On Sunday last week, we hopped on a bus to Zipaquira, about two hours north of Bogotá, to head into the salt mines and see the famous salt cathedral (info on how to get there at the bottom of this post).
The bus dropped us off close to the city centre, and we took a short walk past the colourful Turist Tren (another transport option, which runs between Bogotá and Zipaquira on Sundays) up to the main square of the city’s old quarter which is lined with some beautiful colonial buildings including a lovely, crumbling cathedral. Zipaquira is much smaller and far more laid back than Bogotá, with fairly empty streets even on a Sunday, so it made a nice place for a walk.
The entrance to the salt mine is easy to find from the main square. From the entrance up to the mine itself is a short walk up a fairly steep hill, which wasn’t that much fun in the bright midday sun, but we made it to the top red faced and sweaty and bought our tickets for the salt mine (after stopping for a well deserved ice cream).
We followed a long, shuffling queue towards the gaping, cave-like tunnel entrance to the mine. Inside it was pretty dark, and cool straight away which was a relief to my burning skin. The walls are caked in lumps of smooth, white crust and even the bare rock clearly contains a lot of salt – we licked our fingers after touching the walls and the taste is unmistakable!
Inside the mine, which is the largest salt mine in the world, an enormous cathedral has been built. We followed the underground trail along, passing numerous carved crosses in different forms which symbolised the story of Jesus falling three times – with the crosses set at the bottom of some stone steps for when he fell, or a hollow cross set into the wall to symbolise when he was stripped of his garments. Each cross was enormous and was brightly lit in soft blue, green or purple which gave a really cool effect in the darkness. The crosses set down from the path, for each time Jesus fell, were in front of enormous caverns which were so big and dark you could barely see the bottom or the far end, which I assume are the areas which have already been mined for salt.
At the end of the trail, we reached the back of the cathedral proper. The first view came from the back, on a raised balcony watched over by an angel with a horn; from this we could see the final cross – utterly enormous and lit in ever changing colours – which stood proudly at the back of a cavernous space, behind an alter, facing the rows of benches. The salt miners would have at one time spent every Sunday here for mass, and in fact it is still a working church with services (although without a bishop, it actually has no official status as a cathedral).
We spent a couple of hours underground, exploring the tunnels of the temple and the beautifully hand carved sculptures representing the birth, life and death of Jesus, before emerging blinking into the bright afternoon sunlight and heading back down the hill to the town.
We ate lunch in a small restaurant where they cooked the meat over an open fire in the back garden, before making our way back to the bus stop and catching a long, overcrowded and incredibly bumpy bus back to Bogotá.
You can take a bus from Bogotá’s main terminal, Terminal des Transportes, or La Terminal. A taxi ride to La Terminal from La Candelaria neighbourhood takes about 20 minutes and costs about 20,000 COP (roughly £6). The bus ride to Zipaquira (they call it Zipa) costs 4,300 COP each way with Alliance and takes just under two hours (about an hour of that is spent leaving Bogotá). Tell the bus driver you’re going to the salt mine and he will let you out of the bus in Zipa’s centre, rather than at the bus terminal which is about 20 minutes outside. From where the bus stops, walk up to the main square then take a left and follow the road straight down till you reach the entrance to the salt cathedral. The walk from here is clearly marked.
Entrance to the salt mine and cathedral – without any extras – was 23,000 per person To get back, just walk back to where the bus dropped you off and flag down the next bus you see headed to Bogotá – make sure it’s headed to the main terminal though and not the Punto del Norte which is right up in the North of the city and still about an hour away from the centre.
Visit the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral Website for more information.