The Colombian wonder: Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Next to Bogotá, the city Zipaquirá (47 km away) holds a Colombian treasure: the Salt Cathedral (Catedral de Sal). Named the first wonder of the country and entered the contest of the New Seven World Wonders in construction. Besides that the Colombians are very proud of it, the cathedral is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. The impressive temple was built inside a salt mine, 180 meters below the earth.

You can visit Zipaquirá and the Salt Cathedral easily on your own. From Bogotá to get to the city, just take a Transmilenio (BRT) to the North Portal station (the ticket costs 1,500 COP during normal hours and 1,800 COP in peak hours) and from there take another Transmilenio to Zipaquirá or take a bus from outside the North Portal station. We took the bus from the outside and the stretch per person cost 4,500 COP. The journey takes an average of 40 minutes and the bus stops a few meters from the historic city center.

Cathedral of Zipaquirá
Cathedral of Zipaquirá

In fact, the historical center of Zipa, as the municipal is called, is very beautiful, with very well preserved colonial buildings. During that period, the city became the most important one in Colombia, because of the salt trade, which at that time was worth more than gold. In the surroundings of Plaza Mayor are the city’s cathedral and the municipal palace. And just a few meters away, is the route to get to the Salt Cathedral.

Anyone walking upstairs has to face several steps to get to the ticket office. And at an altitude of 2,650 m, it is normal to feel a little tired.

When you arrive at the ticket office, you should make a plan for your visit to the salt park because within the park are several attractions you can see. The ticket for the Salt Cathedral, including a guided tour and a 3D film, costs 25 thousand COP per adult and 17 thousand COP for children between 4 and 12 years. The guided tour to the Cathedral takes almost 2 hours.

Entrance to the Salt Park
Entrance to the Salt Park
Walkway to get to the Cathedral
Walkway to get to the Cathedral

The other attractions are paid separately: Museo de la Salmuera (3,000 COP / 25 minutes); Muro de Escalada (6 thousand COP, Climbing Wall) and Ruta del Minero (6 thousand COP / 35 minutes; Route of a miner). The route is to understand the miners’ experience in a guided tour with work and safety equipment. But we didn’t do it, because we were already in the mine of Potosí, Bolivia, in a much more tense experience!

The guided tour through the Salt Cathedral starts at Via Crúcis, divided into 14 parts which show the different stops of Jesus along his path and goes all along to the cathedral. The current complex of the cathedral was built by the miners, with a government support, between 1992 and 1995. As they had support and investment from the state, the complex became more sophisticated with adequate structure and security to receive visitors, from infants to senior citizens.

Via Crúcis, one part
Via Crúcis, one part

Miners have a tradition of creating religious sanctuaries within the mines. Therefore, the first cathedral was built on the initiative of the miners themselves between 1942 and 1952, for devotion to Jesus Christ and Our Lady of Rosary of Guasá, to whom the construction was dedicated, and was open to the public for 40 years until it was unsafe to receive visitors due to security and structural failures.

Work at the Salt Cathedral inspired by the fresco of Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome
Work at the Salt Cathedral inspired by the fresco of Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome

The current structure is so large that there is scenic lighting at the different stations and in the cathedral, a sound system with Ave Maria, jewelery and handicraft shops, cafes, snack bars and even a movie theater inside the mine, where the 3D movie of 15 minutes is presented. The movie tells in a funny and well-structured way the story of Zipaquirá from prehistory, how a mountainous region can be a source of salt (all of Colombia was an ocean millions of years ago); and how it has been the process of exploring salt over the years. I highly recommend to watch it at the end of the guided tour.

The auditorium where the 3D movie is displayed
The auditorium where the 3D movie is displayed

An interesting detail is that in the cathedral are realized ecclesiastical services, with the celebration of the Holy Mass on Sundays at noon. Recently they are accepting weddings and also renewal of marriage vows.

Train for those who don’t want to walk up or down the stairs of the Salt Park
Train for those who don’t want to walk up or down the stairs of the Salt Park


We visited Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral on our last day in Bogota and it was a great way to say goodbye to the city that welcomed us very well for eight days.

Cathedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral)
http://www.catedraldesal.gov.co/
Visiting hours: every day from 9 am to 5.30 pm

Read other posts about Bogotá here.


Cerro Monserrate and La Calera, Bogota seen from above

Bogotá is a huge city with about 8 million inhabitants. But just seeing it from above, you will be able to understand the dimension of Colombian’s capital. Monserrate Hill (Cerro Monserrate) in La Candelaria is the best-known option to get a panoramic view of the city. On top of it is the Basilica Sanctuary of the Lord of Monserrate (Basílica Santuario del Señor de Monserrate). However, the city’s North side can only be seen from the top of La Calera.

The ascent in the cable car
The ascent in the cable car

From the Bogota’s center you can see Monserrate Mountain and the Sanctuary, which is located in the East, and makes the orientation in the city center a lot easier.

The hill was baptized in honor of the black virgin of Montserrat, a saint of Catalunya, to which also the first chapel (which was built on top of the mountain in 1657) was offered.

The current basilica is from 1925 and is dedicated to the “Fallen Lord of Monserrate”, in honor of an art work of Pedro de Lugo Albarracín, carved in wood which is in the center of the church. The image of the saint of Monserrate is in a chapel inside of the basilica.

Facade of the Basilica
Facade of the Basilica

In addition to the church, there are some restaurants, cafes and handicraft markets on Cerro Monserrate. The panoramic view of Bogota is one of the biggest attractions of Hill Monserrate.

To get to the top of Monserrate you can walk up or choose between the cable car or funicular. The funicular has been operating since 1929 and the cable car since 1955. Already from those ones you can have a great view of the city. Both cost the same price, 17,000 COP (about 5 Euros) for return tickets. However, the funicular is just running in the morning. Our choice was the cable car and the ride is very nice.

The cable car and the funicular depart from the building that serves as the base for the Sanctuary, which is in Carrera 2, 21-48, Paseo Bolivar, a few minutes from the city center.

Handicraft market
Handicraft market
Beautiful nature on Cerro Monserrate
Beautiful nature on Cerro Monserrate

The same day we went to Cerro Monserrate, we were lucky enough to get to know La Calera as well. We were taken by two Colombian friends, Maria Paula and Paola (Gracías, chicas!). We went in the evening so we could see the North side of the city all lit up.

Monserrate
Monserrate
The well of desires
The well of desires

You can get there only by bus, car or taxi. La Calera is actually a road (Vía La Calera) and there is no sanctuary or something similar, but restaurants, bars and booths selling drinks and snacks.

The view is very pretty as well. And after seeing both sides of the city from above, it is possible to get a feeling of how big Bogota actually is.


Bogota: A day in La Candelaria with just FREE attractions

We arrived in Bogota at night after spending a whole day on different airports. This morning we got up early to work (the digital nomadic life is great, but not always easy), then we left in the morning to stroll through the city. As we are staying in the district La Candelaria, which is the city center, we decided to visit the main attractions here, which are among the main ones in Bogota. We explored everything on foot and we didn’t have to spend one cent to visit all these places. Now we will give you our itinerary with only free attractions in La Candelaria, Bogota.

Hostal Cosu: creative coffee
Hostal Cosu: creative coffee

Before we started walking around, of course we had to eat breakfast. We found a super cute restaurant very close to our accommodation, all decorated with reused materials. Hostal Cosu offers different salads, pastries, coffees, sandwiches and breakfast combos, with very reasonable prices. My combo with a huge cup of hot chocolate, toast, butter and marmalade cost 4,000 COP, something around 1,15 Euro.

Then we went to the church of La Candelaria, a colonial building from 1703, which is declared as a National Monument. In the same street as the church there are the Botero Museum and the House of La Moneda (Casa de la Moneda). The two museums are located in a single building. You can see an impressive collection.

Botero Museum. In the background paintings by Miró and Picasso
Botero Museum

I recommend to start with Casa de La Moneda, because it shows a little bit of Colombia’s history (Nuevo Reino de Granada) and Bogota (Santa Fe) through the collection. In the same building you will also find art collections of several Colombian artists, that show the diverse styles throughout the years. However, the most valuable pieces of this part of the museum are shown in the room of colonial custodies, which is protected by vault doors, as they keep original religious pieces, made of lots of gold, precious stones, diamonds and pearls.

The Botero Museum is undoubtedly the most famous and one of the most important ones in Bogota. There are more than 100 pieces by the main Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, donated by himself, as well as paintings by some of the world’s most important artists such as Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Juan Miró, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet and others. I wrote a post just about this museum as well.

National Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora del Carmen
National Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora del Carmen

In the street perpendicular to the building of Casa de la Moneda (Carrera 5) is the National Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora del Carmen. A beautiful church from the outside and inside. But you have to keep an eye on the opening hours as it opens and closes many times a day. We went on a time when it was closed, but the cleaning lady let us have a peek. 😊

Going back to Calle 11, where Casa de La Moneda is, walking further down you will see the Gabriel Garcia Márquez Cultural Center, and going even further you will arrive to Plaza Bolívar, where the Primada Cathedral is located, and next to it the Chapel of the Sacred , the Justice Palace, the National Capitol, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Liévano Palace, the Bogota City Hall.

Cathedral
Primada Cathedral

Behind the Capitol is the Nariño Palace, the official residence of the president, but the access was closed due to a protest. We only saw the back part of it, where right in front is the San Agustín Cloister, a church that we also visited.

We had lunch in a restaurant in the city center. A menu for only 8,500 COP, about 2,40 Euros, with a soup as an entree, a main course (there were two options), juice and a dessert.

After lunch, we went shopping for some things we needed such as a SIM card or an adapter. Afterwards, we went to the Gold Museum (which is in La Candelaria, but it isn’t for free), but then we discovered that we had left our camera in the restaurant (a lot of emotions already on the first day). We ran back to the restaurant for several blocks and when we got there we were so happy knowing that they had kept the camera. In this moment we decided to finish our day so nothing else will happen. hehe

Being orientated in La Candelaria is very easy, as the streets are distributed by numbers. And, in addition to many attractions, there are many old and colorful mansions, several beautiful graffiti, restaurants and shops.

Despite the many recommendations to be careful, it seemed very safe, at least during the day (at night it gets weirder), there were many policemen and even army. However, there were reinforcements because of a protest and a military event in the Cathedral.

As you can see, our first day in Bogota was super productive, cheap and wonderful.

Translate to English by Juliane Boll


Bogotá: what you need to know and what to do in Colombia’s capital

Bogotá is usually the first stop for travelers in Colombia. The country’s capital is a huge city with 8 million inhabitants and almost 12 million in its metropolitan region. The city itself is not as pretty as Cartagena but offers many culturally events. You can visit Bogotá for many days and still have attractions which you want to see, but if you don’t have a lot of travel time in Colombia, you should plan to stay at least three or four days in the capital. During the eight days we’ve been in Bogotá, I’ve written several posts about the city, now I summarize what you need to know before you go there and what you can do.

National Capitol
National Capitol

Currency

Colombian Pesos (COP). See the current currency rate

State

Bogotá is the capital of the state called Cundinamarca.

Climate

Bogotá is located pretty high, surrounded by mountains. The altitude of the city varies between 2,540 to 3,600 meters, so most of the time it is cold. The average temperature is 14 ° C, and it just has little variety throughout the year, but it can reach negative temperatures. In a way the climate is pretty crazy as in the same day it can be sunny, rainy, cold and hot. The best would be if you dress in layers.

How to get there

Bogota Street and grafith with Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Bogota Street and grafith with Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Bogota has a modern international airport, El Dorado, where flights from all over the world fly to. From Brazil the flight connections are with the airlines Avianca, Copa Airlines and LAN. The airport is relatively close to the city center, 30 minutes by car and a little over 1h by bus. The taxi ride to the district La Candelaria, in the city center, costs 25 thousand COP.

The Colombian capital is linked to the rest of the country by many bus lines, arriving and departing from the Bogotá Transportation Terminal. For close cities, such as Zipaquirá and Villa de Leyva, buses leave from the bus terminal Portal Norte.

There is a general recommendation for avoiding night buses, because of the risk of road robberies. But in the whole country the roads are patrolled by military presence which help with its security.

Where to stay

In the district La Candelaria are a lot of tourist activities concentrated, so it’s highly recommended to stay there. It has many dining and transportation options as well. But, like every downtown neighborhood, it’s pretty busy during the day and a bit “suspicious” at night. Staying in La Candelaria or nearby, you save a lot of time as you can walk everywhere and don’t need to wait for public transportation.

Book your accommodation in Bogotá with Booking.com

Traditional dish of Colombia
Traditional dish of Colombia

Safety

When we came to Colombia, we were told to be very careful. It has been years of negative media due to the country’s situation related to drug cartels and the FARC. But a lot of things have changed in the country the past years. Throughout Bogota, there is a strong police presence and in some regions the Army is present as well (which is quite common in the whole country). Therefore, the recommendations to take care are similar as in all the big cities in the world: taking care of your belongings to avoid theft and avoid walking through empty dark streets.

During our fifteen days we have spent in Colombia, we have forgotten our camera in a restaurant, our wallet with money, cards and documents in a hostel and a shoe on a campsite. We always just realized long after we had lost the items and however, we have gotten everything back. The wallet was mailed to us to another city.

Transportation

Monserrate
Monserrate

Bogotá has a very efficient transportation system, the Sipt: the Transmilenio bus (red), which circulate through the city’s main avenues; helping micro-buses (green), which connect the districts to the main stations and gates; the urban minibuses (blue), that also circulate on the main routes; the complementary buses (orange), which stop at the stations of the Transmilenio as well and, finally, the special buses (purple), that work in the peripheral city zones. You pay for them in a unified system. You need to have credit on a special city transportation card. The ticket costs 1,500 COP during normal hours and 1,800 COP during peak hours.

In most buses and the Transmilenio are electronical signs where the names of the next stops are written at.

Taxis are also very cheap. The minimum for one trip is 3,900 COP.

What to do

Here are the posts about what to do in Bogotá, which were already published. All these attractions can be organized in 3 or 4 days, except for Villa de Leyva, where you should spend at least one night.

Getting to know Bogotá with friends

If you want to get to know Bogotá in the company of locals, I recommend the company Colombian Buddy. It is from our friends Maria Paula and Paola, whose motto is “there is no reason to be alone in a country where you can have a friend”.

Translation to English by Juliane Boll


Colombia: what to do in Medellín – a beloved city of backpackers

Medellín is the favorite city of many backpackers traveling through Colombia, especially for the party-people. Most of them stay in the district Poblado, there are many bars, restaurants and discos. In addition to the lively nights, the country’s second biggest city has enough tourist attractions for a visit of at least three or four days.

How to get there

Medellín doesn’t have an own airport. Just on one flight lane can land small airplanes. José María Córdova International Airport, which is closest to the city, is located in the municipality of Rio Negro. About 1h drive from downtown Medellín.

In addition to international flights at this airport land planes from major cities in Colombia. We flew from Cartagena with Viva Colombia, a Colombian low-cost airline.

To get from the airport to Medellín city center, the cheapest option is by bus, which leaves from the airport (timestables at the exit) and costs COP 9,000 per person. The bus is quite comfortable and the last stop is at the North Terminal, where you can find the subway line Caribe. From the terminal it is also possible to take a taxi to get to the place where you will be staying.

Medellín also has two bus terminals: South and North, where you can arrive by buses from several cities, including Bogotá and Cartagena. However, as the city is in a mountainous region, the trips are usually quite long and cause nausea.

Where to stay

I would say that the most important thing in Medellín is knowing where you SHOULDN’T stay. Definitely avoid the area from Prado, the outskirts of Parque Berrío and Parque Bolívar. It’s a very, very weird region. If you want to enjoy the nightlife, Poblado is probably the best district. It is always the best to be near a subway station because the system works very well and it is possible to travel all around the city.

We stayed in the Las Colores district, which isn’t so touristy as it is a residential neighborhood, quiet, beautiful and has a main street with many restaurants, shops, supermarkets, pharmacies. We stayed in Sophia’s House and loved it. The house is huge, very pretty, has a pool and a kitchen. Sophia and her daughters are very friendly and helpful.

Transportation

Medellín has a great transport system, by subways, which aren’t underground. You can get everywhere by subway. The public transportation card is for free and unified (subway, bus and cable car).

The city’s taxi fares are pretty cheap and are set by meter.

Safety

Medellín was once the most violent city in the world and was very dangerous, especially in the 90’s, after the death of Pablo Escobar, when a war between criminal gangs began. But a few years ago, the life in the city changed radically. And today it is possible to go there as a tourist without feeling insecure. Of course, should still be careful, especially in the city center.

Continue reading:

Medellín is also the hometown of Fernando Botero, who is one of the most expressive artists in Colombia and has works scattered throughout the city. If you arrive in Medellín, I recommend to start visiting Plaza Botero, which has giant bronze works by the artist. Afterwards you should visit the Museum of Antioquia(18,000 COP), which shows works by Botero and other artists who were donated by him.

Antioquia museum
Antioquia museum

Botero's picture representing the death of Pablo Escobar
Botero’s picture representing the death of Pablo Escobar

To visit the Plaza and the Museum, you will probably get off at Parque Berrio station. In front of this station is the Basilica de la Candelaria and the Palace of Culture (Palácio de la Cultura, which in my eyes is a building of bad taste). The Metropolitan Cathedral is also nearby. But on the way there, it isn’t very beautiful and there are many prostitutes and transvestites, even during the day.

Plaza Botero
Plaza Botero

There is a very famous and recommended Free Walking Tour which includes the city center of Medellin. But we didn’t go, as you need to book in advance. But some friends did and liked it a lot.

Another area that has many attractions is around the Botanical Garden (free admission), directly opposite of Explora Park (website in Spanish: http://www.parqueexplora.org/) (24,500 COP), recommended for those traveling with children and the Planetarium of Medellin (website in Spanish: http://www.planetariomedellin.org/).

Hut in the Botanical Garden with indigenous musical instruments
Hut in the Botanical Garden with indigenous musical instruments

From Universidad Station which is in front of the Botanical Garden, you can go to Acevedo Station, where you can take the cable car to Parque Arví. You don’t need to pay anything extra for the cable car as it is the same fare as the subway. From the cable car you can enjoy a great view overlooking the whole city, but I wouldn’t recommend to take it back down unless you want to visit the park.

Explore Park
Explore Park

Another place that gives you a view of the whole city is Pueblito Paisa (free admission). The pueblito is on the top of Cerro Nutibara and was built as a Colombian colonial village, with a small church, a small square and a little school. In the buildings you can find restaurants and craft shops.

Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa

Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa

And, finally, don’t forget to visit Poblado, one of the most beautiful districts in the city, modern, a lot of squares, artists, bars and restaurants. And for those who want to enjoy the nightlife, this is definitely the place.

Parque Lleras, where are most of the bars and restaurants in Poblado
Parque Lleras, where are most of the bars and restaurants in Poblado

Poblado
Poblado

Where to go next ..

From Medellín, don’t miss a one-day round trip or spend one night in Guatapé.

Another option from Medellín would be to travel to the Colombian Eje Cafetero, which includes the city of Salento.

From Medellín we continued our trip to Turbo, where we went by boat to the beaches Capurganá and Sapzurro, already on the border to Panama.

Written in Portuguese by Karla Larissa

Translation by Juliane Boll