Salt Cathedral - Catedral de Sal

Zipaquira - Colombia

The Underground Salt Cathedral

This underground Cathedral is unlikely any other you will have come across since it is made entirely of Salt. The dark and eerie feeling you get from this underground Roman Catholic Cathedral is unique.

As you follow the tunnel deeper underground to the main cathedral, you will go by 14 small chapels representing the Stations of The Cross which depict different points in the life of Jesus Christ. The chapels display different religious symbols carved out of the mine's salt walls and also have kneeling prayer platforms carved in the salt.

The main tunnel leads you to a balcony that overlooks the main room of the cathedral which is roughly 75m long by 25m high and has a giant cross carved into the back wall. At anyone time the cathedral can hold up to 10,000 people. There are two slightly smaller vaults on either side of main chamber; the three sections (including the main chamber) represent the birth, life, and death of Jesus. Make sure you have a good snoop around as there are a couple of smaller vaults to explore containing statues, sculptures and figures before you enter the main body of the Cathedral. The lights on the Cathedral walls fade and change color enabling you to capture different moods of the Cathedral. There are a number of photo opportunities with affective lighting reflecting of the black walls. You will have to keep your camera very still to get a good shot, try not to use your flash to get the full effect of the lighting. Religious services are held periodically in the Cathedral.

The construction of the Salt Cathedral begun in 1950 and was inaugurated in 1954. However, as the cathedral was carved inside an active mine, structural problems and safety concerns led the authorities to shut down the sanctuary in 1990. In 1991 the construction of a new Cathedral was undertaken, 200 feet under the older one. The current Cathedral was inaugurated in 1995.

On the weekend the site is packed with tourists, both locals and foreigners, and you may have to wait in a long line outside (take an umbrella if it's raining since there's no cover).

Open: Mon-Fri 9am-4.30pm and Sat/Sun 9am-5pm

The Entrance Fee: Per adult is about COP$12000 (US$6.30 approx - 2010). Though there is a discount for groups of 50 or more. (Wednesday's are normally half price).

Travel Tips: Bring comfortable shoes since there is a fair bit of walking to be done inside and it pays to bring something warm to throw on top since it quite cool inside.

Travel Tips: Camera Tripods are not allowed inside (nor pets so leave Fido at the hotel).

* Rob Woodward personally visited the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and highly recommends it.

Salt Mine Museum:

The Museo de la Salmuera is a part of the park and is made out of the old processing ponds and rooms that were used to extract the salt from the ore. You walk through the hallways and rooms with a guide past many different displays that depict the steps used to produce salt from the mine and the history of the mine itself. The production process, in a nutshell, is that the ore (rock and rock-hard salt) is crushed and mixed with water. The salt dissolves into the water and is then collected when the water is evaporated away. The museum contains an amazingly detailed model of the mine.

Getting There

To get to Zipaquirá from the center of Bogotá, take one of the TransMilenio buses to Portal del Norte. Once at Portal del Norte just ask for a bus heading to Zipaquirá. The bus will take you for a nice little scenic country ride before dropping you of in the middle of Zipaquirá. From here you need to head up the hill to the cathedral entrance. You will probably have to ask the locals for directions, you would think there would be signs to mark the way, but that just isn't how things work here. To get back take one of the buses that frequently run by the same spot you get dropped off at, but of course on the other side of the road, just make sure you get the bus heading to Portal del Norte.

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