First Wonder of Colombia – The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

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The Wonder of Colombia Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá @DownshiftingPRO 1

How can you explain what a cathedral nesting in one of the largest salt mines in the world looks like? It is large. Huge, in fact. It was originally opened in 1953 and then closed in 1990. Another iteration of the cathedral was opened in 1995 after the extraction of 250 thousand tons of salt rock. This mine is the largest deposit of rock salt in the world and it is spectacular. With an estimated 600,000 visitors a year, The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is considered the first of the Seven Wonders of Colombia.

Plaza del minero in Zipaquira Colombia @DownshiftingPRO
Plaza del Minero – The Miner’s Plaza
Zipaquirá, Colombia

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is located 49 kilometres (30 mi) north of Colombia’s capital city – Bogotá, at 2,652 metres (8,701 ft) altitude with an average temperature of 14˚C. The use of this mine has a history going back to pre-Columbian times and continuing in colonial and republican eras to the present day. The ancient Muisca indigenous people were the first to benefit who from this enormous salt deposit, which turned them into one of the most prosperous pre-Hispanic societies of their time.

Plaza above the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá @DownshiftingPRO

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá was at one time a working mine. Before their shifts, miners would visit a small chapel built inside the salt mine to pray for their safety and protection from accidents. As the salt was mined, it left behind a network of tunnels and caverns. In 1990, the Cathedral had to close because of fissures in the salt rock and a new Cathedral was built.

A tribute to the salt miners in Zipaquira Colombia @DownshiftingPRO

Located 200 feet below the old cathedral, there was no shortage of challenges the least of which was moving the 16-ton altar. They had to cut it up into three pieces but it was worth it. The cathedral can hold up to 3,000 worshipers for mass. The current location serves as a place of worship and includes an area for shops featuring religious items, local artisanal products and a small emerald museum.

Descending into the salt mines in Zipaquira Colombia @DownshiftingPRO
The tunnel you pass through to get to the Stations of the Cross

The Cathedral is a 2 km tunnel descending to the nave. Carved by hand, it took 5 years to build the separate chambers representing the 14 Stations of the Cross. The stations represent the sequence of events, considered by all Christians, to be the walk that Jesus Christ took to his crucifixion. The Way of the cross is considered a pilgrimage and prayers and reflections are said at each station. Pilgrims can kneel at various stone pews along the way.

The Wonder of Colombia Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá @DownshiftingPRO
A station of the cross in the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Stations of the Cross

  • Jesus is condemned to death
  • Jesus carries His cross
  • Jesus falls for the first time
  • Jesus meets His mother, Mary
  • Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
  • Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  • Jesus falls for the second time
  • Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  • Jesus falls for the third time
  • Jesus is stripped of His clothes
  • Jesus is nailed to the cross
  • Jesus dies on the cross
  • Jesus is taken down from the cross
  • Jesus is placed in the tomb
One of the stations of the cross in the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá in Colombia

The centre of the cathedral is composed of three naves each representing the life cycle of Jesus: birth, death and the resurrection. Each of the naves measures about the same at 120 meters long, 10 meters wide and 18 meters high. Some of the most impressive structures are four gigantic pillars representing four apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá chandelier in enter the chapel

As you approach the most sacred space, the Chapel, you will see the newest additions to the cathedral salt stone chandeliers. Each chandelier weighs 250 Kilos – of which 215 Kilos is salt. It is a technique designed by local artists to create a purple-tinge glow of light. This light is also present behind the 145-meter cross which is carved into the stone.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

From the St. Gabriel balcony you look down towards this massive cross and think it stands alone but it is in fact an optical illusion. When you reach the main nave, you will see how it is carved into the rock.

The 145 meter cross carved into the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira Colombia @DownshiftingPRO 1

What you should know

You can reach Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá by driving from the city on National Highway 45A (which connects Bogotá and Zipaquirá) or take the quaint tourist train. You will take the Tren Turistico De La Sabana (Savanna tourist train) from the Estación de Tren Usaquén (Usaquen Train station). You can also take a private day tour with a company which begin in Bogota.

Estación de Tren Usaquén - Tourist Train to Zipacira @Downshifting PRO

You can go into the small town of Zipaquirá but you will likely spend most of your time in the Parque de Zipaquirá (a complex of buildings above ground, the cathedral and shops and small museums). You will want to give yourself at least 3 hours to visit with an additional hour for the town. Entry is staggered and you may have to wait before going down into the cathedral.

Guided tours are available in Spanish and English. You can also listen to self-guided audio tours in seven languages (Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Mandarin).

The 145-meter cross in the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá in Colombia a must-see attraction just outside of Bogota.
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There is a 3-D video taking a trip through the different geological stages to show tourists how salt developed. It is 15 minutes in duration and there is no additional cost.

Besides a commercial area, you will also find a spa with treatments directly related to salt. There is an additional cost for these.

Opening hours for the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá:

Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Sunday Mass at 1:00 pm.

Rates:

Between COP$17,000 and COP$27,000, depending on the number of attractions the visitor wants to see.

Website: Catedral de sal and ProColombia

Ciao for Now _ Margarita Ibbott DownshiftingPRO

Other posts you may want to read about Colombia:
Travelling with Grandma–the benefits of Multi-generational Travel on our trip to Colombia #SeniorTravel
When your name is found in Random Places #Colombia #Travel


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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.