Las Lajas Sanctuary is the ‘fairytale’ cathedral of my dreams! The cathedral is built into a canyon in South-West Colombia which is close to the border with Ecuador. We had seen this beautiful sanctuary on numerous travel blogs and videos and we couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves!
Getting to Ipiales
The Sanctuary is located in a small Andean town in South-West Colombia called Ipiales. The town is really nothing special with the main and only attraction being the spectacular Las Lajas Sanctuary.
We took an 11-hour night bus from Cali which cost 50,000 COP (£12.50). There are plenty of companies making the journey so the best thing to do is go to the bus terminal and try and haggle for the best price.
We booked a hostel on booking.com before arriving in Ipiales as we heard it’s easy to get ripped off if you turn up without a booking.
Getting to the cathedral
There are a few ways to get to Las Lajas Sanctuary:
- The easiest way is to take a taxi from town which will cost around 10,000COP.
- The cheaper option is to take a collectivo from the bus terminal for 2,200 COP.
- The cheapest option (which we opted for) is to take a local bus from the main plaza in Ipiales which will drop you off by the cable cars for 1,500COP.
There is a recently installed teleferico (cable car) which offers amazing views of the valley, the cathedral and the mountains. The cost for this was 10,000COP per person, or a return ticket is 16,000COP. We really enjoyed the 20 minute journey to the cathedral in the cable cars and the impressive scenery.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
The incredible gothic style cathedral was built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River between 1916 and 1949 and entry to the cathedral is free! There is a small cost to visit the museum but we didn’t bother going in, we were more than happy taking in the beautiful architecture.
We visited the cathedral during the week which meant we had the place almost to ourselves. Apparently weekends and festivals are heaving so try and get there mid-week to avoid the crowds.
Legend has it…
Legend has it that the cathedral was inspired by a miracle that happened in 1754 when the Virgin Mary appeared to a woman named Maria Mueces and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa.
Maria and Rosa were caught in a terrible storm, so they took shelter between the gigantic Lajas (rocks). Rosa pointed to a rock where an illuminated silhouette of the Virgin Mary appeared.
Maria and Rosa kept the miracle a secret until something even more incredible happened. When Rosa died, Maria returned to the place where they had seen the Virgin Mary to pray for her daughter’s soul. The Virgin Mary then revived Rosa’s body and just a few years after the miracle happened, the first shrine was built.
Believe the story or not, the image of the Virgin Mary can still be seen in the rocks behind the alter.
Because of this, thousands of pilgrim’s flock to the church each year to pray for miracles. Nearly all the rocks surrounding the sanctuary are covered in prayers and memorial plaques.
You can easily spend a couple of hours here exploring the cathedral and the surrounding areas. There is a beautiful waterfall which you can visit and you can also walk a short way by the river.
As far as cathedrals go, this is one of the most impressive we’ve ever seen.
If you are travelling in Colombia, you may want to check out my other posts here.
What is the most stunning cathedral you’ve ever seen? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep on wandering!