About Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral
Zipaquirá’s Salt Cathedral (or Catedral de Sal) remains one of the most popular day trips around Bogota, Colombia. Carved from 250,000 tons of salt, 190m underground, it remains a marvel and well worth a visit.
History of Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral
Zipaquirá has long been known for its salt reserves, and pre-Colombian society mined the area for salt since around the 5th century BC. The city was named the ‘City of Whites’ by the Spanish, and ironically, the salt was later used to finance Bolivar and Nariño’s independence campaigns. The salt from Zipaquirá still makes up around 40% of Colombia’s salt exports today.
Mining the salt was hard work and could be dangerous: miners had long had a small sanctuary carved into the site as a place they could pray for deliverance and safety at the start of each day. The first underground church was carved in 1932, and a more major project was undertaken in the 1950s. The authorities shut the church down in 1991 over safety concerns (it was built inside an active mine after all).
The current cathedral was opened in 1995, although it has no bishop meaning it is not technically recognised by the Catholic church.
Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral today
The cathedral lies 190m underground: to reach it, you will walk past 14 chapels (also built entirely of salt) representing the stations of the cross, before emerging into the vast nave with its huge Cardinal Cross. The engineering feat to tunnel such a large subterranean cavern is undeniably impressive, and the way the salt glows in the light is both magical and eerie (although beware some of the gimmicky changing lighting).
The cathedral has mass said every Sunday and can accommodate over 8000 people in the mine and nave itself.
You have to enter the cathedral as part of a guided tour, although once you get to the nave, you are free to explore at your leisure. The cathedral is one of the most expensive attractions in Bogota: come with plenty of cash.
Above ground is the Parque de Sal complex, comprising of a small museum, food stalls and a park to wander round. The town of Zipaquirá itself is small and pleasant to wander round: it has a host of market stalls and restaurants should you wish to make a day of it.