13th December

Today we leave for the capital, Bogota, 159kms away along bumpy winding roads through the mountains at 2500m with scenic views overlooking the patchwork green fields in the valley below us.  Driving on the mountain ridge, road work dust fills the air and also covers the car in it too!  Shame we had only just had it cleaned! Slow moving trucks force us to overtake on the narrow roads but we eventually turn onto a fast highway.  Now that we are back at altitude, the car is a little smoky as normal.

We make a stop at the Bogota Beer Company on route but unfortunately the tour is not until later, much to Martin‘s disappointment!

Around 50kms north out of Bogota, we stop in the small village of Zipaquira for the Salt Cathedral, an underground church carved from salt, heralded as one of Colombia’s greatest architectural achievements. We have to wait around for an hour for the English tour to begin where we bump into a couple travelling by motorbike who we had met a few days before in Villa de Leyva.

The guide leads us through the dark chamber which are the tunnels of a 180metre underground salt mine situated deep in the mountains of a Roman Catholic church.  As low level LED illuminations light the path, the walls glisten with salt crystals.  It’s amazing how this whole place has been carved out of the rock. He takes us past 14 stations of the cross within small chapel sections with crosses and kneeling platforms carved into the halite (salt rock).  250 thousand tons of rock salt had to be extracted to create the cathedral.

As the old church was built inside an active mine, structural and safety problems caused it to be closed and replaced by a new one even further underground.

We arrive at a beautiful church with the largest subterranean cross in the world carved into the wall and four enormous salt pillars that represent the four gospels.  It is not all for show either as it is a place of pilgrimage for many Colombians, nearly 3000 people pack in for mass every Sunday.  The dramatic lighting, sheer proportions of the cathedral and the history behind it all make for a unique and interesting visit.

From the balcony, we go down to the central nave area and find ourselves standing in a gigantic cave inside the mine.

Years before the church was built, miners had carved out their own sanctuary as a place for prayer asking for protection before starting their dangerous work.  Some of the sections had also been carved out by the ancient Muiscas as early as 5BC, the resource transforming them into one of the most prosperous societies of their time.

The tour ends at the Water Mirror, a mere 10cm pool which tricks the eyes into thinking it is just a big hole when in fact it is the unblemished reflection of the salt rock above.  We throw a small pebble in to water and watch the ripples glide across the mirror.

We grab something to eat in their underground cafe enjoying the peaceful ambience before wandering back through, also walking through the emerald exhibit, of which Colombia is the world’s largest exporter.

The traffic going into Bogota is unbelievable and is virtually at a standstill for the majority of the way, even though it‘s a Saturday. It takes forever to get to our hotel which luckily just about fits our car in their underground car park.  Tomorrow, we explore the capital!