Southern Colombia Region

 

The Southern Highlands of Colombia are also a place of cultural diversity, colonial and pre-Columbian history. Here sleepy pueblos inhabited by indigenous Guambiano people tucked away in the folds of the andes give way to white-washed colonial towns and some of Latin America’s most important pre-Columbian archaeological sites. The Archaeological sites of Tierradentro and San Augustín make up the largest known group of ancient religious sites and megalithic statues in South America.

Dominating the area is Cali, capital of the region and Colombia’s 2nd largest city. Sitting in the warm and steamy sugar cane, pineapple and cattle rich Valley de Cauca, Cali is easy to recognize by its ultra-modern sprawl of futuristic high-rise buildings. The city is a bustling metropolis of more than 2 million people and is a culture and academic center that has attracted a dazzling multi-ethnic array of people and cultures from all over the world.

The Pan-American Highway continues southward to the city of Popayán, famous for its white colonial buildings and a grand Easter Festival, the largest festival of its kind in South America. This is one of Colombia’s best-preserved colonial cities, boasting gleaming white-washed churches, buildings and boutique hotels.

Continuing further south to the Nariño department, the area has much in common with its neighboring Ecuador. Nowhere else is the Ecuadorian influence felt more strongly than in the cities of Pasto and Ipiales. Both offer Catholic pilgrims and curious tourists easy access to Santuario de Las Lajas - a spectacular Gothic style cathedral spanning over a deep gorge.


Cali

Sensual, sassy and forever proud, Santiago de Cali is known as “Salsa City.” It is full of splendid modern architecture, has a nice core of preserved colonial buildings, great parks, a nice zoo and world-class museums. If you can handle the city's high energy, fast pace and steaming temperatures, even a few short days here will be well spent. Although it may be second in size to the mega-city of Bogota, it is definitely number one when it comes to non-stop partying. The sensual tropical rhythms are everywhere, seemingly pouring out of every inch of the city.

The city was founded in 1536 by the Spaniard Sebastián de Belalcázar, who came to South America in the third voyage made by Columbus in 1498. Until the 18th century, most of the territory of what is now Santiago de Cali was mostly cattle farms and sugar plantations, and the city was only a small town near the Cali River. The rich and fertile soils of the valley floor receive plenty of tropical rain, so they are exceptionally good for growing sugarcane – which is still grown in abundance to this day along with cotton, coffee and tropical fruit.

Today, Cali is Colombia’s 2nd largest city with a population of 2.5 million and is the only major Colombian city with access to the Pacific Coast at the Port of Buenaventura. This, and in part because it also has access to the Caribbean Sea via the Cauca and Magdelana Rivers, helped it become a principal urban and cultural center of South America and one of the fastest-growing economies in Colombia.

The following is a brief tour of sorts highlighting our favorite landmarks within the city and surroundings:


Plaza Cayzedo: This plaza is dominated by soaring trees and at its center, a statue of the independence leader Joaquín de Cayzedo. Caicedo led the cry for independence on behalf of Santiago de Cali, and the city immortalized him in 1937 by dedicating the plaza to him and erecting the bronze sculpture of their martyr. Today it is one of the busiest public squares in Cali.

The Plaza is surrounded by several beautiful historic buildings. On one side of this square is Catedral de San Pedro (a.k.a. Catedral Metropolitana). The church finished construction in 1841 and has a beautiful interior of blue and gold carved wood alters, ornate shrines of etched marble and silver, stunning painted murals and a dazzling chandelier.

Palacio Nacional:  This gorgeous structure is a beautiful French neoclassical style building that began construction in 1926, and was designed by architects Guillermo Carrillo and Pablo Paez. It is home to Cali’s Sectional Judicial Council, the Administrative Tribunal of the Valley de Cauca department and the Superior Court of Cali. The building also houses the city's important documents.


Iglesia la Ermita:  This church replaced several older colonial churches and finished construction in 1942. It is a Gothic style church that is essentially a miniature of the Cathedral of Ulm, in Germany. The church was dedicated to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores and its interior still retains a painting of Señor de la Caña in an alter. This was the only surviving piece from the earthquake of 1787 so devotees consider the painting a miracle.

Inside, the Carrera marble decorating the altars and the pulpit were created by the sculptor Alideo Tazzioli. There are also 300 year old paintings of Virgen de los Dolores, San Roque, San Jose, Cristo de la Caña, San Francisco Javier, La Magdalena, San Antonio and Ecce Homo.


Puente Ortis: This handsome bridge and national monument were completed in 1845 making it the first bridge in the city to span the Rio Cali. The bridge's engineer was the Franciscan monk Fray José Ignacio Ortiz. To the South of the bridge are Parque Los Poetas, el Teatro Jorge Isaacs and Iglesia de la Ermita.


El Gato del Rio: Located on the left bank of the River Cali, this beautify park contains a master work of art called El Gato del Rio, designed by artist Hernando Tejada. The feline sculpture, inaugurated on 3 July 1996, stands 3. 5m tall and was cast in bronze. The park also contains 15 other feline statues by various national and international artists. Zoológico de Cali


Complejo Religiosa de San Fransisco: This series of religious structures were built between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the heart of the city. The site consists of Convento de San Joaquín, Capilla de la Inmaculada, Torre Mudéjar, La Iglesia de San Francisco and a museum of religious art. Torre de Mudéjar, in the style of Neo- Mudéjar art, stands 23 meters tall and has been classified by the historian Sebastian Santiago as "the most beautiful Mudejar tower in the Americas." The tower is one of Cali’s most prized architectural treasures and features a splendid domed bell tower constructed in geometrically patterned red brick.

Iglesia de San Francisco is a neoclassical style church with a painted dome by artist Mauricio Ramelli. The murals recreate the life of St. Francis of Assisi from his youth until his death.

The Capilla de la Inmaculada, built in 1762, has a long narrow chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who solemnly stands at the front altar. The interior is accented with seven arcs and several white columns with blue and gold trim.


Complejo la Merced: This is small collection of religious buildings and a museum located on spot where the city of Cali was founded. The complex dates back to 1545, just a few years after the founding of the city. It consists of the main church, La Merced, the oldest colonial church in Colombia. It is a charming white washed building in the colonial style, reminiscent of those found in Popayán. Its simple dark wood and white stucco interior features a golden alter toped with the Virgin de las Mercedes. The building offers a fine example in colonial construction with its exposed foundation and walls. Zoológico de Cali

Auxiliary chapels are dedicated to Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and Cristo de Letrán. Also in the complex is a convent and a fantastic museum of religious art with more than 11,000 pre-Colombian artifacts belonging to diverse cultures including the Nariño, Quimbaya, Calima, San Augustín and Tumaco. In February of 1975, the complex was declared a National Monument.


Catedral San Pedro: This cathedral’s construction started in 1772 initially with a Baroque design; however, because of political problems, finished with a primarily neoclassical design by the time it was completed in 1841. Inside is a collection of religious art from the eighteenth century, in addition to an imposing central embossed bronze door, which was brought from Europe.


Museo de Oro Calima: Founded in 1991, the museum covers 8,000 years of history across the region and contains 615 pieces of jewelry, stone, ceramic, shell, and bone, which are part of the core of the exhibition. These artifacts belonged to the Ilama, Sonso, Yotoco and other Hispanic cultures, which were located in the archaeological site known as the Calima.


Teatro Municipal Enrique Buenaventura: This theatre, declared a National Monument, is one of the most representative of the city and was built in the early 20th century. It features an Italian Baroque style in every detail, and is home to various art and cultural shows. The building still has pieces of great aesthetic value and uniqueness, including its original curtain. The inside is adorned with multiple works by national and international artists. The ceiling frescoes were painted by Mauritius Ramelli Andreani, an artist from Bogota but trained in Italy, and was the same artist who designed the frescoes in the Iglesia de San Francisco.


Iglesia de San Antonio: The area of Iglesia de San Antonio is distinguished as one of the most traditional neighborhoods of the capital of Valle del Cauca. Its streets slope uphill and are lined with houses that still maintain the architecture of the colonial era. It's also the ideal area to shop for beautiful traditional arts and craft, as well as sample delicious regional cuisine.

Iglesia de San Antonio itself was built in 1757 (when Cali had a population of less than 5,000) and contains some gorgeous antique wooden statues called Tallas Quiteñas.


Museo de Arte Moderno de Tertulia: Located on Ave. Colombia, and built in the 1960’s, this museum has become a symbol of the city thanks to its modernist architecture and strategic location on the banks of Cali River. It has a collection of about 1,355 works of art by renowned painters and sculptors of national and international stature. In addition to its two showrooms, this site has an open air theater, film library, conference hall, workshops and a cinema with capacity for 300 people. Museo de Arte Moderno de Tertulia


Zoológico de Cali: On display are almost 1,200 animals representing 200 species; of which 200 are native to Colombia. The zoo is a very pleasant place to spend the day. It features picnic areas, restaurants and lush gardens. Pathways lined with plants and hedges native to Colombia wind through the zoo’s various species zones, including insects, aquatic animals, avian, primate, reptile, amphibian and butterfly. Its extensive facilities and beautiful scenery have granted recognition as one of the most innovative and important zoos in the country. The zoo also works closely with many of the wildlife conservation groups of Colombia. Zoológico de Cali Zoológico de Cali Zoológico de Cali


Teatro Jose Isaacs: >Located in the historic center of Cali, the theatre has a French-influenced neoclassical Italian romanticism design and was declared a National Monument. Here, you have the opportunity to observe various national and international artistic events from three horseshoe shaped balconies overlooking a large stage.


Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali

This is a huge protected chunk of the Cordilla Occidental west of Cali. Within the park, you can explore various ecosystems characteristic of the andes, the Cauca River and the Pacific Ocean. Dense forests, fresh water springs and more than 30 rivers can be found in park. Here the diverse ecosystems include wet sub-Andean forest (between 200 and 1,200 meters), humid Andean forest (between 1,200 and 2,000 meters above sea level), humid Andean forest (between 2,000 and 3,500 meters) and moor (with altitudes above 3,500 meters).

The Park is notable for its many endemic species. The diversity of the parks climatic zones encourages the countless forms of life, including 109 mammal species (80 species of bat, 5 primates, Speckled Bears, deer, among others), 63 of reptiles, 40 amphibians and 21 fish are found in the park. However, here the bird species diversity is most notable. An astonishing 300 species of birds (40% of the total known in the country, of these 13 are endemic) are found in the park. In addition, many indigenous groups including the Paez, Cholos Chocó, Inga Embera-Chami and Naza also live in the park. As yet, much of the park is off-limits to visitors but a large area only 40 minutes from Cali, called La Topacia, is accessible.


Embalsa de Calima

Embalsa Calima is Colombia’s largest man-made lake, with an area of 70 km² and located in the municipality of Darién in the Valle del Cauca Department, roughly 100 km north of Cali. The cool climate and lovely views attract Colombians and visitors from all over the world. Steady winds make it a hotspot for kite and wind surfers. In fact, the lake is where the National Kitesurfing Championships are held, which gives an idea of just how windy the place can get. This is a popular day trip from Cali and is also a great place for fishing, jet skiing and boating.

 

 


Popayán

Colombians are proud of the city they call “El Ciudad Blanco” (the White City), named because it gleams like a beacon in the crisp air of the Cordillera Central’s mountain air. Located in the lush green landscapes of the Valle de Cauca about 143 km south of Cali, Popayán is one of Colombia’s best known and most beautiful cities. It essentially epitomizes simple colonial charm with its quaint streets and numerous cobblestone plazas. The historical center is a preserved jewel of Colombian history with attractive and picture perfect streets, allowing visitors to walk at leisure past homes and Republican style buildings joined in time by the color of their facades. Numerous rococo Andalusian-style churches that date back to the 17th and 18th century reflect the Catholic heritage of the town, where one of Colombia’s largest and most important Holy Week Celebration is held.

The city was founded in 1537 by Sebastían de Belalcázar, Francisco Pizzaro’s lieutenant. Aided by its fortunate location midpoint between the cities of Lima, Quito, Cartagena and Bogota, it became an important administrative and religious capital of the region. Many wealthy plantation owners, after establishing their estates in the hot and steamy Valley de Cauca, chose live in Popayán. At around 1700 m above sea level the weather is far more temperate and comfortable, much like the “Eternal Spring” climate Medellín enjoys.

Even after the discovery of the Pacific Ocean, Popayán remained a transfer point of gold and riches going to Cartagena on its way to Spain. Popayán also served as a colonial mine, producing various denominations of the Escudo gold coins and silver Reales from 1760 through 1819; it continued producing coinage for the new Republic of Colombia after 1826. Indigenous Pijao populated the area before the arrival of the Spanish, most of which fled the area or were conquered, subjugated and forced to work in gold and silver mines used that produced the raw materials for the coinage. In “exchange," for their hard work, the Spaniards taught them Catholicism.

Today, Popayán is the capital of the Cauca department. Although the city has been nearly destroyed several times by earthquakes, it has always been rebuilt and is still considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Americas. Its beauty and uniqueness must be inspiring indeed because Popayán has been home to 17 Colombian presidents, as well as famous poets, painters, and composers. The University of Cauca (est. 1827), one of Colombia's oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education, is located here; that is why Popayán is also known as the "University City."


Semana Santa Festival: Every year 10’s of thousands of people from Colombia and all over the world come to Popayán for its famous 5 day Holy Week celebrations, considered to be the largest and most authentic of its kind outside of Seville Spain. The celebration is so special that it was honored with a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage award in 2009.

The festivals are held during Semana Santa (Holy Week), which depending on the liturgical calendar may fall in either March or April. Grand processions stream through the streets of Popayán after dark following a specific route that includes 54 stopping points along the way. Large hand-carved wooden sculptures, some weighing almost 500 kg, each representing the different stages of the Passion of Christ are carried by the townspeople through the streets. Along the way, people carrying flickering candles with solemn looks on their faces walk alongside the statues, while choir boys and flower carriers transport garlands of flowers.

In a more upbeat contrast, during the same time, Popayán also hosts Festival de Musica Religiosa. During the event, concerts featuring Christian and Sacred Music choirs, and singers and bands from all over the world are staged in venues throughout the city.


Gastronomy Festival of Popayán: Since 2003 Popayán has celebrated the “Congreso Nacional Gastronómico de Popayán.” Basically this is Popayán’s “foodie” festival and is so renowned that UNESCO appointed Popayán the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the only city in South America to be honored with this distinction. Other world cities with this distinction include Jeonju, South Korea, Chengdu, China and Östersund, Sweden. Needless to say, the food in Popayán is world class.


El Morro del Tulcán: This is the most significant archaeological site of Popayán. It consists of a truncated pyramid believed to have been built in prehistoric times, approximately between 500 and 1600 A.C. In 1937 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city, a life-sized statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar, the founder of the city, was erected on top of the hill. The view from on top of the hill offers impressive views of the city below and the white-capped peaks of Volcan Purace can be viewed in the distance as well.


Parque Caldas:  A pleasant park with beautiful landscaping and dates back to 1537, the same year the city was established. In the center of the park a monument dedicated to the prominent lawyer and naturalist Francisco (Sabio) Caldas sits. Many of Popayán’s Semana Santa processions begin from the park. In addition, since it is surrounded by many of the city’s top religious sites, the park makes a good base to begin a tour of the town.


Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción:  This church was erected in 1906 to replace a previous church destroyed by an earthquake. Located on one side of Caldas Park in the historic town center, the church was constructed in a lovely white-washed neoclassical style. It boasts solid Romanesque lines and features an ornate dome designed by architect Aldolfo Duenas. The church is most famous for the magnificent sounds of its pipe organs. It is the main church of the Archdiocese of Popayán, seat of the Archbishop and Metropolitan Chapter.


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Iglesia de San Francisco: This is Popayán’s largest and most elaborate church, designed by architect Antonio Garcia, the same architect who designed Cali’s Catedral San Pedro. Like many of the city’s other churches, it was built on the site of one previously destroyed in an earthquake, and features a façade that is an exquisite example of late Baroque Architecture.


Iglesia la Ermita:  Established by Sebastián de Belacázar and dates back to 1546 and is Popayán’s oldest church. In small part, because of its relatively compact size it was able to withstand the earthquakes of 1736 and 1906. The church uniquely contains a fine altar that was actually discovered in ruble after the earthquake of 1983.


Puente del Humilladero: This is a gorgeous Roman style bridge that finished construction in 1873 and spans over the Molino River. The bridge gets its name from the fact that because its accent is so steep, you cannot climb without bowing your head down. The bridge passes over a scenic forested park bordering the river.


Iglesia Santo Domingo: Designed by Spanish architect Antonio Garcia, this white-washed church features lavish stone work depicting flora and fauna of the region. Inside is a lavish pulpit that was designed by Francisco Jose Caldas. A statue honoring him stands in the middle of Parque Francisco José de Caldas.


Parque Arqueológico de Tierradentro


Tierradentro is one of Colombian’s most impressive pre-Colombian archaeological parks and is best known for its necropolis; a scattering of man-made burial caves painted with intricate geometric designs. Some of these burial chambers may be as much as 800 years old.

Even for a country full of difficult to reach treasures, picturesque small towns and sites of interest, Tierradentro is considered especially far off the normal tourism routes. The road to the Tierradentro town and archaeological park can be arduous to access in anything but optimal weather. However, the destination is definitely worth the bumpy journey. Not only is the Archaeological Park an interesting place to explore, but the surrounding countryside is absolutely gorgeous.

Tierradentro Countryside photo by Taco Witte

 

In the park around 80 open shaft tombs, some as much as 8 meters deep and 12 m wide with several chambers and compartments that were carved out of volcanic stone and painted in motifs of animals, plants and geometric abstractions. Most of the underground tombs face west and exhibit many similarities to the ones found in San Augustín. Standing guard around several tombs are tall human figure statues.

The people of Tierradentro exhibited a great amount of social complexity and rich culture. Their culture is a good example one that viewed “life after death” as being the ultimate journey. Other than that, not much is known about the people responsible for the structures except that they were master sculptors and painters and most likely interacted and traded with their San Augustín neighbors. These sites form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site was listed on the World Monuments Fund's 2012 World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

View photos of The Tierradentro Archeological Park photo by Taco Witte

Near the entrance of the archaeological park there are two fine museums, one with an archaeological focus with pottery and other artifacts on display, and the other has an ethnological focus, and houses an exhibition of Indigenous Nasa and Paez artifacts.

From the entrance, the paths leads to Segovia, a comprehensive site with the best-preserved burial chambers and the only ones that allow lighted on the inside. Further up is the site El Duende with 5 more burial chambers. From El Duende, a scenic walk brings you to Alto de San Andrés with its six richly painted subterranean chambers. From there, a trail leads to Alto del Aguacate. This site features 42 chambers and sits atop a rich green mountain ridge with great views of the surrounding countryside.


Silvia

Silvia is a charming little village populated by many indigenous Guambiano people, a very traditional and culturally pure group of people. They are known for their traditional clothing: blue scarf worn as a sarong, rectangular ponchos and hat for the men; black skirt, solid color top, blue scarf and hat for the women. Each Tuesday they follow well-worn paths and descend on Silvia to sell handmade crafts and produce including coffee, cassava, potatoes, beans and cabbage. The colorful and lively weekday market is not to be missed. Villagers from all over the region fill the main square as they come to buy and sell all sorts of goods.

At the top of a hill, there is a beautiful little church that offers great views of the surrounding countryside. Also, Museo de Artesanas features a nice collection of local handmade handicrafts. The village is famous for its bakeries and economical restaurants serving great-tasting traditional dishes.

If you are lucky enough to make it to Silvia, make sure you go on a trek along the Ruta Etno-Ecoturistica. This is a series of gorgeous nature trails that wind through the hills and valleys passing by several indigenous villages, with the main attraction being the Guambiano settlement of La Campana.

Silvia's Tuesday Market photo by Taco Witte

Nevado de Huila

The parks protected area was declared by UNESCO a World Biosphere Reserve and its highest peak, Nevado de Huila, has the largest intact glacier relict of the Andean Cordillera Central, and second only to Nevado de Cocuy.

This natural park has an area of approximately 158,000 hectares, with a height of between 2,600 and 5,780 meters above sea level. Temperatures on the mountain are normally chilly and range between 15 ° C and 0 ° C.

The mountain itself is considered strategic because it supplies the two of the most important watersheds in the country (the upper basins of the Magdalena and Cauca Rivers) and is otherwise known as the "Star of the Colombian Massif." Parque Nacional Natural Nevado del Huila contains an impressive variety of environments and ecosystems ranging from Paramo, sub-paramo Andean Forests and lowland tropical jungles to grassy savannas.

The park also overlaps with indigenous reserves in the departments of Tolima and Cauca. Among the most popular sites of interest include páramos de Moras, Monterredondo and Laguna Páez.

The location of the Nevado del Huila volcano is unique because it does not conform to a group like most volcanoes in Colombia. At present, the Nevado del Huila volcano is in constant activity, and sports a crater formed as recently as the eruption of November 20, 2008.

The park contains four main guided paths; three of them located in the forest reserve of Tarpeya and one in El Roble. These trails traverse Andean forest ecosystems, and sub-páramo high Andean forests ending at an impressive observation point with amazing panoramic views.

Although the park's infrastructure is in good condition and has several attractive ecotourism camps, trails and viewpoints, tourism within the park at present is completely closed due to the risk from volcanic activity.


San Augustín

San Augustín is the undisputed top-dog of all of Colombia’s pre-Columbian archaeological sites and is fast becoming one of the most famous pre-Columbian sites in the America’s. The main sites are located in the picturesque lower Magdalene River Valley in the southwestern andes in the department of Huila. San Augustín is the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Some 300 enormous sculptures were expertly represented in styles ranging from abstract to realist. These works demonstrate the amazing creativity, imagination and sophistication of a northern Andean culture thought to have flourished in this tropical environment of the northern andes from 200 BC-800 AD.

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín photo by Mario Carvajal

The first written record of the archaeological finds of San Augustín were made by Juan de Santa Gertrudis, a Mojorica Monk who visited the area back in 1756. After he wrote about his amazing discovery, the site was later visited in 1797 by Francisco José de Caldas who called more attention to the massive importance of the site. Several other scientists visited the ruins up to 1970’s when Luiz Gómez and Julio Cubillos undertook the most extensive investigations of the area to date. Despite previous research, relatively little is still know about the mysterious San Augustín people.

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín spans an amazing 500 km2 and is considered among the most important archaeological sites in the Americas. Located just a few km from the town of San Augustín, the park is at the core of San Agustín archaeological zone and features the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statuary, terraces and burial mounds.

The main archaeological monuments of the park are considered to be Las Mesitas, containing artificial mounds, terraces, funerary structures and stone statuary; the Fuente de Lavapatas, a spectacular religious monument carved right into the limestone bed of a stream; and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, which contains examples of stone statues from the whole region.


Desierto de Tatacoa

Driving through the lush green landscape of the Department of Huila, it is difficult to imagine that there could possibly be a desert in that region. However, just 50 km from the city of Neiva is Desierto Tatacoa, almost 400 square miles of multicolored canyons, gullies and surreal rock formations accented with cactus, sand and gravel, making it the second largest desert region in Colombia outside of La Guajira. Since it sits between two mountain ranges that have created a formidable "rain shadow," the landscape of Tatacoa gets very little annual rainfall.

This stunningly beautiful and peaceful desert region is located about 10 miles outside the historic town of Villavieja. When wondering over the rocky landscape it’s difficult to believe that millions of years ago the land was once full of tropical forests. As the mountains rose up on the perimeters, the area began to dry up. Also counter intuitive is the fact that the area actually holds an impressive biodiversity of flora and fauna. Many species of turtles, rodents, spiders, snakes, lizards, scorpions, birds and even wildcats thrive in the parched landscape.

The Tatacoa Desert is considered one of the largest vertebrate fossil sites in the Americas, thanks to the combination of past species concentrations and the preserving nature of the dry landscape. Large numbers of fossils accumulated over millions of years and the exposed soil makes them easy to locate. The are is one of the most varied paleontology records for the Miocene and Pleistocene periods in Colombia.

Like many other desert regions, the dry air and lack of light pollution make it an ideal place for star gazing. You can visit the Astronomical Observatory run by the local astronomer Javier Rúa, and each evening he gives a fascinating talk where he discusses the solar system, points out various constellations and gives you the opportunity to gaze through telescopes into space (in Spanish, 7-9pm, 10,000 Pesos).

Tatacoa Desert photo by Jorge Láscar

Ipiales

Not far from the border of Ecuador and sitting at an elevation of 2,900 m on the banks of the Rio Guáitara is the mist shrouded Catholic Pilgrim city of Ipiales. Pretty much the only reason to come to this town is to visit one of the most extraordinary churches in South America, Sanctuario de Las Lajas. This is gigantic Gothic Revival style church that attracts Catholic and Christian Pilgrims from all over Colombia and Ecuador. Local lore has it that the church was the of many miracles.

Sanctuario de Las Lajas photo by Graham Styles