Hailed as one of Colombia’s most significant architectural accomplishments, The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is the most stunning and unusual cathedral you will ever visit. From the moment you start to walk down the pathway leading to the tunnels, you know you are about to experience something inspiring. It’s dark, wet, mysterious, and reminiscent of a scene from Game of Thrones.
Once a working salt mine, this cavernous system is now described as a “Jewel of Modern Architecture” as the church was carved inside a salt mine 650 feet underground.
Years before the underground church was built (around 1932), the miners had carved a sanctuary as a place for their daily prayers. Mining has always been a dangerous job and a cause of death for many in the field. Given this, the miners would pray to the Virgin of the Rosary of Guasá. Asking for protection from explosions, toxic gases, and potential accidents. The miners considered her to be the patron saint of miners, their protector.
Catholicism in Colombia
Colombia, a Catholic country, with most if not all citizens actively practicing their faith. We were lucky enough to be visiting the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá on Good Friday. A unique service to witness as the services represent the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It is one of the most significant occasions for all Catholics.
Ironically, I had just learned about the Stations of the Cross from visiting another church in Colombia. Little did I know that we were about to witness the most spectacularly visual representation of this story carved into the salt mine walls.
Stations of the Cross Inside the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
As soon as we exited the tunnel and entered the main section of the mine, we were greeted by the Cross’s Stations. The Stations of the Cross chronicle Jesus’ last journey. The walk takes you on the journey in chronological order. Each station has a different cross carved out of rock salt and kneeling platforms. Essentially, each station is a small chapel.
Do Not pose or enter the crosses at each station. Yes, you will see some idiots doing this. You should not; it’s the height of disrespect. Don’t be an idiot, capture your photos of these religious artifacts as they are without you in them!
Because we were there on Good Friday, we could not see station one (Jesus condemned to death) or station twelve (Jesus dies on the cross). These stations were closed out of respect for the events that took place and the sacrifices that Jesus made.
Even if you are not religious or don’t understand the teachings, you can follow along the journey. I do recommend reading up on it first so that you know what each station represents. We were lucky; we had Catholic friends that we could explain it all to us and answer questions about each station. Alternatively, you can rent the audio tour that will explain it to you.
Descending into the chambers of the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
At the end of the Cross’s Stations, you continue walking deeper into the mine towards the central nave of the cathedral.
Tip: You can and should view the Cathedral from the balcony above to get a sense of the depth.
Immediately, you see the oversized gothic chandeliers accentuated by the blue and purple lights that enhance the beauty. The lighting is set to showcase all the accents, carvings and brighten the otherwise dull salt rock walls. It creates a magical hue that encourages your eyes to explore.
At the front of the nave, there is a huge cross that appears to float. A priest is conducting mass in Spanish. A crowd is gathered in the pews, praying and participating in Holy Communion.
What You Need to Know
Getting to The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá from Bogota is easy, and you do not need to take a tour. Your hotel will arrange a private driver for you. It costs about $60 round trip for up to four people. You can also combine this with other attractions.
It takes about two to three hours to tour the cathedral.
It costs about $16 to enter, and the on-site museum is not included. You need a separate ticket for the museum.
It’s cold inside the cathedral, so have a cardigan or jacket in the event it’s too cold for you.
Once you come out of the central nave, there is an entire underground shopping mall. I found this odd. I am a shopper, but it felt wrong to be inside a cathedral. We did not purchase anything.
The cathedral is wheelchair accessible.
I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Colombia, and The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá was my favorite experience. You do not need to be religious or spiritual to appreciate the cathedral. Nor do you need to understand the biblical significance. If you have an interest in architecture, enjoy exploring new places or want to learn about Colombia’s religion, then you should not miss this!
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Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.