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Off The Beaten Track Travel: Things To Do In Pasto, Colombia


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Paulie Klink



Welcome to Pasto, a charming city tucked away in the southwestern part of Colombia. Located in the Nariño department, Pasto is often overshadowed by more popular tourist destinations in Colombia, but it is a hidden gem just waiting to be explored. With its rich history, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant cultural heritage, Pasto offers a unique and off-the-beaten-track travel experience for those willing to venture beyond the well-trodden path.


Steeped in colonial architecture and surrounded by stunning natural beauty, this city is an ideal destination for travelers seeking a blend of history, adventure, and authentic Colombian culture. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a food lover, a history enthusiast, or someone simply looking for a different travel experience, Pasto has something to offer everyone.


In this article, we will take you on a journey through the highlights of Pasto, sharing with you the must-see attractions, the delicious traditional cuisine, and the exhilarating outdoor adventures that await you in this enchanting city. From exploring the colonial architecture to witnessing vibrant cultural festivals, you’ll discover the many hidden treasures of Pasto.


So, pack your bags, put on your walking shoes, and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty and charm of Pasto. Let’s embark on an adventure like no other and uncover the best of what this captivating Colombian city has to offer.


History of Pasto

Pasto has a rich history that dates back centuries. The area was originally inhabited by Indigenous groups, including the Quillacingas and the Pastos, who gave the city its name. The Spanish arrived in the 16th century and established a settlement that would later become Pasto.


During the colonial period, Pasto played an important role as a strategic outpost between Quito and Popayán. It was a key stop along the trade route, attracting merchants and explorers from all over. The city grew rapidly, and its colonial architecture reflects this prosperous era.


One of the most significant events in Pasto’s history is the Battle of Bomboná, which took place in 1822 during the War of Independence. The local population, led by Juan Gregorio Barbosa, fiercely resisted the Spanish forces and successfully defended the city. This victory marked an important milestone in Colombia’s struggle for independence.


Pasto continued to thrive in the 19th century, becoming an important cultural and commercial hub in the region. However, the city also faced natural disasters, including several devastating earthquakes in the early 20th century, which led to the reconstruction of many of its historic buildings.


Today, Pasto stands as a testament to its intriguing past. Its colonial architecture, with its ornate balconies and colorful facades, showcases the city’s historical significance. Walking through the streets of Pasto is like stepping back in time, experiencing the authenticity and charm of a bygone era.


The history of Pasto is not just confined to its architecture. The city is also renowned for its vibrant cultural heritage and traditional festivals such as the Carnaval de Blancos y Negros, which has been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. These celebrations pay homage to the city’s Indigenous and Afro-Colombian roots, infusing Pasto with a festive and lively atmosphere.


As you explore Pasto, take time to immerse yourself in its fascinating history. Visit the Museo del Oro, where you can learn about the indigenous cultures that once inhabited the region, or take a stroll through the historic downtown area, admiring the impressive colonial buildings. The past is alive in Pasto, and it invites you to discover its secrets and stories.


How to Get to Pasto

Traveling to Pasto is an adventure in itself, with various options available depending on your starting point. While the city may not have its own international airport, there are still convenient ways to reach Pasto. Here are a few popular modes of transportation to consider:

  • By Air: If you’re coming from outside of Colombia, your journey will most likely begin with a flight to Bogotá, the capital city. From there, you can catch a domestic flight to Antonio Nariño Airport in Pasto. Several airlines operate regular flights between Bogotá and Pasto, making it a convenient option for travelers.
  • By Land: For those already in Colombia, traveling by land is a scenic and adventurous way to reach Pasto. You can take a bus from major cities such as Bogotá, Cali, or Popayán to reach Pasto. Bus travel in Colombia is comfortable and affordable, with various companies offering routes to Pasto. The journey may take several hours depending on your starting point, but the stunning landscapes along the way make it worthwhile.
  • By Car: If you prefer the flexibility and freedom of driving, you can rent a car and take the Pan-American Highway to reach Pasto. The journey from Bogotá to Pasto by car takes approximately 10-12 hours, but be prepared for winding mountain roads and varying weather conditions. It’s advisable to have some experience with mountain driving and to check road conditions before embarking on this trip.

Once you arrive in Pasto, getting around the city is relatively easy. The public transportation system consists of buses and taxis, which are readily available. Taxis are a convenient option for shorter distances, while buses provide a cost-effective means of traveling within the city and exploring the surrounding areas.


Whether you choose to fly, take a bus, or drive to Pasto, the journey itself is part of the experience. You’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Andean landscapes, lush valleys, and picturesque towns along the way. Embrace the adventure and savor the anticipation as you make your way to Pasto, ready to uncover the wonders that await you.


Exploring Pasto’s Colonial Architecture

One of the highlights of visiting Pasto is the opportunity to explore its stunning colonial architecture. The city’s historic downtown area is a treasure trove of well-preserved buildings, each with its own unique charm and story to tell.


As you wander through the streets, you’ll encounter beautiful mansions with ornate balconies, colorful facades, and intricate ironwork. These architectural gems are a testament to the city’s past and offer a glimpse into the grandeur of colonial times. Some notable examples include the Palacio de la Gobernación, the Catedral Basílica de San Pedro, and the Teatro Imperial.


One of the iconic landmarks in Pasto is the Iglesia de la Merced, a 17th-century church with a striking yellow and white exterior. Step inside to admire the impressive altar, intricate woodwork, and religious artwork that adorn the interior. Another must-visit is the Iglesia de San Juan, with its distinctive red and white facade and rich history dating back to the 16th century.


A walk along the Calle Real, also known as Carrera 23, is a journey back in time. This street is lined with colonial houses, each with its own architectural flair. Capture some Instagram-worthy photos as you admire the vibrant colors, beautifully carved wooden doors, and blooming balconies.


Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Museo del Oro, located in a 17th-century mansion. This museum showcases a collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts, providing insights into the indigenous cultures that once thrived in the region. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the history and craftsmanship of the past.


Whether you choose to join a guided walking tour or explore independently, make sure to take your time and soak in the beauty of Pasto’s colonial architecture. Every corner offers a new discovery, and you’ll find yourself transported to a different era, where intricate details and timeless elegance take center stage.


As you explore Pasto’s colonial architecture, remember to embrace the spirit of preservation and respect the buildings and their surroundings. These architectural wonders are not only important cultural landmarks but also a source of pride for the city and its residents.


Discovering Pasto’s Traditional Cuisine

No visit to Pasto is complete without indulging in the delicious traditional cuisine that the city has to offer. Known for its unique flavors and influences from indigenous and Spanish culinary traditions, Pasto’s food scene is a delightful culinary journey for your taste buds.


A staple dish in Pasto is the famous cuy asado, which is roasted guinea pig. This traditional delicacy is prepared with a special marinade and slow-roasted until crispy and flavorful. Don’t let the unusual choice of protein deter you – cuy asado is a true culinary delight that shouldn’t be missed during your visit to Pasto.


Another must-try dish is the flavorful and hearty fanesca. This traditional soup is made with a variety of grains, beans, and fish, and is typically enjoyed during the Lenten season. The combination of ingredients creates a rich and satisfying soup that will warm both your body and soul. Pair it with a side of empanadas, stuffed with cheese or meat, for a complete meal.


For seafood lovers, the coastal influence is evident in dishes like encocado de camarones. This dish features succulent shrimp cooked in a delicious coconut sauce, flavored with aromatic spices and served with rice. The combination of flavors creates a culinary experience that highlights the diversity of Colombian cuisine.


To satisfy your sweet tooth, don’t miss out on trying the exquisite sanduches de helado. These unique ice cream sandwiches feature a variety of flavors sandwiched between two sweet bread rolls, creating a delectable dessert that will leave you wanting more.


When it comes to beverages, be sure to try the local specialty known as café con helado. This refreshing drink combines hot coffee with a scoop of ice cream, creating a delightful blend of flavors and temperatures that is perfect for a warm afternoon. It’s the ideal way to experience the Colombian love for coffee in a unique and delicious way.


As you explore Pasto’s traditional cuisine, keep an eye out for local food markets and street vendors, where you’ll find an array of snacks, fresh produce, and regional specialties. Engage with the locals, ask for recommendations, and be open to trying new flavors and combinations.


Pasto’s traditional cuisine is a true reflection of the city’s rich history and cultural heritage. By indulging in these traditional dishes, you’ll not only satisfy your taste buds but also gain a deeper understanding of the local culture and the passion that goes into creating these culinary masterpieces.


Hiking the Volcano Galeras

For adventurous souls and nature enthusiasts, a visit to Pasto would not be complete without embarking on a thrilling hike up the majestic Volcano Galeras. Standing at an impressive height of 4,276 meters (14,029 feet), this active volcano offers a challenging yet rewarding outdoor experience.


Before embarking on the trek, it is essential to check with local authorities or tour operators for the most up-to-date information regarding safety and permits. The volcanic activity of Galeras makes it necessary to have proper guidance and follow guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike.


The journey to the summit of Galeras takes approximately 5-6 hours, depending on the fitness level of the hikers and the weather conditions. As you ascend, the landscape transforms, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and the city of Pasto below. Capture these moments and feel a sense of accomplishment as you conquer the challenging terrain.


Reaching the summit rewards hikers with a spectacular view of the crater, which is still active and emits volcanic gases. Witnessing the raw power of nature up close is an awe-inspiring experience that truly immerses you in the beauty and grandeur of the natural world.


While the hike can be physically demanding, the beauty of the natural surroundings and the sense of accomplishment make it all worthwhile. It is important to be prepared with proper hiking gear, including sturdy footwear, warm clothing, sunscreen, and enough water and snacks to sustain you throughout the journey. Additionally, it is advisable to hike with a guide who has expertise and experience in navigating the terrain.


For those who prefer a less strenuous experience, there are alternative hiking trails around the volcano that offer equally stunning views and opportunities to connect with nature. These trails allow you to explore the flora and fauna of the region, marvel at the volcanic landscape, and enjoy the fresh mountain air.


A hike to the Volcano Galeras is not just a physical journey but also a spiritual one. The mountain holds great significance for the local indigenous communities, who consider it a sacred place. As you explore the volcano, take a moment to appreciate the spiritual connection that exists between the land and the people who have called it home for centuries.


Hiking the Volcano Galeras is a testament to human resilience, the power of nature, and the spirit of adventure. It is an experience that will leave you with a profound sense of awe and gratitude for the wonders of the natural world.


Visiting the Sanctuary of Las Lajas

Perched on a cliffside and surrounded by lush green landscapes, the Sanctuary of Las Lajas is a breathtaking architectural masterpiece that should not be missed during your visit to Pasto. Located just outside the city, this magnificent basilica is a destination that combines spirituality, history, and awe-inspiring beauty.


The sanctuary is known for its stunning design, characterized by Gothic Revival and Neoclassical elements. Its striking white facade contrasts beautifully with the natural surroundings, creating a captivating sight that will leave you in awe. As you approach the sanctuary, the view of the bridge connecting the rocky cliffs adds to the dramatic landscape.


Legend has it that the sanctuary was built in the 18th century after an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on a large rock. This miraculous event led to the construction of the sanctuary, which has since become a revered pilgrimage site for Catholics from around the world.


Step inside the sanctuary and be awed by the intricately designed interior. The high ceilings, colorful stained glass windows, and ornate altars create an atmosphere that is both grand and serene. Take a moment to soak in the spiritual ambiance and admire the religious artwork that adorns the walls.


One of the most striking features of the sanctuary is the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary on the rock. Located at the back of the sanctuary, this image is believed to have healing powers, and many visitors come to seek solace and blessings. The devotion and faith of pilgrims can be felt throughout the sanctuary, creating a sense of tranquility and reverence.


As you explore the grounds of the sanctuary, take time to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds it. The lush mountains, flowing river, and cascading waterfalls create a picturesque setting that is truly awe-inspiring. Walking paths and viewpoints offer the perfect opportunity to take in the panoramic views and capture memorable photos.


To enhance your visit, consider joining a guided tour or attending one of the regular religious ceremonies held at the sanctuary. These experiences provide deeper insights into the historical and spiritual significance of Las Lajas and allow you to fully appreciate the cultural heritage of the region.


Visiting the Sanctuary of Las Lajas is an experience that combines architectural splendor, natural beauty, and spiritual devotion. It is a testament to the human ability to create wonders that touch the soul and inspire awe. As you stand before this remarkable sanctuary, allow yourself to be touched by its beauty and the sense of peace that pervades its surroundings.


Exploring the Scenic Laguna de la Cocha

Located just a short distance from Pasto, the Laguna de la Cocha is a picturesque lake nestled in the Andean mountains. Surrounded by lush vegetation, rolling hills, and stunning views, this natural wonder offers a serene and breathtaking escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.


The Laguna de la Cocha is the second-largest natural lake in Colombia and is a haven for nature lovers and birdwatchers. Its tranquil waters are home to a variety of bird species, including herons, ducks, and the iconic Andean condor. As you navigate the lake on a boat or kayak, you’ll have the opportunity to spot these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.


For those seeking adventure, hiking trails around the lake provide a chance to explore the surrounding landscape. The trails offer varying levels of difficulty, catering to both novice hikers and experienced trekkers. As you hike, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the lake, the surrounding mountains, and the charming lakeside villages.


One of the notable attractions near Laguna de la Cocha is Isla de la Corota, a small island located in the middle of the lake. This island is a nature reserve, known for its diverse ecosystem and unique flora and fauna. Guided tours are available, allowing you to explore the island’s trails and learn about its ecological importance.


The villages surrounding the Laguna de la Cocha offer a glimpse into the traditional way of life in this region. San Juan de Pasto and the nearby village of El Encano are known for their warm hospitality and beautiful handicrafts. Take a stroll through the colorful markets, where you can find intricately woven textiles, handmade ceramics, and unique souvenirs to take home.


The Laguna de la Cocha is also a culinary delight, offering a variety of fresh and delicious trout dishes. Local restaurants along the shores of the lake serve up mouthwatering meals, where you can savor the flavors of the region while enjoying panoramic views of the lake and mountains.


Whether you’re seeking tranquility, adventure, or cultural immersion, the Laguna de la Cocha provides it all. Spend a day exploring its scenic beauty, engaging in outdoor activities, and connecting with the rich natural and cultural heritage of the region. It’s a destination that will leave you refreshed, inspired, and longing to return for more.


Experiencing Pasto’s Cultural Festivals

Pasto is widely recognized for its vibrant and lively cultural festivals, which showcase the city’s rich heritage and traditions. These festivals are a celebration of music, dance, art, and the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the identity of the region. Visiting Pasto during these festive occasions provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and witness the city come alive with color and energy.


One of the most iconic festivals in Pasto is the Carnaval de Blancos y Negros. Celebrated every year in January, this lively event has deep roots in the city’s history and mixes indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and European traditions. During the carnival, the streets of Pasto are filled with joyous crowds adorned with white and black face paint, singing, dancing, and parades of colorful floats. It’s a time of pure celebration and a testament to the city’s multicultural heritage.


Another remarkable festival is the Fiesta de la Virgen de las Mercedes. Held in September, this religious celebration honors the patron saint of Pasto and attracts thousands of pilgrims who come from near and far to pay their respects. The festivities include processions, music, dance, and heartfelt religious ceremonies. It’s a deeply spiritual experience that allows visitors to witness the devotion and faith of the local community.


Throughout the year, Pasto hosts various other cultural events and festivals that showcase different aspects of the city’s heritage. The Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata pays homage to Colombian folk music, while the Festival Internacional de Teatro brings together international theater performances. These events provide a platform for local and international artists to showcase their talent and create a vibrant arts scene in Pasto.


Attending these cultural festivals is not just about being a spectator but actively participating in the celebration. Join in the lively dances, sing along to the traditional songs, and taste the local cuisine that is often associated with these festive occasions. It’s an opportunity to connect with the warmth and welcoming spirit of the Pastuso people and create lasting memories.


If you’re lucky enough to visit Pasto during these cultural festivals, make sure to plan your trip accordingly and book accommodations in advance. The city comes alive during these festivities, and the streets are filled with locals and tourists alike, all eager to experience the magic of Pasto’s cultural heritage.


Experiencing Pasto’s cultural festivals is an immersive and unforgettable experience that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the city’s vibrant traditions, rich cultural heritage, and the warmth and joy of its people. It’s a celebration of diversity, creativity, and the power of community, and one that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.


Shopping for Local Handicrafts

No trip to Pasto is complete without exploring the local markets and shops to discover the vibrant and unique handicrafts that are a reflection of the city’s cultural heritage and creativity. From intricately woven textiles to beautifully crafted ceramics and intricate woodwork, shopping for local handicrafts in Pasto is a delightful experience that allows you to support the local artisans and bring a piece of the city’s culture back home with you.


One of the best places to start your shopping adventure is the Plaza de la Merced, a bustling market in the heart of Pasto. Here, you’ll find a wide variety of handmade crafts, traditional clothing, and souvenirs to choose from. Take your time to browse through the stalls, engage with the vendors, and negotiate prices to ensure you find the perfect memento to cherish.


Textiles play a significant role in the handicrafts of Pasto, and you’ll find beautifully woven textiles, ponchos, and shawls made by skilled weavers. These textiles often feature vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and traditional designs that reflect the cultural heritage of the region. Take the opportunity to appreciate the artistry and dedication that goes into creating these stunning pieces.


Ceramics are another highlight of Pasto’s handicraft scene. From decorative pottery to functional kitchenware, the ceramics in Pasto exhibit a unique blend of Indigenous and Spanish influences. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are apparent in the delicate patterns and vibrant colors of these ceramic pieces. They make wonderful keepsakes or gifts for loved ones.


If you’re interested in woodworking, look out for intricate carvings and sculptures made from local wood. Skilled artisans transform raw materials into works of art, depicting scenes from nature, indigenous symbols, and religious imagery. These wooden crafts capture the essence of Pasto’s natural surroundings and cultural heritage.


When shopping for handicrafts in Pasto, remember to support fair trade and sustainable practices. Many local organizations and cooperatives work with artisans to promote their crafts while ensuring fair wages and environmental responsibility. By purchasing from these ethically conscious sources, you can make a positive impact and directly support the local communities.


Beyond the traditional markets, you’ll also find shops and boutiques that specialize in handmade crafts. These establishments offer a curated selection of high-quality products and provide a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere for browsing and shopping. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with the shop owners, who often have a wealth of knowledge about the local crafts and their origins.


Shopping for local handicrafts in Pasto is not only a chance to take home unique and authentic pieces but also a way to support the local artisans and preserve the region’s cultural heritage. It’s an opportunity to connect with the city’s creativity and artistic spirit while leaving a positive impact on the local community.



Pasto, Colombia, is a hidden gem that offers a unique and off-the-beaten-track travel experience. With its rich history, stunning landscapes, vibrant cultural festivals, and delicious cuisine, Pasto has something to offer every type of traveler. From exploring the colonial architecture of its historic downtown area to hiking the majestic Volcano Galeras, there are countless adventures to be had in this enchanting city.


The cultural festivals of Pasto, such as the Carnaval de Blancos y Negros and the Fiesta de la Virgen de las Mercedes, provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local traditions and witness the city come alive with color, music, and dance. These celebrations offer a glimpse into the multicultural heritage of Pasto and create an atmosphere of joy and camaraderie.


For outdoor enthusiasts, the Laguna de la Cocha and its surrounding trails offer stunning vistas and a chance to connect with nature. Whether you’re birdwatching, hiking, or simply enjoying the serenity of the lake, the beauty of the natural surroundings will leave you in awe.


The culinary scene in Pasto is another highlight, with traditional dishes such as cuy asado and fanesca tempting your taste buds. Exploring the local markets and shops for handmade textiles, ceramics, and woodwork allows you to bring a piece of Pasto’s culture and craftsmanship back home with you.


Traveling to Pasto is made easy with various transportation options, whether it’s flying into Antonio Nariño Airport or embarking on a scenic road trip. Once you arrive, the warm hospitality of the Pastuso people will make you feel welcome and at home.


In conclusion, Pasto is a destination that should not be overlooked when planning your next trip to Colombia. Its rich history, stunning landscapes, vibrant festivals, and delicious cuisine create a truly unique and unforgettable experience. So, pack your bags, set off on an adventure, and discover all that Pasto has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.