If you’re looking to visit the Salt Cathedral from Bogota, your cheapest (and most fun) option is going to be the bus from Bogota to Zipaquira. Sure you can take a taxi, the occasional tourist train that runs or take a tour bus, but why do that when you can be yelled at in Spanish with no clue what’s going on?
The Salt Cathedral, also known as Catedral de Sal in Spanish (see, I know some things) is in the city of Zipaquira, about one hour outside of Bogota. It’s magnificent and well worth the visit and can easily be done in half a day.
I’ll be honest, there wasn’t much information out there on how to get to the Salt Cathedral or Zipaquira by bus and public transport but I found it by far the best way to get there so let me help you out so you don’t get yelled at in Spanish like I did.
Bogota to Zipaquira by Bus
Let’s cut to the chase: this isn’t the easiest way to get to the Salt Cathedral by any means and you can probably negotiate a taxi for yourself for the day for around US$75-$100 so if you’re splitting it between several people this may be the best choice for you.
However, if you want to save tons of money and have a more adventurous trip then the bus should be right up your alley.
Where does the bus leave from and arrive into?
You will need to get the bus in Bogota from Portal del Norte, a hub for local transit (TransMilenio) as well as long distance buses.
It will take you about one hour to get to Zipaquira (depending on traffic) and you will arrive at Transport Terminal (Terminal de Transporte), approximately a 10-15 minute walk from the Salt Cathedral.
How much does it cost?
This is where most of our confusion came in at the bus terminal. You pay for the bus to Zipaquira on the bus. However, you still need to purchase a transport card to get through the barriers.
When we arrived at Portal del Norte I asked in Spanish if this is where you got the bus to Zipaquira. The woman said yes – off to a great start! So I said I needed two tickets and pointed to my friend to Zipaquira and she gave me one card with not nearly enough money on it for the round trip to Zipaquira.
Hmm. I was super confused.
I said I needed it for two people and she instantly got very upset and started talking very fast. My Spanish isn’t that good, people, I had no idea what she was trying to tell me. We went off to the side to think for a minute to see if we could figure out what was going on.
I decided to try my luck with another person at the counter and just ask for one card to get another for my friend. I went up and asked for it and the woman we had just spoken to came running over and yelling something about my friend – again.
Why wouldn’t they just sell me the damn card?!
Long story short: more than one person can travel on one transport card (who knew!) you just need to pass it between each other. These very nice women simply didn’t want us to have to spend more to buy another card.
The most important thing to note is that you don’t pay for the bus on those cards, you simply need them to get through the barrier. We’re talking spending less than $1 on these.
Once you get on the bus, you’ll pay COP5400 (US$1.86) one way. The great news is they are able to make change on the bus so you don’t need to have the exact amount.
Visit the Salt Cathedral
Once you arrive at the Transport Terminal, it’s a straight line walk to the Salt Cathedral and the grounds. It took us about 15 minutes, but that’s because we stopped in the main square to take some photos because it was gorgeous and relatively quiet.
Entrance into the Salt Cathedral is about US$18 and this does include a tour, which they offer in multiple languages. We weren’t really in the mood for a tour so we decided to go on in with the tour and then separate ourselves and walk on.
It can be easy to get lost in here, but luckily there are lots of people and tour groups so if all else fails, you just join a tour group and eventually you’ll get out.
When you walk in, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust because it’s just so dark. I think what struck me the most was the quiet chanting in the background at all times. It made the place feel a little eerie but contributed to the mystique and atmosphere.
As you walk throughout, the plaques in the wall take you through the crucifixion. Unfortunately, I don’t think we did it in order but I know the story so I wasn’t massively bothered by that.
The vastness of this underground cathedral was incredible. I had no idea it was this big! Honestly, I didn’t know that much about it to begin with, but the fact we walked over a mile underground in this thing was impressive.
One of my favorite parts of the cathedral is when you near the end, there are intricate scenes carved into the rock. The detail was incredible and with the purple light on it, it was absolutely breathtaking.
One of the oddest things in the entire place was this bucket hanging from a stick over a hole. I don’t know – I never figured out what it was but if any of you know PLEASE tell me in the comments because I’m dying.
It was kind of cool but… let’s be honest, it was incredibly creepy. What on earth is a child’s sand bucket doing hanging from a stick over a hole in a shrine-like way?
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral History
So the Salt Cathedral is gorgeous and impressive and vast, but my main question was just why. Why go to all the trouble to build a cathedral underground and in a salt mine?
Believe it or not, the Salt Cathedral is actually fairly new in history terms, only being built in the 1950s.
Work originally started on what is called the ‘Old Cathedral’ and that was built into an active salt mine but this inevitably led to structural safety concerns so they started the ‘New Cathedral’ 200 feet below the old one.
The cathedral is still a functioning church and is considered one of the most notable achievements in Colombian architecture.
So to answer the question of why, the answer is why not.
Should you visit the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira and by bus?
Heck yes! The Salt Cathedral was truly a highlight of my trip to Bogota and for around $20 you get admission and transport, which is pretty amazing.
Once you know what you’re doing, the bus is a fantastic way to get between these two great cities and this makes for a perfect half day or full day trip.