Las Lajas Cathedral
Ipiales - Colombia
Ipiales itself has little to offer, but it is a place you will inevitably end up if crossing the border between Ecuador and Colombia. However, there is a shining star just outside of the town it is a worth while detour to go to, the Santuario de las Lajas or Las Lajas Cathedral.
El Santuario de las Lajas is a neo-Gothic church (cathedral) which was built on the bridge spanning the river gorge between 1916-1944 in such a way that the gorge cliff with the image of the Virgin forms the back wall of the church. The church was built to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin which legend has it, her image appeared on an enormous vertical rock 45m above the river. As you walk down the hill you will notice the multitude of plaques along the cliff wall placed by pilgrims from Colombia and abroad as thanks for the miracles that have occurred and are accredited to the working of the Virgin.
A taxi from the bus station in Ipiales is the easiest way to reach the church, expect to pay 4000 pesos for the taxi one way (2008). The taxi will either choose to wait for you or you can simply take one of the many other waiting taxis eager to accept your money. On the return journey get the taxi driver to stop at the top of the hill for a quick photo opportunity of the church nestled in the valley below.
There is a storage room at the bus station in Ipiales which for a small fee will look after you backpack for you while you visit the church.
If heading south to Quito it is best to try and time a visit here early in the day so you are not arriving too late in Quito, the boarder formalities and catching the connecting bus all takes time. If heading north it is important as Patso is only a 1.5-2 hour bus ride away and has suitable accommodation if little to do or see.
From Ipiales the bus drops you off outside the Colombian migration office where you get your exit stamp. From here walk down the stairs across the car park to the building in front of you just up the slight hill, you need to go around to the other side of the building to join the line of people waiting for their entry stamp for Ecuador (this may take a while). When getting issued your stamp ask if you can have the tourist card (T-3) stapled into your passport or your may end up begging not to have to pay the USD$200 for a new one if you lose it.
After receiving your stamp, get a mini-bus outside. This will drop you off at the bus station in Tulcun. Here you can expect to be rushed by men trying to get you on their bus bound for Quito or whereever else you maybe going. They are harmless just watch your stuff and do not let them push or drag you around. This may sound daunting but you get used to watching men fight over you and trying to out bid each other.
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