The upper view of the massive main cathedral

After Villa de Leyva, our epic road trip through eastern Colombia began to wind down. We had two more heritage towns to visit: Guaduas and Honda. But first, we made a two-night stop in Zipaquirá near Bogotá to see one of Colombia’s most famous attractions: the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral).

Salt Cathedral Facts

The cathedral is built into the world’s largest deposit of halite (rock salt). Mining activities date back at least 6 centuries, when the ancient Muisca indigenous people first began excavations. In fact, these salt deposits played a key role in the Muiscas’ creation of one of South America’s most prosperous pre-Hispanic societies. Centuries later, the mines helped finance Colombia’s drive for independence from Spain.

Fast forward to the 1930s, when the miners built a small chapel in which they could pray to the Virgin of the Rosary of Guasá, their patron saint. When the old chapel was deemed structurally unsound, work began on a new cathedral to be constructed 200 feet deeper (for a total depth of over 600 feet). The new cathedral was inaugurated in 1995 – winning several international architectural awards.

Visiting the cathedral is essentially a three-part experience. First, you traverse a broad corridor to view the 14 Stations of the Cross, each carved in a highly symbolic manner into the halite rock. Next, you arrive at the “choir loft” high above for your first glimpse of the stunning main floor of the cathedral. Finally, you descend to the floor level consisting of three naves depicting the birth, life and death, and resurrection of Christ. Additional small chapels commemorate various Catholic saints.

Colombians themselves voted to name the Salt Cathedral the “First Wonder of Colombia.” Today, it’s a functioning Catholic church, drawing thousands for Mass on many Sundays. (Note: Don’t visit on Sunday!)

(Usual note: Photos are in galleries – just click through to see a larger view.)

Zipaquirá – A Cool Town

Although the Salt Cathedral is the reason most people visit Zipaquirá, it’s an interesting town in its own right – well worth a two-night stay. Zipaquirá is named for Zipa, the ancient Muisca ruler of the territory.

Our Tips for Visitors

  • The Salt Cathedral is a short, uphill (but easy) walk from the Zipaquirá main plaza. On the approach to the mine, you’ll walk through the large and well-laid-out Parque de la Sal, with its collection of museums, cafes, and other attractions. On the day we were there, some sort of young people’s arts festival was going on with lots of music, dancing, juggling, and other activities.
Young dancers practicing their routine in the Parque de la Sal
  • The Salt Cathedral website (in Spanish but easy to translate to English) has all the information you need for a great visit. Admission for us two “oldsters” was about $14 USD apiece and included a very informative audio guide, available in English. You can also buy tickets in advance through the website.
  • Time your visit wisely! Keep in mind that the Salt Cathedral is HUGELY popular and gets very crowded, especially on weekends. We visited on a Monday, arriving a little after the 8:00 a.m. opening time, and we had the place essentially to ourselves. As such, the cathedral had a hushed, reverent, and almost mystical feel, enhanced by echoing Gregorian chant over the sound system. I’m sure it’s a completely different experience when it’s packed with tourists.
  • The Hotel Camino de Sal was an ideal choice for our two-day stay. The modern and cozy inn is only a block from the Plaza de la Independencia, with friendly English-speaking staff. Breakfast and secure parking are included for about $40 USD a night.
Street entrance, Hotel Camino de la Sal (hotel photo)

Next Up: Honda, an Unforgettable Pueblo Patrimonio on the Rio Magdalena!

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    • Kathy Kuhn Reply

      Thanks for sharing your trip with us! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the photos and reading about your adventures 😀
      Love ,
      Kathy (your “little sis”)

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        Thanks so much, “lil sis!” Glad you’re enjoying the blog. Hugs to you and David.

  1. Nancy Klein Reply

    This Salt Church and religious sculptures remind me of something similar that was done in Krakow in Poland.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Nancy. This one might be the largest, but it’s not the only salt cathedral. I’d love to visit the one in Poland and compare.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It really is a must-see if you’re visiting Colombia and going anywhere near Bogotá! We were so close, we couldn’t pass it up.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, Rebecca, and thanks for reading!

  2. Mary McGarvey Reply

    Hi again, Susan and John!
    Again, thanks so much for a beautiful, informative blog! Again, such amazing photos! Definitely we will send guests there and ourselves as well!
    best wishes and we look forward to seeing you here or there! (btw, our cat, Jasmina, also went to Pedasi, PA with us!)
    John & Mary (and Jasmina)

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You’re so welcome, Mary! Jasmine sounds like a well-traveled (and lucky) kitty. I hope you get to see the Salt Cathedral – it’s amazing!

  3. Thank you for taking us along to see more amazing wonders! I would love to see the Salt Cathedral!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Mimi!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It really was! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  4. I absolutely love all of the places that you take us to for travel. I had never heard of a salt cathedral before. The photos, especially the rich purples, are absolutely stunning!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Donna! It really was a feast for the senses.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you for reading, dear Lea! It WAS stupendous!

  5. Listening to Gregorian chants while deep inside a rock-salt cathedral sounds like a great morning adventure.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It was really a moving experience, Henry! Even for us non-religious types 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It was incredible! Wish our pictures did it justice. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! Hey, we’re really enjoying all your Greece content. You two are really getting an in-depth experience there 🙂 We will definitely refer to your blog when it’s time for us to visit Greece.

  6. This salt cathedral is a reminder of what humans can do — creativity is our limit! It’s incredible how some people built impressive structures at the most unlikely places.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Indeed, Bama! Humans are capable of so much beauty. When I get down about all the bad things that are happening in the world, I think of that. Hope you’re well!

  7. The Salt Cathedral looks absolutely immense and your photos are fantastic. What a wonderful place to visit, so interesting.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It was fascinating, Jonno! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  8. Fascinating. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that part of the world, but should we make it, this is a site we’d love to experience.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We’ll get you guys to Colombia for a visit yet 🙂 Thanks, Patti!

  9. The salt cathedral looks pretty special. It reminds me a little of all the monasteries/churches/dwellings carved into the sandstone in Cappadocia in Turkey. People can be so creative!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I hope we get to see those monasteries someday! We have some other friends who just visited the Meteora monasteries in Greece, which sounds like a similar experience. Amazing what creativity can be unleashed by “divine inspiration!” Thanks, Alison.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Muriel! Have a lovely day 🙂

  10. The salt cathedral is incredible and I had to re-read the section that it’s 600 ft underground. Wow! The little side chapel is beautiful. Seems a little incongruous to have a spa but it looks lovely too.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, the spa seemed pretty out of place! But it was actually a little inviting. The cathedral was such a peaceful place – we’re glad we got to see it when it was quiet. Thanks, Caroline!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So glad you enjoyed the post! I wish our pictures did this place justice. It really is incredible!

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