In a town called Zipaquirá about 50kms from Bogotá is La Catedral de Sal, The Salt Cathedral. The Cathedral lies around 200m under the surface in an old salt mine.
As the story goes, the miners were deeply religious people, and decided to create and underground sanctuary to pray daily. This developed into the construction of the original church which opened in 1954, but was closed in 1990 due to structural concerns. After this a new Cathedral was built, under the old one, which opened in 1995.
To get there, we had to take one of the local Bogotá bendy buses (with 3 sections) to Portal del Norte, the northern transport terminal, then another bus to Zipaquirá. We had been given the impression we should alight at the last stop, but that wasn't the case and fortunately someone on the bus recognised that we were likely headed to the Cathedral and informed us when to get off.
From there, about a 15 minute walk took us to the touristy entrance to the Cathedral. We purchased the cheapest ticket, which included Entry and tour to the Cathedral, a light show and a 3D movie. At the mine entrance, tours leave about every 15 minutes, with English tour departures based on the next available English speaking guide, which was fortunately the next tour.
After walking about 50 metres into the mine, the route to the cathedral commences past 14 separate stations representing the stations of the cross. Each one has a carved cross with kneeling platforms depicting each of the 14 events of Jesus' last journey.
After passing by each of the stations, you reach the Cathedral itself, made up of 3 naves representing the birth, life and death of Christ. The central nave is the main section of the Cathedral where services are held, including too the 8000 daily visitors over Easter and a few weddings over the years.
The left hand nave consisted of a salt waterfall, where a white cascade of salt crystal fell against the darkened salt walls. The central nave showed a huge carved cross, with a carving of The Creation of Adam as a centrepiece in the room.
Throughout the entire Cathedral, lights of varying and changing colours highlighted the crosses, which created peaceful scenes and highlighted the beautiful patterns in the salt walls created by the impurities of rock and other minerals mixed through it.
In one area of the huge labyrinth was a small lake, which perfectly reflected the roof above it. It was so clear, unless you created ripples on the surface you could barely tell it was water, let alone where the surface was.
Of course being a major tourist attraction there was a tacky side. The mine area also housed souvenir shops and cafés, though we were hungry by now so that was quite welcome. Plus the other two attractions on our ticket, the 3D movie and the light show.
The 3D movie was actually surprisingly well done, using a character made from rock who explained how the salt plume had formed millions of years ago when the area, once under the ocean, had dried, through to the history of the mine, which was created in 3 levels using 3 different techniques that developed with time, the Cathedral, and the continuing mining techniques that are used.
The light show on the other hand, was either really unimpressive or not really working at the time. We ventured in and other than some faint music and about 3 lights there was nothing going on. We waited a while, and still nothing, so we left and made our way back out of the mine.
While churches in South America are a dime a dozen, this one was definitely worth the trip.