Zipaquirá: the Underground Salt Cathedral

Zipaquirá is a small city about 35 miles out of Bogota in Colombia. It’s a really popular day trip for visitors, and not just because it’s an absolutely lovely city:
The Cathedral of Zipaquirá
The main attraction in Zipaquirá isn’t the beautiful church or the old town. It’s actually what’s happening below the surface that people care about.
The Salt Caves of ZipaquiráYou see, Zipaquirá has had a major salt mine for thousands of years. Salt mining is profitable but pretty dangerous for the miners who use dynamite and pickaxes to chip away the rock salt. It’s enough to make anyone turn to religion. About 50 years ago the miner’s decided to turn their talents to creating a giant underground church, carved almost entirely out of the salt:
An Angel Statue in the Salt Church of Zipaquirá
Carving of trees in the Salt Mines of Zipaquirá
Talk about a serious labor of love. The result is an absolutely enormous church over 200 meters deep in the mountain. The main sanctuaries were created by adding on to already existing mining tunnels, creating cavernous spaces lit up by LED lights.
An LED Cross in the Salt Church of Zipaquirá
A Cross Light Up by LED Lights in the Salt Church of Zipaquirá
This is actually the second Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá the miners carved. The first one, built in the 1950’s was too close to the surface and was destroyed by a flood in the eighties (as you can imagine, salt and water don’t mix). Undaunted they created an even bigger, more elaborate church. It took four years and cost millions of dollars- which they’ve made back and more with tourism.
One long hallway has enormous symbolic depictions of the stations of the cross. The devout make pilgrimages to the mine, and there are stone kneelers all around.
A Cross Carved from Salt at ZipaquiráA Cross in the Salt Church of Zipaquirá, Colombia A Cross Lit By Purple LED Lights at the Salt Church of ZipaquiráA Cross and Stone Kneelers at the Salt Church of Zipaquirá
Beautiful but uhh, kinda trippy. The place is illuminated with multicolored LED lights which only increase the dramatic effect of the caves sharp edges.
A Carving of God Creating Adam from Salt at the Salt Church of ZapaquiráIt’s a strange and beautiful place. There is a certain solemnity deep inside the earth.  It’s a serious labor of love and you can feel the devotion of the miners who created it. Although the place may indeed be a major tourist attraction, it’s one with a real heart.

Practical Stuff:

Zipaquirá is a popular day trip from Bogota. To get there you can either take a “tourist train” which takes around 3.5 hours each way or you can take the more local approach: take the bus to the edge of town and hail a local shuttle bus which will have you in town in about an hour for the rate of around $2 each way.
Entrance to the Cathedral is 20,000 pesos (around $11 US) and includes a guided tour and a really hokie 3D movie.

11 thoughts on “Zipaquirá: the Underground Salt Cathedral”

  1. Can’t believe I’d never heard of this.
    It’s cool, but strange at the same time.
    Somehow “neon” and “church” don’t immediately go together in my mind:)

  2. wow – this is amazing. I’ve read about this cathedral but wasn’t quite sure if I should add it to my “must go” list. Now it definitly goes on to the list.

    great photos!

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