Explore the mesmerizing underground city of Zipaquirá, Colombia. Discover its sprawling four-level complex, renowned Salt Cathedral, and other attractions in this detailed guide.
In a time long past, an ancient ocean claimed the space Colombia now occupies, leaving behind vast deposits of salt entombed within the Colombian mountains. These crystalline reserves began to be exploited as far back as the 5th century by the indigenous Muisca people. European explorers soon caught the scent of salt and wanted in. Spanish colonizers excavated an intricate underground network of mines in Zipaquirá, and devout miners carved out an impromptu church beneath the soil. Over time, mine owners began to believe this was more than just an industrious idea.
Flash forward to 1954, and a bona fide cathedral was inaugurated deep below, at a depth of over 100 meters. However, not long after, safety concerns shut it down. Fast forward again to the 1990s, with the bloom of tourism, and a new cathedral was unveiled, now with a close eye on safety protocols. This one featured multiple altars, prayer niches, statues of saints and angels, frescoes, and icons decorating the walls. This sanctuary is still in operation today, attracting a multitude of pilgrims daily.
Journey to Zipaquirá
The journey to the cathedral is as metaphoric as it is physical. One must pass through fourteen chambers, each symbolizing the Passion of Christ, in a gradual descent into the bowels of the earth. The cathedral is divided into three parts: the birth, life, and death of Christ. Despite the regular services conducted here, the Salt Cathedral has no resident bishop and is not officially considered part of the Catholic Church.
There’s an evocative sense of spirituality that permeates through the saline air here, a rich tapestry of faith, history, and geology, unraveled over the ages and waiting to be discovered. And trust me, that’s a flavor worth savoring.
In the span of three decades, the subterranean city of Zipaquirá has burgeoned into a sprawling, four-level complex. It’s not just about the cathedral anymore; it has evolved into a smorgasbord of experiences. Here, you’ll find a treasure trove that includes a museum of minerals, a 3D cinema, shops, and restaurants – it’s a gourmet feast for the senses. They’ve even been known to throw concerts and raves down in the depths.
Curated tours bring the salt miner’s experience to life. You can don a hard hat and traverse the pitch-dark tunnels in single file, clinging to a rope. Or venture deeper into the operating mine, chip salt off the halite wall with a pickaxe, witness a simulated dynamite explosion, touch the mining carts. It’s a visceral encounter that brings you as close as possible to the miner’s reality without the backbreaking labor.
You could easily lose track of time in this subterranean city, spending hours exploring its vast expanse. A considerable portion of it remains active mines, still yielding salt, though tourists are not allowed in these sections.
When it’s time to resurface, take my advice and opt for the quaint little train that once ferried miners to their shifts but now provides an entertaining ride for tourists.
How to get to Zipaquirá
The Salt Park is a mere 50 kilometers from the Colombian capital of Bogotá, located within the ancient city of Zipaquirá. Beyond the park, there’s a multitude of attractions in Zipaquirá. A car or bus ride from Bogotá takes around an hour, and bus schedules can be found online. The fare is a modest 5,000 Colombian pesos ($1.24). From the central square of the city, you could stroll to the complex or catch the train for 3,000 Colombian pesos ($0.75).
The complex operates from 9 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. Entry is exclusively via organized tours. There are three tariffs: basic, standard, and premium. The cheapest adult ticket at full price comes in at 98,000 Colombian pesos ($24.39). More details about pricing and conditions can be found on their official website.
Take it from me, there’s something inexplicably magical about being in a place that serves up a cocktail of geology, history, and spirituality in such generous measures. Bottoms up!