Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide told us to visit Zipaquira, a short day trip from Bogota, Colombia. This recommendation was later confirmed by the a handful of employees at 82 Hostel in Zona Rosa so Abbie and I set out to see what all the fuss was about. In broken Spanish we managed to board the correct bus to Zipaquira from Portal del Norte and, after wandering around the quiet little town for an hour or so, we stumbled upon Catedral del Sal, the famous Salt Cathedral.
One of the reasons I loved Colombia is that while it’s not too hard to find other English-speaking travelers, it’s still relatively undiscovered by the average American traveler. Not many tours are offered in English because there simply isn’t a demand for it… yet. Our tour of the Salt Cathedral was no different – Abbie and I were among about twenty visitors and the only two who were native English speakers. There were a handful of Ecuadorians, a couple of Brazilians and a few Argentinians but, for the most part, visitors were from other parts of Colombia. I tried to simultaneously listen to the guide, understand what he was communicating and translate to Abbie as best as possible. It’s amazing how much high school Spanish one can recall when put to the test – and how natural it is to fill in the gaps with speculation.
The Salt Cathedral was really quite impressive. It was far larger and deeper than I expected it to be. We journeyed some 200 meters into the mountain, passing by life-sized stations of the cross, impressive marble statues and large domes and structures. The entire place is relatively well-lit, despite the cave-like atmosphere. The Salt Cathedral is a functioning place of worship and receives some 3,000 church-goers on Sundays.
If I’m going to be completely honest, the further into the Cathedral you go, the cheesier it becomes. It grows suddenly very commercial with salespeople peddling gems, concessions and memorabilia when you exit the sanctuary area. There are a few unfortunate displays using mannequins to demonstrate the construction of the Cathedral and even a few light shows. But, if you can get past the commercial finale, the Cathedral really is quite impressive, especially when you consider how deep into the mountain it goes.
The view upon exiting the Salt Cathedral is well worth the climb to the top. There are decent public bathrooms available and amphitheater-style seating. Bring a picnic and rejoice in the fresh air (you’ll appreciate it after spending an hour or so in the Cathedral) and the stellar view.
To me, Zipaquira will always be the place where Abbie spotted the dog. We were walking back through the narrow streets of the town toward the main square when she spotted her through an opening in a gate. She was lying down, snoozing in the afternoon sun when we first saw her but quickly sat up and looked right at us for about two seconds before she and her companion ran toward the gate barking. I was able to snap one quick picture on my iPhone 5 before the barking started and it is, to date, my favorite travel photo. I love everything about it… the colors, the textures, the composition and, of course, the inquisitive dog, sitting at attention on her pile of terra-cotta roofing tiles. This was a lucky moment.