was cold but not as cold as Ipiales. With my host, I went to La Cocha lake. We had a bittersweet time exploring the lake by boat. The weather was really nice when we reached there but It gets really windy and cold during our ride. It was a fun experience overall thanks to my host’s company. I totally recommend visiting La Cocha lake when in Pasto. It is a weekend getaway for many locals with beautiful wooden houses along the lake which reminds of Srinagar in Kashmir. I have not faced any issue with safety during my stay of a couple of days in Pasto. I explored the city solo at night too. It is a small beautiful city. My awesome host arranged for me to stay at his friend’s place in Putumayo.
PUTUMAYO: A NATURAL BEAUTY
From Pasto, I traveled to Mocoa. Well, more precisely to Villagarzon. Villagarzon is a small town, half an hour away from Mocoa which lies in the department of Putumayo. The journey from Pasto to Villagarzon was one of the most thrilling roads I have traveled on. My host in Salento even advised me to take enough food and water with me before undertaking this road trip as sometimes one has to sleep in the vehicle due to roadblock. Fortunately, nothing of that sort happened to me. It was around 8 hrs long journey. The first couple of hours were quite smooth but then the landscapes changed to mountain terrain with really narrow roads. Several times, we had to reverse back our vehicle to accommodate a passing vehicle. The views were really breathtaking. For a long stretch of time, there was no sign of anything. Just us and the mountains. It really gave away the “Into the Wild” feeling. Those visuals are still refreshing in my mind. My host picked me up from the Villagarzon bus station. Even though I had a long journey, I was not too tired. We went to a nearby river to watch the sunset. Later, my host invited me to a game of football at night. He was playing as a goalkeeper in the match. The guys were really good at playing. I had a great time watching the match. The next day, we went to the “Fin del Mundo” waterfall. The long muddy hike to the waterfall was totally worth it. There are several ponds and waterfalls you will encounter before reaching the “Fin del Mundo” waterfall which translates to “End of the World” in English. The most memorable part about the experience was my jump(with life jacket) into one of the ponds(20m deep) even though I don’t know how to swim. It was a funny incident, all the people were cheering and motivating me to jump by shouting “INDIA INDIA”. I took a lot of time to jump because of the high altitude but once I did it. I did another one immediately. It was an unforgettable experience. My adventures in Putumayo does not end there. The next day, I explored Mocoa town solo before heading to Hornoyaco. My plan was not to go to Hornoyaco waterfall but to take a bath in a pond called Canalendres which is on the way to Hornoyaco waterfall. After crossing a bridge I saw the board of “Canalendres” pointing me towards the left. I took the left turn but little did I knew it was not the turn I had to take, I kept going deep into the forest on the muddy path. After more than half an hour, I felt something is wrong as there was no sign of water, only the path was getting muddier and muddier. I was swamped in mud almost till my knees. I decided to head back. While returning, I heard a chopper. It felt like it was hunting me. My mind was thinking about all the worst possible possibilities. Then suddenly, I heard some movement in the forest. At that moment, survival instinct kicks in and hurried my pace and almost fell down on my face. I somehow managed to get out of the forest in one piece. It was a crazy experience, to put it mildly. When I reached back to the same board saying “Canalendres”, I saw a narrow path just adjacent to the board. I followed that path cautiously and after just 5-10 minutes of walk, I reached the “Canalendres” and it felt like all my struggles paid off. I took a dip in the big crystal blue pond which was just for me. I had such a relaxing time. Again, I had no issue with the safety in Putumayo. Even though many places were still closed in South Colombia due to the pandemic, I still had amazing experiences thanks to the selfless hospitality of people.