Popayan – The White City
Yay! We finally arrived and could not be more relieved to be out of the awful minibus. We stayed at HostelTrail, one of the main hostels in the city. It was clean, welcoming and perfect place for exploring the historical centre. Added bonus it was also only a 15 minute walk from the bus station, no Taxi needed!
We headed out straight away to stretch our legs and in search of some food. The city was buzzing and beautiful at night all lit up.
The city is known at the ‘White City’ and funnily enough it’s because all the buildings are white!
We wondered around getting our bearings before eating at a very random but delicious Mexican restaurant. An early night and some time to catch up on the blog, we planned to explore the city properly in the morning.
Since we arrived in Popayan just before dark the previous day, the following morning the city looked completely different. The place was heaving because it was rush hour and the traffic busy and loud on the narrow streets. The buildings were stunning. All white, many with beautiful courtyards inside. We climbed up to the view point of Cerro De Morro looking over the city. Popayan is a lot bigger than we expected but the white buildings of the historical centre, the prettiest part of the city, can be explored in a day.
Our top tip and to make the most of the city, ask the security guards at the entrances of buildings to go in and see all the beautiful courtyards inside.
It looks like you can’t go in with all the security around but you can. Noticing we were blatantly tourists they let us in no problem, no questions asked! Popayan was the perfect stop on the way to Cali but 1 day maximum is all that’s needed to get a good feel for it.
The heavens decided to open on us and after four solid hours of exploring we felt we’d seen the majority of the area and decided it was the best time to leave for Cali.
Now time to move from the small city of Popayan to Cali, home of Salsa and the 3rd largest city in Colombia.
Cali – You either love it or hate it….. For us it was inbetween.
We arrived to Cali in the scorching heat and headed to the neighbourhood of San Antonio. A lovely small area of colonial buildings and quiets streets. We stayed at Maison Violette, a beautiful looking hostel with the most incredible terrace over-looking the city.
Although it was pretty, the only problem with the hostel was it wasn’t run very well. It looked clean but there was dust and grime hidden everywhere. I’m not one to complain and a hostel is a hostel but I found it really frustrating when I heard the young Argentinian running the joint telling a British guy who was interested in doing the job after he left in 3 weeks, that it was the easiest job in the world. “Look it’s clean, you don’t need to clean anything!” It was tidy but definitely not clean. Maybe he didn’t understand the difference between the two. Anyway it was reasonably priced for a city, we had a comfy bed in a private room and JM and I would spend the evenings chatting with a beer on the terrace.
The first afternoon we explored the city centre. A mix of extremely ugly buildings, beautiful churches, amazing street entertainers, dodgy drunk homeless people, smelly streets, lots of young business men and women and it was crazy hot!
We didn’t really know what to think…..? We walked around for a few hours checking out all the churches and small plazas before returning and exploring more of the San Antonio area. San Antonio was a much quieter, cleaner and as a result more expensive neighbourhood in the city. There are some really good, cheap eating places hidden in the area, you just need to search thoroughly which can sometimes be frustrating when you’re starving or want an easier life. The restaurant Chocolate at lunchtime did a good menu, 2 courses and a drink for only 7000COP. Just over 2 euros. Don’t attempt going there at night, they quadruple the price. Other than that we ate at an amazing local arepas cafe which was delicious and cheap. We’ve forgotten the name of it but it’s on the corner of a road near the San Antonio park, it has a huge BBQ outside and it’s always heaving. Most people would be able to find it from just that!
Cali is home to salsa dancing. The party scene is electric in the city and people live for the weekend. Lucky for us we were in Cali for the weekend!
Our plan was to check out a salsa bar/club on the Saturday night. The restaurant we were having dinner at beforehand had put on some incredible live music. In the end, due to lack of appropriate attire, walking shoes or trainers, and the party areas being a taxi journey away, we chose to stay put! Rubbish we know. but we were really enjoying ourselves where we were.
We started our first and only full day in Cali with a Colombian coffee in a cafe. Not being impressed so far with the coffee and moving closer to the coffee region we had high hopes. We’d also been advised to ask for a strong coffee, it may be more to our liking apparently…. Colombians like theirs weak, sugary and milky. We ordered a strong black and a strong white coffee. Guess what… again they faffed around with cafeterias, weighing devices and even timers…… really……!! Us being us and clearly not appreciating the art of coffee making; we just don’t understand why they don’t get a machine and press the button!! We waited for what felt like over 20 minutes for a slightly above average cup of coffee. OK not a disaster an improvement to the last 2 weeks.
Cali has two large hills which can be climbed from the city. The Cristo Rey hill and the Tres Cruces hill, both with incredible views over the city and the surroundings. We decided to attempt the Tres Cruces hill. On the way up we checked out the famous Parque del los Gatos, a small park full of fun, brightly coloured cat sculptures – it’s worth a tiny detour.
Like everywhere in Colombia a hike up a mountain from a city is deemed unsafe, don’t take any valuable, go only during daylight hours, go in groups….. Pffff we went up with our cameras, dressed like tourists and we were hiking up the hill with 100s of others. It was a great vibe. It was obviously the top fitness thing to do at the weekend with everyone kitted out in the latest exercise gear, small food and drink stalls lined the way and it was actually a gruelling 45 mins/1 hour to the top – Harder than the lazy stroll we expected anyway.
The views were great but it was the fun friendly atmosphere on the way up which made it more enjoyable. Friendly policemen lined the route to make you feel safe although they seemed to want selfies with everyone rather than doing there job but there was nothing for them to do! Plus, if you were feeling fit enough was an outside gym at the top of the hill!
After a fun morning of hiking with the locals from the city we chilled at the hostel, sheltering from the sun and heat before more leisurely exploring a little later in the day.
Again acting far too old for our age we chose not to hit the salsa clubs again and instead chill out on the terrace drink beer and take in what we are amazingly doing – travelling the world!!!
Next stop on our tour of Colombia – Lake Calima. 2 hours north west of Cali, 1450m high in the mountains, wind everyday = a kiteboarding paradise.
We took a bus direction Darien and got off in the middle of nowhere along the lake front of Calima, 10km before Darien. We were aiming for Pescao Kiteboarding Centre after hearing good things from a blog and knew it was close to where we stopped. We found it behind a big secure fence, no signs anywhere, we just needed to ask around. Pescao was jam packed and the wind blowing. Already we could see it was gusty- the norm for a lake in the mountains.
Probably because it was so busy, but we didn’t quite get the welcome we had expected and read about. Instead they quoted us an extortionate rate to camp – 10 euros each!! A bit different to the 4 euros in the desert and the rest of our camping in Colombia. The rental prices were also more expensive that we’d hoped. They’d doubled the prices since all the other bloggers had visited.
Not that impressed we hung around for a few hours before renting some kit for an hour or so. We didn’t want to miss the afternoon kiteing so we splashed out. JM went first and had a great time. The gusts making his jumping more interesting. After 45 minutes my turn…… winds suddenly picked up gusting 40 knots. With a 9m kite I was out of my comfort zone completely. I had JM trying to keep me on the ground and not fly off!! The rain then started chucking it down and it was a pretty miserable experience for me. The last time I kiteboarded we were in Tahiti in 27knots of constant wind, turquoise water and beautiful sunshine, you couldn’t get me out of the water! Anyway…….. I tried to land the kite. Instead I was being dragged back in the water slowly. I was holding onto the jetty with one hand whilst controlling the kite in the other and JM trying to hold on to me and pull me back to land again. Fun fun fun!!! As soon as I had showered and changed, conditions changed and lightened – Typical! JM went back in straight after me to enjoy the gust for his jumps. I stayed firmly on land.
After finishing up kiteboarding we went in search of the other kite centre on the lake to check out prices to camp. We weren’t prepared to pay 20 euros for two people, in our own tent, for the same price as a night in Bogota in a room! We arrived at Calima Kite Centre 2.5km away from Pescao. The atmosphere was crazy and the owners so friendly. We were made to feel so welcome and they said if we kited with them the next day we could camp for free on the grass. JM would definitely kite so we were extremely happy. We pitched up out tent, sheltered by a wooden fence and had the whole site to ourselves after everyone went home. It was the perfect spot!….. Not!….. A new restaurant had just opened across the street and they were celebrating the owners birthday by blaring music so loud we felt we were in a club. From the time we arrived to around 4.30am the next morning, then starting again at 5:30am the music was no stop! We gave up and went into town with the owners who’d also had a bad nights sleep in their house next door to us. Bliming ridiculous!
We woke to the most beautiful, calm, sunny lake which would have been incredible if there wasn’t boom… boom…. boom… boom… blasting in our ears. There was no escape from it, we were in a valley. At least we hadn’t paid 10 times more like guests in the hotels next to the restaurant! The owners Nia and her other half (forgot names sorry!) took us into Darien for breakfast and then onto their friends workshop where he makes kiteboards and surfboards – Cogua Kiteboarding. It was a great escape from the noise. Harold the main man, designer and shaper gave us a personal guided tour. It was brilliant to see someone so passionate about their work. Unfortunately when we got back the music was still going. No one said anything to them though!
The wind on Calima Lake doesn’t show up and start building up until early afternoon. At around 3pm JM went out for a ride to test the wind. You could tell he wasn’t impressed. Very inconsistent and frustrating for him. He still spent over an hour playing but it didn’t motivate me at all. After seeing all the safety measures the kite club adhere too after an accident the day before due to the strong gusts I was well and truly put off. I decided to sit this one out and I’m waiting for my chance in Cabo de la Vela on the Atlantic/Caribbean coast.
The rest of the afternoon we spent socialising with the locals before being the only ones left at the club again with our tent and the music from the neighbour still blaring. We reckon it was slightly quieter than the night before, or we’d just got used to the volume. At midnight they finally switched off the music. 30 hours with a 2 hour interval at 4:30am! Hallelujah! Unfortunately for us the music was replaced by torrential rain so another bad nights sleep.
Early doors we packed away a wet tent and off we went, direction Salento and the Cocora valley – Coffee time.