The white city of Colombia, Ciudad Blanca. Or in other words, Popayán. A city that had been on my Colombia Wishlist for a long time and which I finally visited. I often read on blogs that there is little to do. No idea why, because there is actually a lot to do! In another article, you will read about the city’s highlights, its amazing museums, unique teahouses, special churches and, of course, the most beautiful university ever. But first, I will take you on a half-day trip to the most popular village near Popayán: Silvia. Although increasingly touristy these days, you’ll still find the indigenous Guambiano Indians who flock to the market every Tuesday in traditional chivas to sell their wares and do their own shopping. Thus, Silvia. Enjoy an interesting piece of Colombia.
Visit the traditional village of Silvia
Silvia is the center of Guambiana communities, who live in surrounding villages such as La Campana, Guambia and Caciques. The village is known for the ancient traditions that still live on here, such as the costume and language. Silvia is located at an altitude of 2620 meters in the department of Cauca, near Popayán. Because of this high altitude, it can be chilly. Something that is also reflected in the traditional clothing. Besides the Guambia, more indigenous people live there, namely the Quizgo, Pitayó, Ambaló and the Quichaya. Silvia has a total population of about 35,000.
The Guambiano tribe
The Guambianos (or misak, as they are also called) are an indigenous tribe in the Colombian department of Cauca. For the misak, the earth is the Mother. Therefore, the main economic activity is agriculture. The main crops grown are corn, potato, coffee, beans, lentils, broad beans and white cabbage. Also, the Guambianos are stars at weaving, so you see homemade bags all over the streets. The Guambiano still wear traditional costumes, consisting of a blue skirt, rectangular ruanasand a hat for men. Women wear a black skirt, a blouse in one color and a blue wool scarf. The misak know their own language, which is moguez. In the villages where the Guambiano live, each nuclear family occupies a house. The family remains the basis of social life and is thus very important.
Stroll over the colorful Tuesday market in Silvia
Silvia is a popular day trip from Popayán because of its weekly Tuesday market. The Guambianos come to the village to sell their wares or to do their own shopping. The market is not meant for tourists, but walking across it is fantastic. The colors, smells, chaos and costumes make it a market where you won’t get bored. If you are hungry, you can feast on fruit and bread there. We ourselves, of course, drink a delicious hot chocolate with cheese.
The traditional Colombian chiva
My husband is really 100% Colombian anyway, but he didn’t believe anything about people going to a village with a chiva to run errands. Why not? Today, a Colombian chiva refers specifically to a party bus. In Cartagena for example, this is very popular, but really you see them everywhere. Also in Bogotá, for example. We too had a party adventure in a chiva. So the chiva: a brightly colored bus with rows of benches where all sorts of things are also stuffed on the roof. Used as a party bus, but also still in some villages as a local means of transportation. By the way, did you know that the first Colombian chiva came from Medellín and was consecrated in 1908? And that the first chiva route took place between downtown Medellín and the El Poblado neighborhood? The chiva is a traditional Colombian means of transportation that is increasingly used for other purposes these days, but which you can still witness in Silvia in the way it was actually intended.
When is the best time to go to Silvia?
The market is only on Tuesdays until mid-afternoon, so that is the best time. Leave on time and not as late as 11 a.m., to experience the most vivid moment. You don’t spend a whole day there; we too were just back in Popayán around 1 o’clock.
How do you get to Silvia?
From the bus station in Popayán, there are direct buses to Silvia. This costs 7,000 pesos per person. We more or less step in front of our hotel on the bus and took less time than from the city. If you just missed this one take the bus to Piendamó and transfer there to a bus to Silvia. From there they go more frequently.
Are you allowed to photograph in Silvia?
The Lonely Planet says the Guambiano do not like photography and you should respect this. I asked about 5 locals in Popayán what this is like these days (the LP is from 2015 and tourism has grown insanely in those few years). Every one of them looked at me as if I were crazy. Of course you can photograph! The only thing they don’t like is when you blatantly stand in front of someone to get a close-up. So then just ask. I am not completely convinced, but when we arrive in Silvia there are many tourists with big cameras taking pictures. Okay so it’s true what the locals say: you can just take pictures, but if you want to take a close-up, first ask. Or use a large lens that allows you to zoom in: always handy.
What else is there to do in Silvia?
If you have time, you can walk to the church on the hill for a nice view (Iglesia de Belén). You can also visit the villages near Silvia where the Guambiano come from. This is hours of hiking, though, so take your time.
Popayán and its surroundings are fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed our visit and can recommend it to anyone. Wondering what to do in Colombia’s white city and where to hike off the beaten path near Popayán through beautiful Páramo? Then follow me on Facebook or via email and don’t miss a thing!
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