September 28

Popayan and the Guambinos of Silvia, Colombia

indoor market silvia popayan colombia maitravelsite

I only chose Popayan as my first destination in Colombia because of a recommendation made by a couple of travelers I had met in Ecuador a few days earlier, and the prospect of visiting this World Heritage site was nothing too extraordinary. However things already began to get interesting on my way there, as my bus companion was a friendly ecuatorian businessman who had a 24 hour bus ride ahead of him and was open to entertaining conversations. He initially could not understand why I was traveling alone, but by the time I got off the bus in Popayan he had changed his return ticket to include an extra night in this city to not only experience what solo traveling is all about but to visit this this small city he had passed so often without takeing a second glance. After all if a foreigner was comming from afar to visit it there must be something going on.

I am convinced he was not let down. Popayan is an easy going and simple to visit town, with the modern area perhaps not one to remember for ever but with a superb old square that exudes a colonial flare and displays exquisite illumination at night. main square popayan zona historica maitravelsite

Despite the devastating earthquake of 1983 the city has been completely rebuilt, and besides the colonial historical center Popayan also boasts several churches, museums, a university, an archaelogical site nearby, the National Park of Purace with great treking and Purace volcano to contemplate and what I found the most interesting of all places: the small town of Silvia.

streets of popayan colombia

To visit Silvia simply hop on a van in the central bus station and enjoy the 45 minute ride: the views along the way will make the trip appear shorter than wht it is, and very soon you’ll find yourself in this small Andean town which is the kind of place every traveler loves to find: a relatively isolated small town with a lot of activity and an indigineous population doing it’s everyday chores.

guambinos walking in silvia maitravelsite

good and cheap food in silvia maitravelsite

I was lucky enough to visit Silvia on a Tuesday, the day the local market is most active, and was immediately captivated by the mood and ambience. I recommend you get there no later than 9 or 10 am to fully enjoy all the action and have your camera poised for a plethora of photo opportunities of the Guambinos. This indigenous population has been here for over 500 years and despite their traditional clothes don’t let yourself be fooled because eventhough in peace with their neighbours they are a closed community not to be tamed easily: drug cartels and FARC guerillas were never able to install themselves here because they would be chased away by the Guambinos with sticks and stones.Spend a few hours here simply observing people, walking to the church at the top of the hill to better appreciate the area and enjoy a great yet superb meal at the far end of the indoor market which is also very interesting by itself.

guambinos in silvia maitravelsite

Popayan and Silvia were a great introduction to my Colombia trip, and after some long bus rides from Ecuador I was happy to chill around for 3 days. They are two towns I highly recommend visiting: with 2 full days (3 nights) you will have enough time to enjoy the best of them, but throw in 2 more to fully explore the area. As a final recommendation make sure your camera is ready at all times: the pictures you take here will definnetly be among those you’ll want to share back home.

Have you visited Popayan or Silvia? What did you like most of Silvia? What other small towns like these do you know about in the world? Remember to “Like” this post and please share it !


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  1. I’m in Popayan right now and planning to visit Silvia Tomorrow, thanks so much for all the information!!
    Ps. I thought in flagging that the right and is Guambianos! -not Guambinos-

    1. Hi Anna! Thanks for dropping by! It’s a beautiful town, I remember it very well. Did you eventually eat at the market in Silvia?

  2. Thank you for the great write up. We leave Pasto tomorrow morning and head north to Popayán. We had intended to stay for 3 days but may need to extend our time based on the great write up. We are looking forward to the journey and following in your footsteps.

    Have a wonderful time on your journey and glad to have found your site.

    1. I am pleased to know you liked the post Warren! You will certainly enjoy Popayan, it is a pleasant and charming town. Make sure you head to Silvia though during the morning and plan on eating there, and just so you know Guambinos don’t really like having pictures taken- you’ll have to hide somehow 🙂

  3. I always love when you happen into a town on market day. It is always so alive. We haven’t visited Popoyan yet, but looking forward to a South American adventure in the next year or so. I am looking forward to following your trip!

  4. Just visited Popayon and agree it is a pleasant city to stop for a couple of days. Wish I had a chance to visit Silvia, it looks like a good day trip. San Agustin is a also a nice village with a great pre-Colombian site nearby, about a 5 hour bumby ride over the mountains from Popayan.

    1. See, I didn’t make it to San Agustin though I did hear about it. I really liked Silvia though so no regrets 🙂

  5. What an amazing sounding place… and one I knew very little about until just now. I always love it when I arrive some place on market day! Thanks for sharing.

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