Colombia Chronicles I: Pasto

Now this is a town that not many will visit. Not because of anything bad, but rather its location at the very bottom of Colombia. Most tourists will be much further north, but this quaint mountain town does have some beauty to share.

If a traveler does happen to come to Pasto, it is most likely that they are only passing by to/from Ecuador as they continue their trip. I saw a few random gringos there that weren’t from our program, but they were only taking a lunch break before the bus took off again.

Pasto, Nariño, Colombia
It is a pretty place when it isn’t raining…

Food and Drink

I suppose lunch is a great place to start. Lunch is the big meal of the day in Colombia, and that is no exception here. The small almuerzo places located all around town will sell a giant lunch for 6,000-15,000 COP or about $2-5. The serving sizes are about equal at each place, which is to say MASSIVE. The price difference just matters on ambiance, meat quality and if a dessert is included — but the other ingredients are always the same.

First, some sort of soup. The popular one is sancocho which is an animal broth (could be chicken, beef, pork… all 3!) with corn on the cob, potatoes and some mystery piece of cow bone with a little bit of meat on it. Quite delicious. I’ve also learned that this is a simple sancocho, sancocho de gallina is the Sunday special that knocks the socks off of its lunch version.

Sancocho de gallina, Pitalito, Colombia
This is the gallina version… FIND IT.

That’s just the appetizer. Next comes the plate packed full of rice, more potatoes, a small shredded salad and a slab of meat — chicken, pork or beef… sometimes there is higado (liver) for the adventurous folks. To top it all off, it comes with a freshly blended fruit juice.

Needless to say it is cheap and easy to dine well for lunch in Pasto, pretty much any block will have a great almuerzo place to visit… and honestly they’re pretty much all the same! The only downside of these lunches is the inevitable food coma that follows, it almost always involves a nap. Keep that in mind if you have some afternoon work to catch up on…

The lunches are sure to be a staple of any Colombian diet, but for some Pasto only pizazz, you must really visit the chicken joints. There are 2 that you will only find in southern Colombia, so get ’em while you’re here!

Mr. Pollo — The fried chicken extraordinaire.

La Canasta — Rotisserie style, they’re so old school they don’t even have a website, but they have one every several blocks… you’ll find one.

It’s chicken, it’s good. That is all.

La Merced is a great restaurant that has a little bit of everything, and all of it is quite good quality. If you have been starved for a decent pizza, this is about the best you’ll find in Pasto. But you’ll find a diverse menu of grilled meats, seafood, traditional plates and snacky fried appetizers.

If you find yourself staying overnight and need a Club Colombia to wind down, Coyote Ugly is a great place to meet some locals (because remember, you’ll be the only gringo in town). It isn’t quite like the movie you have in mind, but they do make a good cocktail.

Other fun bars are located all around the main square Parque Nariño. You can find a few cafes overlooking the park that will serve a nice Hervido. Be careful with these though, it tastes like a hot fruit smoothy, but it is actually loaded with Andean moonshine which they call Chapíl.

Oh, and you really can’t visit Pasto without trying Cuy. Yes, guinea pig, I almost made it 6 months without trying but was caught and forced to eat it by invite…

Eating Cuy in Pasto, Nariño, Colombia
Go ahead, eat the poor little cuy…

Nature Nearby and Things to See

As Pasto is in the middle of the massive Andes mountain range, mountain lovers can get their fill of hiking, biking and climbing.

We’re going to focus on hiking for now. If you’re feeling very adventurous, hike Volcán Galeras. You’ll be lucky to even see it from Pasto, it is almost always shrouded in clouds, but if you decide to hike up into the clouds… you can kind of see it when you’re standing on top of it.

We got a little lost, so the hike took 12 hours, hopefully, you will do better!

Sunset with Vólcan Galeras
A rare siting of (most) of Galeras, taken from my apartment rooftop washing area.

La Cocha is a beautiful lake just outside of town that is a great place to spend the day. You can take a small boat out to an island for a small hike and return in time for a nice trout lunch in the Chalet. Do watch out for bones though, I got one stuck in my tonsil for the remainder of the day, and was only able to remove it with dental pliers and a steady-handed assistant.

Although I wouldn’t recommend spending much time in Ipiales, Las Lajas is an amazing church just outside of town and it is the pride and joy of Nariño. If you’ve made it all the way down here, you simply must stop by.

Las Lajas, Nariño, Colombia
They put on quite the light show at night.

Bottom Line

This little town will give you a view of Colombia that is off of the “Gringo Trail.” You will probably meet the nicest folks here, I certainly did. So, stop in Pasto! Eat some fried chicken! Climb a mountain! Enjoy a part of Colombia that is rarely seen by foreigners! And really, you’ll find it is kind of a cloudy, dreary town… but you can make your own fun there.

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