Another Vacation Recommendation - Popayan!
For you more adventurous travelers I highly recommend the beautiful city of Popayan, far off the beaten path in the south of Colombia near the Ecuador & Peruvian borders. Needing a break from the heat I popped down here to see one of the most beautiful and treasured colonial cities in all of Colombia. It is the capital of Cauca state, founded at the foot of Volcán Puracé, in 1537 by Sebastián Belalcázar, a Spanish adventurer seeking the famed El Dorado. (Not to be confused with me, the gringo adventurer seeking Las Cervezas).
Situated in the Andean cordillera halfway between Bogota and Quito Ecuador, it soon drew settlers who established sugar plantations in the Cauca river valley. The mild climate attracted others and the town became an important religious center with many churches, monasteries and seminaries, as well as a prosperous trade center. Much of the activity of the area is recorded in the Popayán Papers, correspondence between the inter-related members of the local aristocracy, plus patriotic writings from Colombia's struggle for independence.
As the economic importance of the town waned, Popayán lost business, but retained
its importance in religious and cultural spheres. The University of Cauca was founded in 1827, following the requirements established by Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, on the site of an indigenous village. Today it has a population of about 200,000 and retains much of its indigenous people and culture.
The colonial architecture remained intact until the devastating earthquake of 1983 left only one of the many churches standing. A massive reconstruction effort followed, restoring the town to its colonial look in the monasteries, cathedral, colonial houses, streets and museums. Popayán is a Colombian historical site listed on the national registry, and an attractive destination, particularly during the famed Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. There are a handful of quaint old B&B style hotels in 100 year-old buildings plus restuarants where a steak, french fries, and a bottle of wine will cost you $10. My kind of town...
The city is known as la ciudad blanca, "the white city" for obvious reasons. I'm writing this while sitting in the inner courtyard of my $4/night hotel, a 1885 building which survived the earthquake with only a minor 30 degree list to starboard. Management addresses this problem by outfitting the rooms with beds that list 30 degrees to port... And yes, there is considerable guerrilla activity in the area, but if you're willing to put up with this minor inconvenience you'll be rewarded with a 16th century colonial town all to yourself!