The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá lies just north of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, and makes the perfect day trip from the city!.Here we discuss how to make the most of your visit. You will find detailed travel directions at the bottom of this page.
I’m going to start this post with a confession – I wasn’t expecting much from the Salt Cathedral. Phil on the other hand really wanted to go, and I’m glad that he suggested it because it was fantastic. If you’re in two minds about taking a visit, just do it!
What is the Salt Cathedral?
The first wonder of Colombia
The Salt Cathedral was recently voted the first wonder of Colombia by Colombians, and is located in the small town of Zipaquirá which is to the north of Bogotá. There has been some form of salt mine in this area for hundreds of years after deposits were originally found by indigenous populations living in the area. Back then, the salt extraction was much simpler, a salty brine ran from the ground and people would collect this in containers and heat it until all that remained was salt. Over the years colonisation and advancements in technology has changed the area and the salt mine beyond recognition, and those early indigenous populations have sadly all but disappeared into history.
Respect for miners
Miners are really highly regarded in Colombia as they recognise just what a dangerous job it can be and respect that because of their work we get wonderful products, such as the salt in Zipaquirá and the country’s famous emeralds. Among the many things that the Conquistadors brought with them was Catholicism, and even to this day, Colombia is a very Catholic country (as shown by the recent visit by Pope Francis).
Around the many different mines in the country small shrines can be found asking for the safety and protection of the miners, and it was in this way that the Salt Cathedral first came into existence. The original version of the cathedral sat at a much shallower level and became unstable due to its close proximity to the surface which allowed water filtration to damage the structure. In 1991 work began on the new cathedral, which sits in the same location at a much deeper level, and today thousands of tourists and pilgrims flock to visit it each week. It took three years to finish and uses chambers that were previously excavated for salt. Sitting at approximately 180m below the surface, it is safe from the damaging water that destroyed its predecessor.
Don’t be put off by the young age of the cathedral, despite only being a quarter of a century old in its current state, it’s an amazing piece of architecture and engineering and you can learn a lot about Colombia, it’s history and development, by taking a visit.
When you enter the cathedral you are greeted by a light show on the roof which welcomes its visitors by displaying the many different flags of the world. As you walk further the air cools and you arrive at the first station of the cross, where Jesus was condemned to death.
The Stations of the Cross
The Salt Cathedral has four sections to it, and the first takes you on a journey through the fourteen stations of the cross. We were both impressed by the artistic design of the different stages which don’t have any faces depicted. Instead, the artists used different materials, such as the rock from the mine, marble and granite to convey emotions.
The second part of the Salt Cathedral is the dome. If you have ever been to a cathedral, you might know that the dome is a visual respresentation of the meeting point between earth and the heavens. Usually this dome is covered in artwork of angels or other religious symbolism, but here it has been left bare. As the lights play across the uneven surface of the rock and its minerals, it feels almost as if you are looking into the universe.
Within the third part of the cathedral are three large naves, which symbolise the birth, life and death of Christ, and are interconnected by a small tunnel which represents the movement between these three stages of the story. In the middle nave, at the very top, is the world’s largest underground cross, an extremely impressive sight! At a glance, it looks like it would’ve been heavy to construct, but it’s actually hollow and has been carved into the solid salt rock around it.
The information centre
At the furthest point from the entrance is the fourth section, which consists of shops, a light show, museum and a 3D movie screen. The light show is a celebration of Colombia and the movie, which has English subtitles, explains how the mine came to be. This section is a little cheesy but the movie was interesting and provided some great information about how the mine developed over time.
The town of Zipaquirá
We spent about three hours exploring the Salt Cathedral and really enjoyed our time there. Throughout the day there are guided tours and we were lucky enough to drop on one in English just as we arrived. Once we came out (and our eyes had adjusted to the light!), we explored the small town of Zipaquirá which is a tourist destination in its own right. It has a large square which is surrounded by bright Spanish colonial buildings and an old cathedral which is an imposing addition to the skyline.
Lunch in Zipaquirá
We had lunch at La Komilona de Andes, where we had some lovely food (they even had some awesome veggie options for me!) and the staff were very friendly, so we would definitely recommend checking it out!
If you get chance to go to the Salt Cathedral make sure you make time to wander around the town, it’s so different to Bogotá, the pace is much slower… and the air feels much cleaner!
Directions for public transport from Bogotá to Zipaquirá
For those of you looking for directions on how to get to the Salt Cathedral, look no further!
You can get a bus to Zipaquirá from Portal Norte, a large bus terminal in the north of the city, which is easily accessible from the rest of the city by bus or taxi. Once you arrive at the station look for signs saying ‘Zipa’ or ‘Norte’, in our experience we really didn’t have long to wait for a bus, either leaving or returning.
Be aware that you can’t use the Tullave card (green pre-pay card for Bogotá buses) and so you will need to have cash on you (small notes preferably). The bus costs around 5000 COP depending on which service you take. When you get on the bus ask the driver for ‘Catedral de Sal’ and they will drop you off at the closet point on their route, which is in Zipaquirá town. This is important because the final destination of the bus is the bus station which we understand is Zipaquirá bus station which isn’t really close to the cathedral.
From Portal del Norte it took around an hour and from where the bus drops you off it’s a short walk to the Salt Cathedral’s entrance. Be wary though as it’s not sign posted and we originally got lost, walking too far up the hill (an unnecessary trek!).
Finding the Salt Cathedral
Get off the bus and cross over the road at the junction and then carry on straight up the hill. You will see the colonial building used by the tourist train (runs from Bogotá on certain days), and then the brick cathedral, before arriving at the large colonial square. You want to take the first left, before entering the square (bottom left-hand side) and follow the road all the way, until you come to signs for the Salt Cathedal. From this point, it’s super easy, you just follow the large white line all the way to the Miner’s Plaza and you will find the ticket office there.
We paid 50,000 COP entrance each, which includes the guided tour (we dropped on the one at 12pm in English), light show and movie, but you can pay more if you would like to see the museum. The man on the ticket booth told us the museum was all in Spanish so we just stuck with the basic ticket.
Return to Bogotá
To get back to Bogotá you want to go back to the road where the bus dropped you off, but you need to be on the opposite side. We found there was a bus already waiting there and it seems they are very frequent so you shouldn’t have long to wait. Unfortunately, we dropped on rush hour heading back into the city which meant it took longer to get back to our hostel and we also had to sit in traffic for quite a while. The roads here are pretty polluted, so for a few hours after we both had headaches from the fumes! We’d reccommend heading from Zipaquirá earlier than we did, maybe around 4pm.
We went to the Salt Cathedral on a Monday and it was a good level of busy, we got the impression that if you go on a weekend the place would be rammed, so factor this into your planning!
We spent an amazing two months in Colombia. It is a beautiful country that we can’t recommend enough. Find out what else we got up to by checking out our other blog posts.
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