Zarzal, Colombia


Zarzal, Colombia, has a population of about 32,000 in the urban area and about 47,000 in the greater metropolitan area. The town sits in the north of the Valle Del Cauca in the center of the valley.

Zarzal was first founded in 1783 with the name Pueblo Viejo (Old Town). At that time there was a population of about 80. The houses were made of bamboo/mud walls and thatched roofs, many of which still exist and are lived in today. In the early 1800s, the town was renamed Zarzal but that lasted until 1850 when it was renamed, again, this time to Libraida. The town had been categorized as a municipality but in 1857 it was demoted to a village, but then in 1871 it was promoted to a town. Then, in 1909, it was refounded as a municipality.

Zarzal's economy is supported by agriculture. fishing, and commercial. There are two big factories—the Riopaila Sugar Mill and the Colombina Candy Factory. Both are national and international businesses and a large percentage of the population works for either of those. This area is also known as the "The Land that Sweetens Colombia" due to its many sugarcane farms. They have tractor-trailer trucks that pull up to five trailers loaded with cane. Those are some big trucks! They're called trens de caña (sugarcane train).

Zarzal has a tropical climate, the specific classification Af indicates it has no dry season, and there is significant rainfall throughout the year. The Af classification says every month averages at least 60 mm (2.4 inches) of precipitation. The average daytime high of 28° C (83° F), and the nightly average low of 19° C (67° F). The city at 916 meters (3005 feet). The average yearly rainfall amounts to 6406 mm (242 inches) of rain. The humidity is high, always between 88%-91%.

So, my impressions: The town itself is nothing special, just a typical agricultural town like so many others throughout South America. There is nothing to draw tourists, though across the valley, the town of Roldanillo, is popular with paragliders, so when all the hotels are full some stay in Zarzal, which is only eight kilometers from Roldanillo. Otherwise, no, nothing to see here.

My goal is to find a new place to live. So to reach that goal, I am traveling most of South America, visiting the countries of Ecuador, Perú, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay, passing through a bit of Brazil, and finally visiting Uruguay. I have a list of towns, about 70 that meet these qualifications: Cities with average day temperatures of 22-28° C (72-83° F) and night temps of 14° C (57° F) and higher; and a population between 28,000-300,000. I analyzed climate and population data of around 700 towns in the countries mentioned above and then pulled out the ones that meet the previously mentioned criteria, which leaves about 70. My preference leans towards towns of less than 100,000 people.  And, now that I have visited more than 130 towns/cities (not including more than 70 in Colombia), I've decided I will want an inland town. I love the beach and walking in the warm water, but getting sunburned is just too easy, even on a cloudy day. At least here in Ecuador. I've also decided that any town with more than 100,000 population will be too big. I've decided that any small town/city (less than around 80,000 population) that meets the temp specifications and has a supermarket and ATM is one worth considering to live in.

So, to reach my goal I will visit those towns and discover which one calls out to me - "Chip, Chip, make your new home here, this is your new home town". That hasn't happened yet, but the towns listed below are very close to giving me that feeling. At any rate, I have visited very few tourist attractions and archeological sites, etc., those will have to wait for another trip through South America.

My Top 10 list has these towns on it:

  • Puyo, Ecuador
  • Moyobamba, Peru
  • Encarnación, Paraguay
  • Formosa, Argentina
  • Roldanillo, Colombia

During my travels in Ecuador I visited 36 towns/cities. In Perú, I visited 38; in Chile, only five; and in Argentina, I visited 16. In Uruguay, I visited five, and in Brazil, three. And in Paraguay, I have visited 26. In Colombia, I've visited 82. That's 211 towns/cities in South America.