The lovely colonial town of Popayan, Colombia, is set at a comfortable altitude of 5,700 ft/1,760 m in the Andes, 230 mi/370 km southwest of Bogota. It is a great place to escape the heat and steep in the atmosphere of a colonial center pickled in aspic.
Popayan has been carefully restored since a devastating earthquake in 1983. The churches, cathedrals and small museums are a delight, but the true pleasure comes from strolling the narrow cobblestoned streets between the city's whitewashed houses. A number of former monasteries and colonial homes have been turned into small hotels.
The city center is quite safe, but the more remote mountainous area around Popayan is prime FARC territory. Purace National Park has traditionally been a FARC haven, but the guerrillas have been pushed into more remote areas, and the trails to the summit of Volcan Purace, which has thermal pools, are considered safe.
Purace National Park, east of Popayan, encompasses an impressive collection of volcanoes, thermal springs, rivers and waterfalls accessible by hiking trails. It's a large park, covering some 320 sq mi/830 sq km.
Along the way you may encounter some of the rarest animals on the continent: Andean spectacled bear, mountain tapir and Andean pudu (rabbit deer). Purace National Park is also the home of three impressive, equally rare birds: the enormous condor, the iridescent quetzal, and the pompous and colorful cock-of-the-rock. Most visitors interested in seeing the animals stay in the town of Popayan, but there are also accommodations and camping areas in the park.
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