Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


Southern Colombia Travel:
San Cipriano
San Agustin

Pasto & Around

Pasto is the capital of Nariño Department, which is Colombia's most South Westerly department. Most travellers simply pass through coming from or going to nearby Ecuador, but there's actually plenty of very interesting and scenic tourist sites nearby that are well worthy of a few days exploring.

With greatly improved security in Colombia in recent years, the traditionally dangerous departments of Nariño (and Putamayo) are seeing their rural areas slowly open up to tourism. None-the-less, err on the side of caution in more remote, rural areas of Southern Colombia. Travelling from Pasto down to the Pacific coast at Tumaco is probably still not particularly safe.


Pasto is a pleasant enough Andean city with a few fine colonial era buildings that lies in the shadow of an active volcano. January 5 and 6 sees the annual Carnival de Blancos y Negros, a riotious carnival involving a lot of face painting and drinking - this is certainly one of Colombia's best festivities/carnivals. The rest of the year, there's not a huge amount to do in Pasto, other than use the city as a base to visit nearby sites of interest or to travel onwards to the border with Ecuador (2 hours away - for safety reasons, avoid travelling this road at night - by day it's safe and is a very scenic journey).

People from Pasto are very friendly folk, they are rather unfairly regarded as being the most stupid people in Colombia though!

Pasto has a variety of hotels - Koala Inn is supposedly the best backpacker accommodation. Hotels (with websites only in Spanish) include Loft Hotel, Fernando Plaza and Hotel Galerias.

Around Pasto

The best day trip from Pasto is to visit the beautiful lake called Laguna de la Cocha. Boat rides around the lake are good value - the highlight of such a tour is the small nature reserve at Isla de Corota, a small island (and National Park) with well preserved cloudforest and wonderful views. Laguna de la Cocha is less than an hours drive from Pasto and can easily be visited on a day trip (take a taxi from Pasto, or shared taxis depart regularly). There's various hotels here, romantically located overlooking the lake - the best of which is probably Hotel Sindamanoy (website in Spanish only).

Laguna Verde is a wonderful, emerald green lake found in the crater of the extinct Volcan Azufral. Ask locally (try the tourist office in Pasto) about joining an organized tour to this lake, and check that is safe to do so.

Depending upon current seismic conditions, you might also be able to climb Volcan Galeras, the active volcano which looms over Pasto. On a clear day, the views stretch as far as the Pacific coast of Colombia. There are land mines in the area though.

Ipiales, Santuario de las Lajas & South towards Ecuador

Ipiales is pretty much right on the border with Ecuador - there's no point in staying in this border town unless you have to (border towns are never attractive in South America). However, Ipiales does have a colourful indigenous market on Friday mornings. 

The real travel highlight in this area is Santuario de Las Lajas, a church which is spectacularly located in a mountain gorge (see photo to the right). Santuario de las Lajas is located just 7km from Ipiales, so taking a taxi costs very little. If you want to avoid Ipiales altogether, there's also shared taxis that leave from Pasto (about 2 hours travel time). If you want to spend the night in this area, there's a few hotels located next to the Santuario (hence no need to spend the night in Ipiales).

It's a short and simple hop from Ipiales over the border to Ecuador and the town of Tulcan. If travelling from Ecuador into Colombia, in Ipiales there's a large and modern bus terminal with buses to Pasto (2 hours travel time), Cali (10 hours) and Bogota (25 hours) as well as other destinations. Remember, it's not particularly safe to travel North between Ipiales and Pasto late at night (due to bandits rather than guerillas - plus you'd miss the stunning scenery). Note that both Pasto and Ipiales have an airport serving domestic destinations in Colombia (check Satena or Avianca airlines).

Pasto & Narino, Colombia:
Pasto & Volcan Galeras, Colombia
Pasto, with Volcan Galeras looming in the background.

Laguna de la Cocha, near Pasto, Colombia
Laguna de la Cocha

Laguna Verde - Volcan Azufral
Laguna Verde & Volcan Azufral

Santuario de las Lajas
Santuario de las Lajas, near Ipiales, Colombia

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