Updated January 11th, 2019.
Pasto (short for San Juan de Pasto) is located in the department of Nariño in southwestern Colombia, not far from the border of Ecuador.
One of the oldest cities in Colombia, Pasto itself doesn’t have much to offer besides pretty churches, restaurants and cafes, but the landscape around the city is breathtaking! The city is located in the Atriz Valley in the midst of the mighty Andes at the foot of the Galeras volcano. In the surrounding mountains, you will discover beautiful lakes and indigenous villages.
The city itself has a mixed cultural feeling, with the dominant culture being the Andean culture. Due to the ‘Black and White Carnival’ (see below) the city is becoming a symbol for racial unity across the world!
The people here are very religious and the churches and temples are representative of this. Pasto is also famous for its arts and crafts; leather, ceramics, ‘pasto varnish’ and wooden souvenirs and other products. It’s a great place to pick up an authentic gift for home!
Where to stay in Pasto?
The best pick for a backpacking hostel in Pasto is ‘Koala Inn’, just two blocks away from Plaza de Nariño. They have nice dorms and private rooms for about 6 USD per night.
Check out more accommodation in Pasto on Booking.com.
Things to do in Pasto, Colombia
- Eat Cuy
In Pasto, you can almost feel that the neighbouring country of Ecuador is close by – not least because it is the only area in Colombia where you will find the Ecuadorian and Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig, or cuy. Cuy is best eaten with spicy peanut sauce.
- El Encano
In El Encano you can walk around and feel like you were in Venice, due to loads of small bridges, and colourful houses with many flowers. You can rent a boat (5-10 USD) to visit the Isla Corota and its small park on the lake. There you can walk around, see and listen to birds and if you are lucky, other animals as well. The entrance closes at 5pm.
- Laguna de la Cocha
This quiet lake is located right next to the beautiful village of El Encano, only 30 minutes away from Pasto. Almost every house in the village is a hospedaje with a restaurant and they offer great food, such as trucha (trout). During the week you will see almost no other people, but at weekends the village is full of Pastoreros. To get to the Laguna de la Cocha take a collectivo. They leave from Parque Bolivar in Pasto and go directly to the lake, costing about 1.50 USD.
- Hiking near Laguna Verde
This spectacular and mysterious lake is just a two hour bus ride from Pasto. You follow the Pan-Americana Highway to the South and enjoy good views along the way. From a small cabaña the hike starts – about 5 kilometres in 1.5 hours. You walk until the top of the mountain, from where you can see the green lake as well as a really small volcano. After reaching the top you can walk down to the lake – coming up can be quite hard because of the altitude (4,000 m). Down there you will encounter a very strong eggy smell of sulphur. To get to the lake take a bus from the terminal in Pasto to the small village of Túquerres (3-5 USD) and from there a taxi or collectivo to the beginning of the trekking path (1 USD).
- Black and White Carnival
The black and white Carnival takes place from 2nd – 7th January every year and completely transforms the streets of the city. The fun-loving ‘Pastusos’ (people from Pasto) paint their faces in varying colours of black and white and parade the streets as a demonstration of unity and communion in ethnic and cultural differences. It’s a wonderful, heartwarming festival to experience and a great example of the diversity of Pasto. As well as a big draw four tourists, the festival is much loved by locals and is an important part of Pasto’s cultural heritage. A specific ‘Black Day’ takes place on 5th Jan and ‘White Day’ takes place on 6th Jan and you will see floats by local artists, traditional dances and hear local bands. Today, the carnival is becoming a tourist attraction and people are flocking from all over the world to Pasto to celebrate in this symbol of togetherness in a divided world.
How to get to Pasto?
- By plane from Bogota: Avianca flys daily from El Dorado (be careful: the planes don’t leave from the international part of the airport, but from the Terminal Puente Aéreo) to Pasto. The landing in the airport of Pasto is incredible due to the mountains and wind around there!
- By bus: From Popayan or San Agustin.
Where to go next?
- Ipiales: Heading south towards the Ecuadorian border, you will come across the small town of Ipiales. (The journey takes about 1.5 hours from Pasto) The town is home to the stunning ‘Las Lajas Sanctuary’, which is a beautiful church built into the side of a steep river valley. Ipiales makes a great stop over for anyone travelling from Cali to Quito via Pasto. The church itself is about 5km from the main town of Ipiales. Of course Christmas time is a very special time to visit!
- Popayán: Known as the ‘white city’ of Colombia, the town is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture and many churches. You will not find many other tourists here. Popayán makes good stop off for those travellers heading north towards Cali and takes around 6 hours by bus.
- Quito: Cross the border into Ecuador and head for the bustling capital. You can take either a day or night bus from Pasto to Quito which takes around 8 hours.
- Cali: The salsa capital of Colombia is am 8 hour bus ride away. A bustling city of two million people in the heart of the Colombian coffee region, it’s a great place to soak up authentic Colombian living.