Pasto’s geography has played no small part in making this city and its inhabitants so strikingly unique. Its ring of mountains has kept this southern haven a little protected from the world, and they still stand as majestic guardians of their city. Taking pride of place in this ring is the Galeras, a volcano that is still active from time to time. Within this ring huddles the city itself, its streets punctuated at regular intervals by a fine selection of churches, evidence of the devout nature of the people that proudly make Pasto home.
Situated just 8 kilometres west of Pasto, Galeras sits and broods in its spectacular beauty. This volcano is considered the most active in the land, with its last minor eruption taking place in 2010. It often raises a plume of ash into the air, giving Pasto a dramatic, moody backdrop. If it isn’t having a bit of a hissy fit when you’re in Pasto, it’s possible to take a tour at its base, which is a Natural Park and affords a striking panorama of Pasto below. There’s good reason for the park to be closed now and then: in 1993, during a larger than usual eruption, 9 scientists taking an impromptu excursion to the crater itself perished. Galeras: majestic, cranky, and to be respected.
Take a taxi to Galeras Natural park: less than $COP 20,000.
Entrance and registration: $COP 15,000. Remember, the park may be closed due to seismic activity, so always check with locals before departing.
Expertly made from the rubber-like extract of the Mopa-mopa tree using an age-old indigenous technique, Pasto Varnish is a unique local treasure used to adorn beautiful little ornaments, our favourite being the famous little guinea pigs dressed up in any number of different garments. These, and many other local artesinal goods can be found in the huge, barnlike structure know as Bomboná, located around Carrera 30 and Calle 14. You’ll also find tooth-hurtingly good local sweets, as well as beautiful, Andean-style ponchos, leather goods, and other clothes as well. Have a go at some polite haggling: if you’re any good you just might avoid the Gringo Tax.
Address: On the corner of Carrera 30 and Calle 14, Pasto
Open seven days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Iglesia de Cristo Rey
Pastusos, traditionally a devout bunch, are understandably proud of their impressive array of churches. Although none of them may match the haughty grandeur of Ipiales’ Las Lajas (but, then again, few structures do), a number of them are fairly imposing in their own right. A piece of advice that you’ll do well to remember in Pasto: don’t judge a book by its cover. A few of these places of worship don’t look too much chop from the exterior, but hide exquisite, Moorish treasures inside their walls. Do peep in. We’d like to single out one of these churches for special treatment here: the Church of Christ the King. Not only does it provide worthy sightseeing fare of a fine Gothic style both inside and out, but the statue at the entrance has a peculiar history.
If you look at the feet of this saintly figure, you may find it odd that he’s wearing army boots, and not the expected sandals or bare feet. There is a reason for this: this statue is no Catholic saint, but actually the likeness of that saint of a more scarlet hue, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Apparently, there was a mix up at Statue HQ, and the church never got the one of St. Ignatius Loyola it wanted. Never people to let adversity get them down, the good parishioners didn’t miss a step, and welcomed Comrad Vladimir into the fold in the best catholic fashion.
Address: On the corner of Carrera 24 and Calle 20, Pasto.
Photograph thanks to Carlos Gonzalez Hidalgo