After celebrating a month of being in Colombia with a night full of rum and salsa it seemed like the right time to stop thinking about work for a while and visit somewhere outside my daily routine of living in the city.
With Tamiko I took the transmilenio 110 blocks to calle 170 and with minimal confusion, found a bus going to Zipa from where we were hoping we could find the cathedral of salt.
For just 4,800 pesos ( around £1.50) we found ourselves free of the city. Free from the acrid traffic fumes that made us cough and left black soot around our nostrils. In Zipaquira (or Zipa) the sun was shining, the air was clean and I didn’t get bustled by a person in a suit a single time.
Luckily the salt cathedral was incredibly easy to find from the bus terminal. Like most things I’ve found in Colombia it wasn’t what I was expecting. Naively I had clutched my lonely planet to my chest and imagined a wondrously rural and unappreciated by tourists hole in the ground that would be an unusual adventure. The salt cathedral is for tourists. With fast food stalls, a playground, photo booths and a climbing wall the salt cathedral has been fully opened up for commerce.
The caves are arranged around the 14 stations of the cross, though I’m not sure how. The first ten or so caverns, while impressive in their own right for the human labour that went into their construction, are pretty similar. The general trend that I noticed among the visitors, was awe at the first cavern, curiosity in the second, feigned interest in the third and recognising the following caverns only as photo backgrounds in front of which to pop their hips and pull a duck face.
It’s when you arrive at the final cavern things get more interesting. With sculptures and religious iconography this cavern is the cathedral. The salt cathedral. It is impressive, beautiful and again, just absolutely huge. The cathedral actually holds services and can pull in up to 3,000 worshippers on Sundays but without a bishop it lacks real recognition of being a cathedral by the Roman Catholic Church. Still, the atmosphere is impressive and the ‘cathedral’ is stunning. It’s strange though seeing worshippers and tourists side by side, one lining themselves up against the cross for a Facebook picture while the other kneels sincerely with a face of religious concentration.
Right next to the cathedral you can find the (even) more commercialised part of the caves. Cafés, gift shops, photo stalls and a cinema all seemed weirdly out of place in this sub-terrestrial setting.
We chose not to partake in the miner for a day experience, as with its yellow hardhats, it seemed to push the limits of how touristy we could be while still hanging on to self respect. Though we did stick on our glasses and sit in a cave 180m below the surface and watch a 3d movie, where a rock monster named Hal introduced us to “the incredible story of one of the worlds greatest treasures . . . . Salt!”
The movie was actually helpful, cheesy, but without it I’m sure I wouldn’t of known half of what was going on or the story of the mines. Thank Hal for English subtitles.
The sheer scale of the caves and cathedral were incredibly impressive. We walked for two hours around the caves and caverns that had been hacked from the core of this mountain and only explored around a fraction of its complete size.
After a couple of hours we began to yearn for natural light and fresh air so we left the cool dampness of the mines and headed in search of food.
We finished the day sitting in the historic centre of Zipa, sucking on ice lollies and watching chocolate covered children chase pigeons in the dusky light of evening, it was so peaceful and refreshing. We’d been nervous about leaving the confines of the city and the areas we knew to be safe. Being constantly warned to be careful can create an unhealthy paranoia, especially in a country with a reputation such as Colombia. We’d been sensible, safe and had a bit of our sense of freedom restored to us.
Zipa, you can’t buy that feeling of escape. For everything else, there’s pesos.
Transmilenio to the bus stop 1,400
Return bus fare to Zipa 9,200
Entry into the salt cathedral 24,000
Sexy pineapple ice lolly 1,200
Barbecue lunch 9,000
Cost of trip 44,800 ( around £14)<a
I enjoyed my day in Zipa, it wasn’t the most unique or authentic experience but it was so nice to have a change from my routine in Bogota and he busyness of the city. I’d recommend a visit to Zipa and the salt cathedral. It was a good day. Not the most awe inspiring or jaw dropping of sights to see but worth the visit definitely.