A favorite day trip for visitors to Bogotá is the city of Zipaquirá (pop. 112,000). About 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Bogotá, Zipaquirá is known for its Catedral de Sal—a cathedral built in a salt mine. Zipaquirá is named for the the Zipa, the Muisca leader of the Bacatá confederation. The Muisca settlement was very close to the mines, and they traded salt for other commodities with other indigenous groups.
The Catedral de Sal (tel. 1/852-3010, 9am-5:30pm daily, COP$20,000) is part of the Parque del Sal. The original cathedral was built by miners in 1951, but due to safety concerns at that site, a new and larger cathedral was built and opened in 1995. The cathedral is indeed an impressive feat of engineering. Tours are obligatory, but you can stray from the group. Masses take place here on Sundays, and they attract many faithful. Other features include a museum, a rock-climbing wall, and a children’s 3-D film, which you could skip.
The picturesque main plaza in Zipaquirá, with palm trees rising against a backdrop of green mountains, is always the center of activity in town. Here locals gather to gossip, get their shoes shined, or munch on an oblea (wafer) oozing with caramel. Dominating the plaza is a cathedral designed by Friar Domingo de Petrés, who also designed the Bogotá and Santa Fe de Antioquia cathedrals. Construction began in 1805; 111 years later, in 1916, it was completed and dedicated.
Getting to the Catedral de Sal
Zipaquirá is an easy day trip from Bogotá. On weekends, families and tourists alike take the Turistren from the Usaquén train station (Cra. 9 No. 110-08, tel. 1/316-1300) at 8:15am or the Estación de la Sabana (Cl. 13 No. 18-24, tel. 1/375-0557) near La Candelaria at 9:15am. Bands play Colombian papayera music as you slowly chug through the savanna of Bogotá on the three-hour trip. The train returns to Bogotá in the late afternoon, giving you more than enough time to visit the salt mines. Only round-trip train tickets (COP$52,000) are sold.
The company Alianza runs buses (1 hour, COP$4,800) to Zipaquirá’s Terminal de Transportes (Cras. 6C-7 and Clls. 10-12) from Bogotá’s Portal del Norte TransMilenio station every 20 minutes or so, all day long. Upon arriving at Portal del Norte, take a left from where you get off the TransMilenio bus and you will see signs pointing the way for “Zipa” buses; the attendants can also direct you. You’ll pay the Zipa bus driver directly. The trip takes about an hour and costs COP$6,000.
You can either walk or take a short taxi ride to the Parque del Sal from Zipaquirá’s train or bus station.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Bogotá.