This department was created in 1886,
It has an area of 29,308 square kilometres, 80 per cent of which is covered by a mountainous region.
Part of the so-called Masizo Colombiano
is located in Cauca, where the Western and Central cordilleras
(mountain ranges) are divided and where the rivers of Magdalena, Cauca, Caquetá and Patía originate.
Cauca borders the departments of Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Huila Caquetá, Putumayo, Nariño and the Pacific Ocean.
It is a land of remarkable landscapes such as the Natural National Park of Puracé, with lakes, hot springs and waterfalls.
Before the conquest, the department was populated by different native tribes. The Guambianos and the Pijaos were the most important. Some of them survive today and live in protected regional areas.
Sebastián de Belelazar was the first Spaniard to arrive on these lands, where he founded the city of Popayán.
At present Cauca has nearly 1,345,000 inhabitants. Fifty six per cent of its population is formed by white and racially mixed people that live in the central part of the department. Native communities in the eastern region of Tierradentro represent the 21 per cent of its population. Descendants of black Africans on the Pacific coast form another 23 per cent Cauca's inhabitants.
Agriculture is Cauca's main economic strength. The department is Colombia's second biggest sugar-cane producer. Corn, yucca, banana, coffee, wheat, rice, bean, tobacco, potatoes and cocoa are also important crops. Livestock and industry (mainly pulp and paper) are other sources of income.
Popayán, the "Stately city of Colombia" was founded by Sebastián de Belalcázar in 1537 at the foot of the Puracé volcano. Its original name was Asunción de Popayán. It has approximately 250,000 inhabitants, who are proud of their culture and aristocratic ancestry.
This city has been the cradle of the heroes of our Independence, prominent writers and illustrious politicians.
With pretty colonial-style white houses and buildings, the city itself could be considered as a monument to its past. An earthquake destroyed many of Popayán's buildings in 1983, but they have since been reconstructed.
Popayán is an important religious center with beautiful churches such as the Cathedral of Popayán called Our Lady of the Assumption, the church of San Francisco, the church of El Carmen, the churches of La Encarnación, San José, Santo Domingo, San Augustín, and the Chapel of Belén. La Ermita, the city's first church, was built in 1546.
The Museum of Religious Art houses many pieces of incalculable artistic value, such as a collection of gold and precious stones, paintings and sculptures. Other places worth visiting are the Museum of Art of Edgar Negret, the Museum Martínez, the House of Valencia, the House of Mosquera, the Bridge of the Humilladero, the Tower of El Reloj, El Morro de Tulcán and the Monasterio Hotel. The University of Cauca, the Colegio Mayor, the University Antonio Nariño and the Cooperative University are important educational centres.
The city's most important event is the celebration of the Holy Week. Thousands of pilgrims from across Colombia attend every year. The city of Popayan was appointed the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the year 2005.