The main reason anyone comes to Zipaquira is to visit its famed salt cathedral. The original dates back to the mid-1950s but it closed when it became too dangerous. Fret not, its replacement is equally impressive and seems to be drawing hordes of tourist on a daily basis. In fact, it is these very tourists that make a visit so interesting. Most are Colombians and this is a chance to see them enjoying their own country in a very relaxed setting.
The cathedral itself is quite colorful with 13 depictions of Christ's last day spread out over a nice walk though the mine which necessitated the removal of 250,000 tons of salt to form the 75 meter enclosure. You must join a tour to enter but are free to enter once in the actual mine. Unless you love crowds, don't go on Sundays when Mass is held regularly. Note it can hold over 8000 people.
Entrance is a little over $8, quite a large amount by Colombian standards.
Though easily over-looked by those flocking to the more renowned salt cathedral, Zipaquira's “other church” is a classic Spanish Colonial Catedral Diocesana de San Antonio de Padua from the 1800s. It sits in the city's pretty main square which in itself could be a reason to stop in Zipaquira briefly en route to points north of Bogota. The Palacio Municipal in a somewhat Gothic style is particularly stunning and the palm trees doting the square add a nice touch to an otherwise shade-less plaza.
You should not miss this. Very impressive. Souvenir is not that expensive from 5 USD to 15 USD (Please see pic). The photo will cost you about 6 USD.
The tour inside the Cateral will take about 1.5 km. For me it takes almost 2 hr. I took the most basic one (17000 COP - Aug 2010).
Touring the famous cathedral was perfectly nice and in all honesty there are some charming simple places if you want to have a beer and a meal in town. But in my experience there's not enough to justify staying in Zipaquirá, and even if you try, the hotels are extremely low-end and strangely sometimes it's a nightmare to find parking if you drive.
The huge underground Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in Zipaquirá is unlikely any other you will have come across since it is made entirely of salt. If you are in Bogotá you can't miss this impressive piece of architecture, magic and spiritual place.
The old cathedral had to be closed for safety reasons and the new one was inaugurated in 1995 (I visited just one day before its 14th birthday), built 200 meters inside a salt mountain. You enter by the tunnel and as you follow deeper underground to the main cathedral, you pass by 14 small illuminated chapels, stations of the cross, which represent the events of Jesus' last journey. Each station has a cross and also kneeling praying platforms carved in the salt. The main tunnel leads you to a balcony that overlooks the main body of the cathedral which is 75 m long by 25 m high and has a giant cross carved into the black wall.
You can visit the cathedral only on a guided tour; it takes about an hour. Most of the tours are in Spanish. If there are at least a few people they do it as well in English (and some other languages on your request). The entrance fee was 14.000 COP (December 2008).
It is open Mon-Fri 9am-4:30pm and Sat/Sun 9am-5pm.
more pics in the Travelogue
I've always enjoyed getting lost in a new town, just walking the streets without any particular plan. You can learn a lot about a new place through architecture and observing life of the local people. Zipaquirá was very nice for such exploring.
The town has recently transformed streets in the centre to pedestrian walkways with the intention to preserve the area of beautiful old Spanish colonial style buildings with typical balconies, and also to make it friendlier to tourists.
On the way I stopped in one of Zipaquirá's great bakeries and had a delicious snack break with tinto (black coffee), pan de yuca (yucca bread) and almojabana (corn bread with cheese). I was ready for the journey back to Bogotá.
Plaza de los Comuneros is the main square and the center of Zipaquirá, surrounded by beautiful buildings that have conserved their colonial style, and are considered to be national monuments.
Notable buildings are Catedral Diocesana, built between 1760 and 1870 with its interesting stone facade, as well as beautiful Palacio Municipal (City Hall), built in French classical style, and Casa de Gobierno (Salinas Administration Building), with their green Republican style roofs.
The salt cathedral of Zipaquirá is considered by many the first man-made wonder of Colombia... the one that you can visit is actually the second cathedral - and it is located under the first and older cathedral, which had to be closed because it was being damaged by water infiltration in the terrain.
This new cathedral is located deeper and lower into the mountain and opened its door to visitors only in 1995. But what is the cathedral like? It's a 200 metres long tunnel with 14 illuminated chapels (the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross) each with a salt cross carved into which lead to the cathedral's main body, a three naved "church" representing the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.
You can only visit the cathedral on a guided tour and in July 2008 the price was 14000 COP. Tours are only in Spanish: In case you would like a guided tour in a different language you have to contact the cathedral a few days in advance by email and pay a surcharge. if i rememb er correctl I read that it was 30 USD.
After having visited the Salt Cathedral it makes sense to visit the adjoining Museo de la Salmuera, the salt museum in English. it tells you all about salt, how it came into existence, how it is extracted and worked, and what it is used for.
You'll also learn that the salt mined in zipaquira was of poor quality and could not be used as kitchen salt - but rather was used mainly to make soaps. You need a separate ticket to visit this museum and it costs 1500 COP (July 2008).
There are two monuments to the miners (mineros) in and around the catedral the sal. the one outside the cathedral (in the photo) is dedicated to all the miners that have worked here, and depicts a minero while working.
The second monument is inside the salt cathedral, and it's a bit like a memorial grave surrounded by miner helmets. Appropriately it is dedicated to all those miners who worked inside the mine and did not come out alive.
Zipaquira's archaeological museum, although small, is quite interesting to visit. it's just down the road rfom the Salt cathedral and it's located in a beautiful setting, the park Ignacio Villaveces López. On a sunny day you'll see plenty of people hanging about on the grass, there.
Inside the museum you can see over 1000 archaeological artefacts and object belonging to the 14 different pre-hispanic tribes that used to live in Colombia.
The main church on the principal square of Zipaquira is called Catedral Diocesana de San Antonio de Padua and it's a beautiful building. It was designed by a Spanish friar who also happened to be an architect: Domingo Pérez de Petrés.
Domingo Pérez de Petrés started building it in 1805 and nevere saw it finished, as its construction took 111 years. The inauguration date was on 9 November 1916, by the Archbishop Bernardo Herrera Restrepo.
The town hall, or else Palacio Municipal, is - after the cathedral - the second stunning building located on Zipaquira's main square, the Plaza de los Comuneros where local martyrs were shot to death 3 August 1816.
It is built in classic French style with some gothic elements and apparently (but I did not visit it) there's a lovely room inside with two fine paintings of El Libertador Simon Bolivar and one of the former president Santiago Pérez, who was from Zipaquira.
To visit the Salt Cathedral you have to join a group. Most of the tours are in Spanish and so were mine. But when we inside the cathedral encountered a group with an English speaking guide I changed group. You enter the mountain by a descending tunnel. On the way to the cathedral there are 14 stations, places with a cross and place for prayer, all designed by different artists. The 14 stations represent the events of Jesus last journey.
The cathedral is situated 180 metres below surface and is 75 metres long with 18 metres high ceilings. There are huge pillars between the nave and aisles. It is dark inside the cathedral only with discreet illumination on details. The cathedral can accommodate around 8400 people and on Sundays masses are held here. You can by coffee by the cathedral before ascending.
The present cathedral replaced an older one in 1995. The area of the old one had become too unsafe.
The guided tours take about on hour. As my group stayed to have coffee I went back to the entrance alone and there was no problems to find the way out.
I visited the Salt Cathedral on a Wednesday and there were quite a lot of visitors. Maybe there were more than on other weekdays as it is the half price on Wednesdays. I paid 6000 pesos (August 2007). Other days it cost 12 000 pesos.
The cathedral is open between 9.00 - 16.30 on Monday - Friday, and between 9.00 - 17.00 on Saturday and Sunday.
Down the hill from the salt cathedral is the Museum of Archaeology. There had been a lot of visitors at the Salt Cathedral but at this museum I was the only visitor. The exhibitions consist mostly of pottery , not only of the Muisca Indians which lived in the area but from different areas around in Colombia. And on the walls there are texts where you can read about the cultures in the different areas (in Spanish).
Entrance fee to the museum was 5000 pesos (August 2007).
It is open between 9.30 - 18.30.