Bogotá is a perfect base to take a few day trips outside the city. We took a day trip to Zipaquirá, 50 kilometers north of the Colombian capital. The biggest attraction of Zipaquirá is La Cathedral de Sal. Literal translation: the Salt Cathedral. Before you think that this is a big church entirely made of salt, it is not. It is a chain of underground prayer rooms in a former salt mine. This extraordinary construction attracts tourists from all around the world. We also came to Zipaquirá to check out this cathedral but quickly learned that the city itself is also quite interesting. Here’s what a day trip to Zipaquirá looks like.
The story behind Zipaquirá
The story behind the salt cathedral dates back to the 1930s. Mineworkers decided to carve out a little chapel out of the rock salt walls, which they wanted to use for prayer for protection before every shift. This was the start of a chain of little chapels in the mine. After the salt production was ended in 1992, the government decided to transform the mine into a proper cathedral. Three years later the cathedral opened its door at a depth of 200 meters. Figuratively spoken, of course, the mine does not have any doors. There are only three salt cathedrals in the world. You can find one of them in Colombia and two in Poland.
Still an active church
The Colombians are very proud of their salt cathedral. Because of the magnificent architecture and the illumination, it is often referred to as a national world wonder. Up until today, it is still used as a church. Every Sunday 3000 Catholics descend into the mine for the religious service. Fun fact: strictly speaking it is not a cathedral due to the fact it has no bishop.
Practical information Salt Cathedral
It is only possible to visit the salt cathedral by joining a Spanish or English tour. The entrance fee is 25.000 pesos per person. The guide will explain more about the 14 chapels with illuminated crosses and then will take you to the main hall. After the tour, you can explore the cathedral all by yourself. Personally, I thought it was an interesting experience, but at the same time, it felt a bit touristy. The chain of underground souvenir stores ruined the religious atmosphere a bit.
What else is there to see in Zipaquirá?
The majority of tourists leave Zipaquirá after their visit to the salt cathedral. We decided to stick around for a couple more hours to see a bit more of the old city center. Zipaquirá is founded in the year 1600 and many buildings are constructed according to the Spanish colonial style. Before the Spanish came to Colombia, this area belonged to the Muisca tribe. This indigenous nation were the ones who introduced salt production in Zipaquirá, a highly wanted commercial product. In the Gold Museum in Bogotá, you can learn more about this tribe.
Visit Plaza de los Comuneros & walk around
Plaza de los Comuneros is the beating heart of the city. Once again the eyecatcher of this square is a cathedral, but this time it is a more traditional one: Cathedral de la Satisima Trinidad Y San Antonio de Padua. The massive palm trees on the square create nice areas with shadow to rest your feet. The corners of this square lead to a maze of colorful alleys and streets. Looking for a place for lunch? I had a great lunch at Casa del Chorro at Plaza de La Independencia, a great choice for vegetarians.
How to get from Bogotá to Zipaquirá by public transport
We traveled from Bogotá to Zipaquirá and back by public transport. This is how you can do it as well:
- Go to bus station Portal del Norte: this is the place where buses to Zipaquirá leave. The cheapest way to get here is by TransMilenio city bus. Look for the lines with a green colored letter B. B14 or B10 are good options. You can buy a ticket at the booths at the TransMilenio stations. A one-way ticket cost 2,300 pesos.
- Look for Zipa buses: get out at Portal Del Norte, walk to the other side of the station and look for buses with the text ‘Zipa’ on the front. Or just listen to what the young guys are yelling. You can buy a ticket during the ride. The price should be around 2,000 to 4,000 pesos for a one-way ticket.
- Enjoy the views: the drive to Zipaquirá takes about 1 hour. Once you enter the city, you should wait until the guys on the bus shout ‘Cathedral de Sal’. You probably look like a tourist, so everyone on the bus knows where you are heading to.
- Getting back to Bogotá: walk back to the main road (Calle 4). Find a convenient pick-up spot and listen to what the young sellers are shouting when the bus passes by. They want to fill up the buss, so they will pass by slowly. If you hear Portal del Norte Bogotá, raise your hand and the bus will stop.
- Hop back on the TransMilenio bus: at Portal del Norte you can take the TransMilenio bus back to the city center. This time you take the busses that start with a light purple colored letter J. These go to the south part of the city.
Note about the TransMilenio buses
Warning about the TransMilenio bus: Colombians are not afraid to push. Once the bus opens its door, people (young and old) will push their way in like their life is depending on it. It is every man or woman for him- and herself. You should really try to avoid rush hour. The busses will be overcrowded and it will take a lot of effort (meaning: pushing) to get yourself in or out of the bus.
Have you been to Zipaquira on a day trip from Bogotá?