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What is the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, Bogotá, Colombia?
The Salt Cathedral or as it is known in Spanish, Catedral de Sal is made of salt deposits that are 250 million years old. It is located 600 feet underground.
The Cathedral is said to span 660 feet (200 meters) which includes the walk leading up to the actual Salt Cathedral. It is made up of halite rock also known as rock salt. Such deposits are generally white or colourless but can absorb different colours depending on the minerals and impurities within it.
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It is located in a small town called Zipaquirá which is 55 kilometers north of the capital of Bogotá, in the country of Colombia and booking a tour is easy. Visiting the Salt Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Bogotá.
Who Built the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá ? And When?
Commercial mining began in this Andean mine in 1815. There are different versions of the sanctuary, the first being built in the 1930s. Miners prayed here which sheltered them from explosions, toxic gas, or any possible accidents.
In 1953, the Colombian government were swayed to renovate empty spaces of the exhausted mine into a Church. It was then expanded to include the cathedral and walkways.
In the 1990s, the sanctuary was closed as a result of structural issues. Jorge Cantelblanco, a retired mining engineer, along with around 130 miners and sculptors transformed the cathedral into what we see it as today.
How to get to the Salt Cathedral, Zipaquirá From Bogotá ?
Getting to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá can be a bit of a challenge with any of the options but the easiest way would be with a driver.
The easiest option is to get a driver to take you. This will cost about $80,000 Colombian pesos ($21 US) one way. Of course, some drivers will charge a higher price if they notice you aren’t Colombian. If you’re not looking for any hassle, this would be the best option but of course, also the highest priced. The driver will pick you up where you are staying and drop you off at the Salt Cathedral.
2. Renting a car
I have never rented a car in Bogotá because driving in Bogotá takes a lot of skill. There are lots of motorcycles and bicycles on the road, drivers do not respect the lines on the road, and there are lots of accidents. Getting out of Bogotá would be the most difficult part (about 15km) and after that, it will be free flowing clear roads the rest of the way (40km).
This includes Uber, Cabify, or Beat. I used Uber to get a car to Salt Cathedral however the driver did not check the destination before accepting the ride. Only when she picked us up and we started driving off that she realised where we were going.
She stopped the car and complained that Zipaquirá was far out of the city and she was not going to pay the toll. We offered to pay the toll to which she accepted. We were a bit worried about getting a car to come back so we offered to pay her to pick us up as well. When we were ready she picked us up and took us back. This will cost about $60,000 Colombian pesos ($15 US) one way.
Only if you have experience taking taxis and can understand the fares, this can be an option as well. I would not recommend this option if you cannot communicate in Spanish, don’t know the fares, or if you’re a solo woman travelling.
You can get a bus to Portal Norte. From here, you can catch a bus to Zipaquirá. You will have to walk from the station to the Salt Cathedral itself. Note that buses are usually filled past capacity as buses often stop to pick up any additional passengers even if there is no seating, or even standing room left.
You can get the train from Bogotá to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá. There are two stations
(i) Estación de Tren Usaquén (Avenida Carrera 9, Bogotá, Colombia) which will take 1hr and 30mins
(ii) Tren de la Sabana Bogotá (a 13-99,, Cra. 18 #1325, Bogotá, Colombia) which will take 2hr 20mins
The fees are can be seen below, and is about $63,000 ($17 US) with both ways included.
You can find out more information at the Turistren website.
Entrance Fee for the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá
The basic entrance fee to the Salt Cathedral is $60,000 Colombian pesos which is around $15 US. However, you can ask for other tickets which include tours of the mine and of the Zipaquirá town.
There are 3 types of tickets you can buy: Basic, Standard, or Premium. Together with the pricing image below, you can see which each entails. Or you can book a complete tour so you don’t have to worry about the logistics.
- Basic – everything within the Salt Cathedral as described in the section inside the Salt Cathedral. This may take about 2 to 3 hours (depending on how quickly you’re going).
- Standard – includes this as well as a city tour of Zipaquirá town which is a little town full of history and culture. Also you will be able to see many other museums. This would be more of a full day tour so make sure you cater enough time for this.
- Premium Pass – includes everything of the Standard along with a mining adventure. Here, you will dress up in a full mining uniform to discover the Salt Cathedral and the inner workings. This would also be a full day tour.
There are 2 levels of pricing depending on your residency. They check everyone’s identification so even if one person has a cédula, they will not be able to get the discounted pricing for the whole group.
- the discounted price (tarifa descuento) which is for Colombians who can present a cédula ciudadanía. This also applies to residents of Colombians who can present a cédula extranjería. They do check each identification per person
- the regular pricing (tarifa plena) which is for anyone else
Inside the Salt Cathedral, Zipaquirá?
Before entering the Salt Cathedral itself, there is an outside area with some souvenirs, a maze and a fountain, and of course, a gorgeous view of the town of Zipaquirá.
After buying your ticket, you will walk through to the start of what looks like a cave where, after verifying your tickets, you can enter.
Keep in mind that the lights along the path are not the brightest, so is pretty dark once you pass the entrance. If you are going with anyone who has difficult walking, please take note of this especially as the floor is not a smooth surface so it is very easy to trip.
On the roof of the cave, there is a group of lights which change to show different flags across the world. It takes a while to circle back to a particular flag so if you’re waiting for one you just have to stand with the camera ready until it comes up.
There are several sections within the cave, each marked with a cross to signify the birth, the life, and the death of Jesus Christ.
If you are with a guide, they explain each one and it can take a lot longer to go through the Salt Cathedral. If you enjoy learning about these sorts of things, then the guided tour would be good for you. For me, I had the audio tour where you just press the buttons highlighted by each section to listen to.
I loved everything within the cave but not so much the audios and eventually lost interest. So, the guided tour would have definitely not been for me.
At one of the final crosses, you can walk closer to the cross to the edge of the section where you will see a beautiful view of the church from above. Finally, you walk down the stairs further to the actual Salt Cathedral which takes your breath away.
There is the massive cross illuminated in white on the wall along with a sculpture of La Creación del Hombre by Carlos Enrique Rodríguez on the ground similar to the one in the Sistine Chapel.
The inspiration of this comes from Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation of Adam. The lighting of this sculpture matched the blue and purple that lit up the walls of the Salt Cathedral.
There are several benches to allow for anyone who would like to partake in worship. This usually happens on a Sunday. You can walk through the small tunnels to other areas within the Cathedral. There are also other pieces of art around that you can enjoy, including the Holy Family.
If you walk further, you will see the Espejo de Agua (Water mirror).
This is the water which was used to extract the salt from the mine. The composition of the water simulates a mirror which reflects in the presence of light.
After this are the souvenir stores where you can find lovely keepsakes for good prices. I was able to find a glass jar of salt from the mine for $6,000 Colombian pesos ($2 USD). Some people tend to turn around at this point and start the walk back however, if you walk a little further, you will find a tree etched in the walls of the salt which makes for a great picture.
Then that’s the end of the road…well, cave. To exit, you have to walk back the entire way that you came in. It can be a bit of a tiring walk back if you do it quickly.
Remember it’s still Bogotá which is over 8,000 feet above see level so the altitude still play a part in this. It felt like it was a bit uphill going out which you don’t notice as you’re walking in.
When to visit the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá?
When to visit will depend on what you want to see. The Salt Cathedral is a working church therefore Sundays are quite busy as a day of worship and can fit up to 3,000 people. If you would like to go for worship, this would be the best time to go.
However, if you would like to go when it is not too busy then a weekday would be best. Close to the opening time on any day, except Sunday, should be fine. However, when we were leaving which was closer to the afternoon, the lines to get in were pretty long.
Also, remember to get out of the Salt Cathedral you have to walk the exact route that you entered so if it is getting busier then it will be busy for the walk back as well. It can get pretty stuffy within the tunnel at this point.
In terms of timing during the year, Easter especially Semana Santa is the busiest time. Annually, there are 600,000 visitors to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá.
What to wear to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá?
In Bogotá, it is generally pretty chilly throughout the year, about a high of 17°C / 62°F throughout the day. Inside the Salt Cathedral, the temperature depends on how busy it is. I have gone several times and there were different temperatures every time.
When it is empty, it can be even chillier than outside. However, if it is busy, it can get pretty warm and stuffy so usually dressing in layers would help so you can just take off a layer if you start to feel hot.
Walking out of the cave too quickly can also generate some heat through energy, so keep this in mind. Remember to wear a good pair of shoes because of the uneven floor, it can be easy to lose a flip flop.
Can you do a Virtual Tour of the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá?
Not sure if you want to go to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá? There is an option to do the tour online. Or if you’re like my parents, who said this was the best part of their trip to Bogotá, and want to re-live the experience there is this option as well. You can click on the image below to start exploring. Is this somewhere you would want to visit?