COLOMBIATHE AMERICAS

Places To Visit In South Colombia: Is It Safe To Travel?

My Experiences In Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño

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!

 

I stayed in San Antonio neighbourhood
My hostel’s terrace
San Antonio Church
View from San Antonio Church
Hill of Three Crosses
Climbing the Hill of Three Crosses
View from up there
The reason behind the name
Exploring city centre

The famous Cat park

On the way to Cristo Rey
Cristo rey was closed at that time
Stunning views
Panoramic view of Cali from up there
Ermita Church

Cholado: The famous local icy beverage

 

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.

 

View from my host’s house

Exploring cit centre at night

On the way to countryside
It’s time to play the toad game 🙂
Scoreboard 🙂
Lunch time!
At the river
The White city

Hike to another Hill of three crosses

Buen Provecho 🙂

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.

 

On the way to the border
Colombia-Ecuador border
Las Lajas Church

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Stunning view of Church inside the Canyon

My Airbnb

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.

 

The city of beautiful churches

I saw this beautiful tree in the middle of a square
A day trip to La Cocha
A local ice-cream making method
Too cold to enjoy
At my host’s place
Enjoying Volleyball Match
Hervido: A local hot cocktail to beat the cold


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.

 

Before the long trip: Aguapanela(Hot water mixed with Panela) with Cheese
On the way to Putumayo

Ah oh…
Finally reached Villagarzon
Main Town Park
Small restaurant and swimming pool amidst of nature
Capturing villagarzon at night
Football night!
At my host’s place
Fin del mundo hike

This is where I jumped from!

Caption this haha
Fin del mundo waterfall
Mocoa main square
The left turn that I missed
And reached here
Hmmmmm
Returned back to the right path
And I found it!!
All is well that ends well

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.

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An Indian Traveler

Hello! My name is Saurabh and I am the voice behind the “An Indian Traveler” blog. I'm a cinephile, travel writer, an avid traveler with a song stuck in my head which I keep humming till ad nauseam :)

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18 Comments

  1. Wow! It looks like an amazing trip. Every time I travel people are always concerned about safety, but you can miss life in you live in fear. You just have to be cautious, not fearful.

  2. As a female traveler, South Columbia is one of the places I would probably appreciate having company, but I’m glad you got to do it solo without any issues! Your story through Putumayo had me nervous, but what a fantastic story to be able to tell. Would love the chance to experience the people, food & culture of Columbia one day.

  3. The places is looks beautiful and the architecture is really amazing. And you have amazing experienced in forest also to reach Canalendres. Reaaly great adventure. Thanks for share this. If I visit this place I will becareful with mud.

  4. It was wonderful to see the places you visited in South Cambodia through your photos. Due to the current circumstances, such trips are an even more unique experience.
    Friendly greeting,
    Nina

  5. Wonderful photos and report from your adventures in South Colombia. The landscapes and variety of architecture are stunning. It’s daring to go where there may be safety issues – but what a reward to get to see all these places without big crowds. Very fortunate you had such great hosts along the way.

  6. It’s truly amazing how many places there are to explore in the world. I’d love to visit so many places!
    The cat park would be a great spot to walk around, how creative! Love the fun murals/art everywhere. Great photos!

  7. It must have been so strange to visit some of these places while covid-19 was causing lock downs. You mention that you value people more than places, so I am really glad to hear you met some super friendly people in South Colombia – imagine how much more friendly it will be once things open up!

    p.s wooooah at Las Lajas Sanctuary – what a stunning location for that building. On a totally different note, I loved the look of the cat park too.

  8. I have never been to South Colombia so this is really an interesting read. I did not realize that there is so much to see and do. Would love to visit someday and see Ipiales. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Wow! Was considering going to Colombia next month actually but I just wasn’t sure about the Covid restrictions. I know a lot of people tend to head north but it looked like the south was so beautiful! Would you recommend it for a female solo traveller?

  10. Love that you did coachsurfing on this trip. I tried it 10 years ago and it didn’t really work out but its still something I’d love to try. Great way to meet people too and find out the local perspective.

  11. South Colombia definitely has beautiful architectures! I can spend all day just to tour the churches in Ipiales. Las Lajas Church and Sanctuary is so stunning! Too bad you didn’t get to Salsa. I guess you have a good reason to go back.

  12. I didn’t know that the south of Colombia was considered a bit less safe. I would love to see Cali some day but I am really intrigued by Popayán and Iglesia Las Lajas. Especially with the waterfalls and those massive arches, the beauty of the church and its surroundings is incredible. It’s good to know that the weather can be cold there as well and that one should pack warm clothes!

  13. I knew it. We absolutely have to go back to Colombia. We missed out on so much when we visited a few years ago.
    Your photos are fantastic. I especially like the way Las Lajas Church looks, but La Cocha and the Fin del mundo hike spark my interest too.
    Let me guess, it is probably very difficult to get around with English only?

  14. I have never been to Colombia but I do have it on my list. Those pictures look amazing and South Colombia looks beautiful with old buildings and town like feeling. I would love to see those human faces as well, looks so cool.

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