As we hasten to point out, the Pastuso culture is a fiercely unique one. Natives of the area aren’t completely joking when they laughingly refer to it as “the Independent Republic of Pasto.” This uniqueness is reflected in many areas of Pastuso life, from the distinctive accent and idioms of their Spanish; the inclusion of hervidos, añejo empanadas, and guinea pigs – this last delicacy is even honoured with its own festival in a nearby town – in their diets; to their local Andean handicrafts, often featuring the ancient, arcane art of Pasto varnishing, which uses rubber taken from the wonderfully-named mopa-mopa tree. A traditionally devout people, Pasto has a number of fine churches, including the intriguing Iglesia de Cristo Rey, and the staggeringly beautiful Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales.
Pasto’s culture, however, can be experienced more viscerally and in a more concentrated and rambunctious form at the beginning of the year, when the Carnival of the Blacks and Whites overwhelms the entire city. Local artists work on the exquisite floats all year, as do the dancers and musicians who enthusiastically people the many parades. And, of course, all the citizens of Nariño converge on the town to celebrate the three main traditional cultures – Indigenous, Spanish, and African – in an explosion of powder, paint, foam and agauardiente.