There is something about South America and salt. And I’m not talking about the food. Rather, the fact that they just love to build stuff out of it!
When I travelled to Bolivia, I got the opportunity to stay in a hotel made of salt, which was pretty much as cool as it sounds. So when I discovered there is an entire church dug out of salt in Colombia, I obviously had to go check it out.
The Salt Cathedral is found about half an hour outside the capital of Bogota, in a charming little town called Zipaquira. If you have time, try and at least take a walk around its main plaza for a taste of what Colombia is all about. Bonus: the gelato there is only about 50 cents per cone!
Anyway, the real attraction is obviously the cathedral, which was fashioned out of the tunnels in a salt mine 200 metres underground in the side of a mountain. Miners initially created a sanctuary for themselves to pray in, and in the 1950s it was expanded to host a massive cathedral and walkways. Updated again in the 90s, it can now hold about 3,000 people during Sunday services.
Around the Cathedral
The site itself is absolutely breathtaking. Visitors wander through the dark pathways which are accented by neon lighting, making it a rather eerie spectacle. A neat feature is the Stations of the Cross lining the pathway toward the main cathedral, which are sculptural representations detailing Jesus carrying the cross to his crucifixion. There are also numerous spots to step off the pathway and onto the stone pews.
Without a doubt, the main highlight is the massive domed cathedral. It is tricked out with ever-changing lights, which are focused on a huge cross. There is also a sculpture that draws inspiration from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam painting, which is found in the Sistine Chaptel.
Other can’t-miss spots include a beautiful nativity scene called the Holy Family sculpture (note that baby Jesus has a six-pack!) and what’s called the Water Mirror. It looks like nothing more than a hole in the ground, but don’t be fooled—it’s actually a DEAD STILL lake! Absolutely amazing! Throw a little pebble into it, and watch as the water ripples away.
Once visitors have taken in the religious parts of the church, they can watch a 3D movie that details the history of the salt dome, and explains how they built the cathedral. There are also a few gift shops and spots to buy food. Another popular option is to take a guided tour of the mining route, which includes mandatory hard hats!
Outside the Mine
If you’re travelling with children who aren’t interested in religious monuments, don’t fear: there are plenty of other things on site to entertain them. The outside of the complex is surrounded by food stalls, a playground and a climbing wall. There is even a maze! Visitors can also hop on a little train that takes them on a tour from the cathedral down into Zipaquira.
Cost: Ticket prices range depending on how many of the attractions you want to see, but start at around $15 per adult. That includes admission to the cathedral and a ticket to watch the movie. Guided tours of the salt cathedral are also available.
Hours: Every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday mass is held at 1 p.m.
How to get there: The easiest way is to drive from Bogota, but you can also get there by bus. Click here for more information.
Top tip: Avoid the cathedral on the weekend, when it can be packed with visitors. If you go during the week you’ll likely encounter a couple of school groups, but will otherwise get to enjoy the place in relative peace and quiet.
Fun fact: If you’re looking for a totally unique place to get hitched, the salt cathedral hosts weddings!
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- Why South America is perfect for backpackers
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