Not many travelers visit Pamplona, Colombia unless they’re crossing the nearby border into Venezuela. However, unexpected quirks like a standout museum, blatant copyright infringement, cheap fuel, strangely sexy cakes, and authentic Italian pizza make this remote town worth a stop.
Quirky Pamplona, Colombia
The narrow, winding road to Pamplona is peppered with signs that warn of “alta reisgo de accidentes“(high risk of accidents) as it climbs to 11,200 feet (3,400 meters). After traveling through a lovely, high, boulder-strewn plateau we dropped to a more reasonable 7,500 feet (2,200 meters) and arrived in Pamplona.
Founded in 1549, Pamplona still has some colonial architecture that’s survived “progress” and earthquakes and, for a town this size, there are some good museums as well. The Museo Casa Colonial (free), for example, has two rooms displaying indigenous, colonial, and religious art.
The surprisingly sophisticated Museo Arte Moderna Ramirez Villamizar (1,000 COP/about US$0.40) is a lovely building that’s full of abstract sculptures and paintings by Colombian artist Eduardo Ramriez Villamizar who was born in Pamplona in 1922. He studied art in Bogota where he began his slow and steady ascent to upper echelons of the global modern art world. There are a number of other religious art museums in town but we skipped them. We were hungry.
The weird world of eating in Pamplona
The first thing we noticed about food in Pamplona was the number of shameless fakes around town. Dulces de Rey, for example, has the creepy Burger King king right on its sign. Then there’s Roy Royers chicken.
And who could ignore the soft-porn desserts all over town? Either there are a lot of bachelor parties going on in Pamplona, or birthday and graduation celebrations get pretty wild around here.
Another unexpected find? Real pizza made by a real Italian. The owner of Piero’s Pizza arrived in Pamplona from Italy more than 30 years ago and his restaurant is still a popular place. About US$15 will get you a very, very large properly made pizza pie. We ate there twice.
Sleeping in Pamplona
We stayed at the Cariongo Plaza Hotel which was the biggest hotel in town and combined business traveler services with a family vacation vibe, though we still can’t figure out why we had to call the front desk any time we wanted hot water. Another quirk! Those on a budget should check out Hotel el Alamo where less than US$15 gets you a private double room with Wi-Fi and a parking lot (which is always important to us). The 1549 Hostal has a stylish colonial look, but some rooms (around US$25 for a private double) are small and dark. Look before you book.
Road trip tip
Pamplona is just 50 miles (80 km) from the border with Venezuela where, despite the current downward spiral in that increasingly failed nation, fuel is still dirt cheap. When we were in Pamplona some gas stations were selling cheaper fuel that was brought in from Venezuela. We got diesel for about US$1.50 less per gallon than in other places in Colombia, but with a COP 20,000 limit per vehicle.