While I was in Bogota I took a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, out to the medium sized town of Zipaquira to visit its enormous underground cathedral, which has been carved out of a salt mine.
Before going down the mine I had a walk around the town, which has a very large central square. After downtown Bogota it made a pleasant change to wander around such a sleepy, relaxed place.
Walking out of the town I climbed the hill that leads up to the salt cathedral. The salt mines have been created by drilling horizontally into the mountain. This means that you do not have to enter using a lift going down a shaft, but by walking down a long corridor that is also high and wide. It also means that the entrance is on the side of the hill and not at the top. Phew!
The only way to see the cathedral is by guided tour and luckily I had arrived in time for one of the tours that are conducted in English. It is worth noting that the basic tour doesn’t involve any bending down, although it is a decent enough walk and the path can be uneven in places.
So, anyway, there were just two of us who were on the English speaking guided tour, which meant that myself and an Australian guy had a tour guide all to ourselves. After walking down the long corridor into the mine proper, we turned left and went along another corridor that had antechambers off to the left and huge cavernous spaces on the right, where salt had been mined.
These antechambers and caverns had sculptures and adaptations to the rock to form representations of The Stations of the Cross. Some required a bit more imagination (and squinting!) than others, but there were some beautiful, illuminated pieces, amongst them .
After walking past the Stations of the Cross we passed through a larger room before continuing down to a viewing platform, possibly the choir, that overlooked the cathedral. It is hugely impressive sight. The lighting slowly changes colours, creating a meditative effect, only slightly broken by dozens of us tourists angling in to get a photo!
After that it is possible to go down and explore the cathedral itself. It is an enormous space, most definitely a cathedral and not a church in size. As well as the cathedral there is an end chapel, another passageway selling almost* as much religious tat as anybody could possibly want and a cafeteria. Yup, a cafeteria down the bottom of a mine!
Going round the corner there are a couple more shops, the toilets, a movie theatre and a light show. The movie theatre shows an informative, albeit slightly cheesy, 3D movie about the geology and creation of the salt mine.
The light show is hard to describe. It is a little bit like wandering into the chillout room at a rave, only with a 50 or 60 foot high ceiling and lines of deck chairs to relax in. Ambient music plays while coloured lights play across the ceiling of the hall.
I paid a bit extra on my ticket to take the miners’ tour. This involves walking around in the pitch black and going in some pretty tight spots. If you are happy with that then it is definitely worth the money. We were given our helmets and guided around the ‘backstage’ area of the cathedral.
We even got to dress up as miners, wield pickaxes and pretend to blow stuff up. All in all the experience was fantastic and quite overwhelming at times. The cathedral describes itself as the First Wonder of Colombia and it is a bit difficult to argue with this description.
Although no “Madonna in a Snow Globe”s for my mother’s expanding collection
To get to Zipaquira from La Candelaria in Bogota I took the Transmileno to Portal Norte, which is the end of the line. I then walked out of the station where the buses to Zipaquira line up. They are impossible to miss. I jumped on the first one and got out in Zipaquira. The driver pointed out the main square to me and from there it was an easy walk out of town to the salt cathedral, which is just out of town to the south west.