Pitalito, Huila, Colombia

Nov. 5, 2022

My previous blog was about Popayán, this is the next town on my journey - Pitalito.

The distance to drive from Popayán to Pitalito is about 160 kilometers (100 miles). Not far, and if there were a freeway or open highway between the two towns the trip would be a couple of hours, tops. But no, there's no freeway (they don't exist in Colombia), and the 'highway' is, well, not much of a highway. Before the 'bus' (a 9-passenger van) left town I had been told the road was quite rough and the trip would take about 6 hours. Yeah, it was rough! And, yes, it took at least 6 hours.

Even the 'paved' sections of road were in bad shape, then came the sections under construction. Here in Colombia, when they do road construction, it's not just a short section at a time - it's the full length of road they're working on, so it is often many kilometers of work, and making all the traffic wait for at least half-an-hour, often longer. Then, once that part of past us we came to the border of the departmentos (departments, provinces) of Cauca and Huila and suddenly the nice concrete road turned into a hellish unpaved mess of pot holes and an average speed that couldn't have been more than 10kmh. Well, it might have been as much as 20, but it sure felt like 10. Then another section of construction, then a section that was actually smooth concrete.

I will say this for this section of road—it passes through some amazingly beautiful Andes Mountains scenery. The jungle outside the windows of the van was incredibly thick. I don't know how anyone could manage to walk through it.

Popayán sits at an elevation of about 1725 meters (5660 ft) which is quite high for a city for us North Americans. Pitalito sits at about 1318 meters (4324 ft). Both are located on valley floors. When leaving Popayán you quickly enter the mountains where the road climbs to more than 3200 meters (10500 ft) and then drops a bit into a high valley with a floor at around 3000 meters. It's like being in another world, all the plants and trees are different from the other side of the mountains. During the drive, you can see the volcano Puracá which has a height of 4646 meters (15,242 ft).

Pitalito is not a historically significant city like Popayán or Buga, but it does have a few very buildings. This town has a population of around 135,000 and it is said to be the largest producer of coffee in Colombia. I thought the eje cafetera region (the coffee axis, or triangle, the departmentos of Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío) was the biggest producing area, but I was wrong, it's here in the Pitalito area of Huila. Pitalito was founded in 1818, making it relatively young.

Being that these towns are quite high in elevation you might expect them to be rather chilly, but they really aren't. The average high temp for Pitalito for the year is 77°F and for Popayán it is 75°F. The average nighttime low for the year is 63° and 58° respectively. Perfect t-shirt/shorts weather during the days and a light jacket at night. This might be a surprise to some—the average amount of rain per month is higher for Seattle, WA than for either of these Colombian cities that sit so very close to the Amazon rainforest and the equator (less than 360 miles).

So, now I'm on my way to Mocoa, about 135 kilometers south. I'll post pics and a new blog soon. Check back!