Popayán makes for a good base for the surrounding region. Up in the mountains about 30km outside of Popayán, on the road to San Agustín, is the village of Coconuco, where you will find two thermal springs. Termales Aguatibia (www.termalesaguatibia.com; admission COP$16,000), which as the name suggest is more warm than hot, is the more formal of the two and has a restaurant, plus basic lodging and camping facilities. The facility has six thermal pools, a mud bath, and a 53m-long toboggan ride. Agua Hirviendo (www.aguahirviendo1.wixsite.com/coconuco; admission COP$7,000), which stays open 24 hours on the weekends and can get wild in the evenings, has two pools and a natural sauna, plus a small restaurant.
About 53km northeast of Popayán is the town of Silvia, best known for its indigenous marketplace. The region is home to the Guambiano people, who live in mountain communities such as Pueblito, La Campana, and Caciques, and still retain their own language and traditional customs. Guambiano clothing is particularly distinctive, with men wearing blue skirts and bowler hats, while women wear finely woven ruanas, a sort of poncho, plus chaquiras, necklaces and wristbands made with elaborate beadwork. The women are known for their weaving, and they bring their work via colorful chiva buses to sell during Silvia’s Tuesday market ★★, alongside the produce the communities have grown. It’s not a tourist market by any means—it’s one of the most authentic in all of Colombia. If you don’t have your own transportation, you can catch a bus from Popayán’s terminal in the early morning for the 1 1/2-hour ride. The market begins at dawn, so it’s best to get there as early as you can. It fizzles out by early afternoon. There are some small guesthouses in town, though most come just for a day trip.
The 830-sq.-km national park Parque Nacional Natural Puracé is one of the only places in all of Colombia you can see the Andean condor, which has been gradually introduced here from California zoos. Spectacled bears and mountain tapirs can also be seen. Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979, the park is home to a string of volcanic mountains, called the Serrania Coconucos, which stand as high as 5,000m and form the headwaters of several of Colombia’s most important rivers, such as the Magdalena, Cauca, and Patia. The rare páramo landscape seems surreal, with forests of strange-looking cacti and a wet, thick fog hanging throughout the park. Most visitors see Puracé while driving from Popayán to San Agustín, a bumpy route that cuts right through the park. During good weather, usually from December to March, it’s possible to ascend the steep summit of Volcán Puracé (4,750m/15,600 ft.), which takes about 8 hours roundtrip. Popayán Tours (www.popayantours.com) can set up guided excursions with transportation to and from the trail. Admission to the park is COP$10,000.