We can’t lie. While it is possible to a certain extent to find both nightlife and daytime activities in this slightly sleepy southern capital, outside of Carnival (which is a completely different proposition altogether), most of the major attractions we’d recommend are beyond the city limits. We guess it’s fortunate, then, that the landscape around Pasto can hold its own very comfortably indeed in the Sublime Stakes. Terraced farmland spreading its patchwork as far as the eye can see; majestic mountains plunging dramatically into canyons and valleys; not to mention voluminous lagoons, the odd active volcano, and one of the most picture-perfect churches you’re ever likely to see. Don’t fret, budding photographers and sightseers: Pasto Outdoors has it all covered.
Just two satisfyingly picturesque bus-hours from Pasto stands the seemingly unimpressive town of Ipiales. If you’ve made it here just because it lies on your route to nearby Ecuador (or, as we like to call it, South Pasto), you may be tempted to just bus right through. However, we’d beg you not to succumb to this temptation.
We have reasons for the unseemly neediness of our plea. If you just slide on through, you’re going to miss out on two aspects of this deceptive town that will drop your jaw for two very different reasons.
The first reason has all to do with a vision of a virgin on a rock. If you take a chicken bus, or a taxi (we’d suggest the latter, as – if your diplomatic skills are up to it – you can ask the driver to wait for your return to take you back), from the bus station, you’ll come across the “Santuario de las Lajas,” which just happens to be one of the most spectacularly conceived and backdropped churches you’re ever likely to drop a jaw at. Built by local parishioners in honour of a vision at the site, Las Lajas – a vision all by itself – is dramatically situated overlooking a chasm, over which a complementary bridge is flung. There’s also a museum in the bowels of the church, along with some amicable souvenir-pushers, and, of course, world-class photo opportunities.
Oh yes – the other aspect we promised is possibly a bit more primal. In the neighbourhood of El Charco, you’ll find a little strip of restaurants all peddling the same thing: guinea pigs impaled on a spit and roasted into a crispy heaven. Don’t be shy; rip in – we promise carnivorous sublimity at the highest of jaw-dropping heights. Pastusos may very well be enchanted by these delicious little rodents, but we believe the opportunity to try them at their chicken-porky best lies not within Pasto city limits, but in its little brother border-town. Like we begged; don’t pass Ipiales by; at least give it a try! Your jaw may not thank you, but the rest of you will.
Various buses and colectivos from Pasto Bus Terminal to Ipiales Bus Terminal: $COP 4,000 – 7,000.
A gorgeous, winding, 40-minute taxi ride (COP$3,500 for sharing; COP$15,000 solo) from Pasto will get you to the spectacular La Cocha lagoon, the largest wetland system in the Colombian Andes. “La Cocha lagoon,” we admit, is a bit of a tautology, as “cocha” comes from the Quecha word for “lagoon,” but why don’t you just give us a break for a change? Speaking of breaks, La Cocha, and its associated little town with the delightful name of Puerto El Encanto, gives you the perfect opportunity for a relaxing day trip not far from the languid bustle of Pasto. Eat the local delicacy, trout, which comes in an endless variety of manifestations; warm yourself up with some tantalising hervidos cocktails; pick up some local sweets and have a browse at the souvenir shops; all primarily set up – charmingly, we assure you – for the local tourist trade. Then, we suggest you jump on a little boat (around COP$15,000 for a round trip) that will sweep you over the mist-shrouded, awe-inspiring lagoon, to the National Natural Park of La Corota, where a mere $COP 1,000 will allow you to take a walk through the cloud forest sanctuary to a mirador with gorgeous views over the water. According to local tradition, La Corota, now an island, used to be a beautiful woman, so be respectful, now.
Taxi from Pasto to La Cocha: COP$3,500 shared, COP$15,000 private.
Bus from Pasto’s University Departmental Hospital (Calle 22 # 7-93 – opposite Bolivar Park): COP$3,850
Round-trip boat ride from the town of Puerto El Encanto to La Corota: COP$15,000
Entrance to La Corota National Natural Park: COP$1,000
Laguna Verde is two hours away from Pasto, but it’s also part of another world. Chilly, shrouded in cloud, and surreal, this emerald-green lagoon nestles in a crater at the foot of the Azufral Volcano – which, we’re told, is semi-active; even though its last eruption was a millenium ago. The path from the Corponariño cabin winds its way up through the mist, the unique vegetation, and the surrounding, silent, haunting moonscape. Over the couple of hours of medium-level hiking, you’ll wind your way past a Black Lagoon, a Cristal Lagoon, and then, to the main attraction: the brooding volcano, and, of course, the Green Lagoon itself. There are even a couple of little hot pools you can have yourself a bit of a foot spa in near the shore of this emerald lake of tears; and the unmistakable odour of sulphur (the element the volcano is named after) wafts over everything. Catch a bus from the Pasto Bus Terminal to the little town of Túquerres, from where you can either catch a smaller bus (ask the driver to let you off as close to Laguna Verde as they can), or jump in a taxi (less than $COP 20,000 – for a return trip, agree with the driver on a pick-up time) to the Corponariño cabin to begin your moonwalk. Make sure you bring your camera along with hat, gloves, and coat. And be patient: there’s often mist around, but this does often sweep aside at regular intervals to reveal what truly is a sublime, other-worldly environment.
Bus from Pasto Bus Terminal to Túquerres: COP$6,000
Taxi from Túquerres to Laguna Verde’s Corponariño cabin: COP$20,000
Registration at the cabin: COP$1,000