catedral de zipaquira

Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral—Best Day Trip from Bogotá

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Bogotá is one of the most touristed cities in Colombia. The best day trip to consider when there: Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral (Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá).

When the Spanish Conquistadors came to Latin America seeking gold, they found themselves in Bogotá. However, they didn’t find gold there. It was hiding in the small town of Zipaquirá, along with “white gold,” an even more valuable item to the indigenous people.

Here’s the story of Zipaquirá, the Salt Cathedral, and what you can expect when you visit.

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Entrance to the Catedral de Sal

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Zipaquirá

Zipaquirá is a small town with a Spanish Colonial center marked by a large church and a vibrant square. It is a little over an hour from the outskirts of Bogotá and while there is a train that goes there, it is very slow.

The town is known for its famous Salt Cathedral, an underground Roman Catholic church built in large tunnels created while excavating salt. This is a huge draw to visit, and the city is quite charming as well.

The indigenous people, the Muisca, traded many items including gold. However, they found the value of salt to be much higher for its many uses.

Excavation of the salt mine began in pre-Colombian times with the Muisca and continued during the Colonization by the Spanish. According to Wikipedia, this town is not only known for the Salt Cathedral but also for being one of the oldest human settlements in the Americas.

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The Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral (Catedral de Sal)

Catedral de Sal Colombia is quite impressive with its large, cavernous tunnels. We walked through using an audioguide that told about the creation of this massive Cathedral as well as the 15 or so stations included and the significance of each of the carvings.

This pilgrimage site has three main sections representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus. There are lights that range in colors accenting each station and the tour overall takes a couple of hours.

The caves are quite large and there are many areas to walk through. It takes an hour or two, depending on your page and how often you stop to look at the various rooms and areas.

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La Catedral de Sal

The color of the walls varies in shades of grey mostly and there are a couple of really impressive carvings. There is a wall carved and a manger scene.

One thing I thought was really interesting is the pond full of highly-salinated water, known as the Salt Cathedral lake. It was so clear you could see to the depths below and only marked by some coins people threw onto the water that remained on the surface. (Don’t be misled by the picture—the lake is very deep)!

And please, be kind and do not toss coins on the water. You can see the coins other people threw out well enough.

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Wall Sculpture in Salt Cathedral
Catedral de Sal, catedral de sal de zipaquira, Salt Cathedral
Salt Cathedral Lake

Of course, like any tourist attraction, there are loads of shops selling items mined and carved from the salt in the cathedral. There are also lots of gemstones including locally-mined emeralds.

Salt Park (Parque de la Sal) also includes a museum, the Brine Museum. For those who want to learn more about the mining process, it’s a great place to visit.

There is also a beautiful view of the town of Zipaquirá and the surrounding area. You can walk around outside and enjoy some statues and art installations of metal carvings. There is also an area you can get some food.

The Town of Zipaquirá

The town of Zipaquirá has many white buildings marked with red or blue accents in support of the liberal (red) party or conservative (blue) party. This is a historical tradition done in this city.

Zipaquirá is also known for its nightlife, and we passed a street that was occupied only by bars. So, in addition to being a fun day trip, Zipaquirá can also be a great overnight destination from Bogota as well as a thriving nightlife.

Of course, if you decide to party there, it’s a great idea to spend the night.

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Traditional Red and Blue Houses

Lunch at Restaurante Brasas del Llano

We went to lunch at a great place called, Restaurante Brasas del Llano. There was a man grilling meats at the entrance and the scent was tantalizing. He gave us a taste, and on our way out, he had us pose at the grill for a laugh.

Lunch was pretty amazing. I recommended the Bandeja Paisa, a traditional meal of your choice of meat, beans, avocado, fried plantain, arepa, and rice. It was monstrous and the best I had. Someone in the group got a steak that was incredibly tender and tasty.

I also recommended fruit juices and got a lulo, my new favorite. It has a taste that was described to me as rhubarby citrus. I completely agree as it has a tart but sweet citrus taste. We also got empanadas as an appetizer.

Including coffees, the meal came to around $30 USD total (our guide, Alex, scored us a discount as well,) and fed four of us.

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Traditional Bandeja Paisa
Catedral de Sal, catedral de sal de zipaquira
Slaving Away at the Grill

Though I was a little suspicious we were going to a tourist trap restaurant, it turned out to be fantastic. The restaurant has some funky antiques and western things, as well as American things, so it was interesting to walk around.

I did this tour and there was another family of three, just starting in Colombia. They were wonderful and we had a great time.

Zipaquirá Cathedral (Catedral de Zipaquirá)

The magnificent Zipaquirá Cathedral overlooks the central square in the town. It is stunning! You can see it was built in two parts with the addition of the upper-level many years after the bottom was completed.

The square was decorated with all the festivity of the upcoming Christmas holiday while I was there. It was a nice treat.

Around the square, you can see many buildings showcasing the traditional red and blue colors. Most of the buildings are shops, banks, and restaurants. A lot of people are out walking and it’s a lively area.

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Zipaquira Cathedral

Overlooking Bogota

On the way back into town, Alex stopped at an overlook to see Bogotá. It was amazing! From our vantage point, we could see many of the distinct neighborhoods in Bogotá.

When we looked up and behind us, we could see Monserrate. It’s highest viewpoint over the city of Bogota and the #2 thing to do in Bogotá according to Tripadvisor as of this writing.

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Bogota

The tour was supposed to end at around 2:30 but we got back at 4:30. We never felt rushed and he was great—he gave us lots of extra time at the places where we were interested and was a wealth of knowledge. He even dropped us off in different places from where he picked us up.

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I had debated going my own way and was glad to have done the tour. Alex is great and is a subcontractor for Bogotá Pass. He also does tours directly and I’d highly recommend him for any Bogota city tour. If you are going to tour Bogota, Alex is your man!

Alex Forero +57 320 325 1184 [email protected]

To Tour or Not to Tour

I generally go my own way when it comes to seeing new places. When I booked my trip to Colombia, it took many hours to book the flight, determine where I wanted to go, plan the trip, and book everything.

I like doing it myself both for the cost savings, but also because I can then do exactly what I want. It’s a custom-made trip for me!

When it comes to learning more about a city I’m visiting, I do enjoy doing walking tours and day trips with a guide. They are very helpful to find some of those little local places to see and often provide a wealth of knowledge. I can be quite a nerd about learning about history and culture and enjoy the depth of information guides usually share.

It’s up to you whether you take a tour to Zipaquirá and the Salt Cathedral or go yourself. It would save you in cost to go on your own as public transportation is very inexpensive in Colombia.

This page shows the different options and costs to go to Zipaquira, ranging from a couple of US dollars each way, to a tour, which costs $65+.

Your Visit to the Zipaquirá, Colombia Salt Cathedral

Regardless of how you decide to get there, be prepared for a great day walking you back through hundreds of years of history to enjoy the Salt Cathedral, the quaint town of Zipaquirá, and the glorious view of Bogota upon your return to the city.

Bogotá is the largest city in Colombia with over 8 million people, and in the top 30 cities by population according to Google. So, if you need a city break, this is a great day trip to consider.

For information about other great places to visit when in Bogotá or in other areas of Colombia, this article offers information on the best places to visit in Colombia.

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