In southern Colombia the town of Pasto lies 250 miles north of the equator, high in the Andes at an altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level. Just 12 miles outside of town is Lake Cocha or Laguna de la Cocha. It is one of Colombia’s largest and most beautiful lakes. It is also one of the Andean water reserves and a birthplace of the Amazon river.
The port town is popular with Colombian tourists who come to enjoy the enchanting wooden chalets, narrow canals, rickety bridges and brightly painted boats. The village, El Puerto, sits on wetlands at the mouth of the river Rio Encano in the Andean rainforest.
Located on the eastern side of the Andes mountain range, the lake receives its water from several streams and rivers coming from glaciers located higher up. The water from the lake does not flow to the nearby Pacific Ocean, but travels through the Guamez and Putamayo rivers into the Amazon. La Cocha has been declared a Wetland of International Importance.
Small buses leave Pasto, 13 miles away, taking people to the port on the lake where small motor boats ferry visitors to the island ‘El Encano’ which is a national park. And according to ancient beliefs Lake La Cocha is also a holy site.
The village has been called Colombia’s Venice, due to the canals in town and also ‘ Little Switzerland‘ due to the affluence of Swiss styles chalets in El Puerto.
The painted wooden chalets have a unique history. According to the locals, 80 years ago the houses didn’t look like they do now. Then in the 1940s a Swiss expat by the name of Walter Sulzer arrived in town.
He was a Swiss was a cook who arrived in Colombia escaping the Second World War. Hired by a local hotel to build some cabins, he used local materials to construct typical Swiss guesthouses. It was a style that was later copied by everyone in town earning it the nickname, “Little Switzerland”.
The town is touristy with almost every home along main street serving up lake trout either caught in the lagoon or raised in neighboring trout farms. The trout is either fried or grilled but the best version is trucha ahumada (smoked trout).
See article: Pasto – Colombia’s Surprise City