Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia – Visitors guide
June 30, 2018
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Las Lajas Sanctuary (AKA Las Lajas Cathedral) is one of the most amazing cathedrals in South America. However, this stunning slice of architecture has managed to remain off the tourist trail, hidden from many travelers. The cathedral still remains somewhat of a mystery and the exact build date of the current structure is unknown.
The legend that surrounds the Las Lajas Cathedral in Colombia says that the Virgin Mary visited a mother and her deaf-mute daughter during a fierce storm. It is believed that years later after the daughter died the mother re-visited the site and the daughter was then revived by the Virgin Mary. The area is said to have healing powers and many reports of this have been made over the years.
The cathedral is famous among Colombians for both the legend and for its stunning architecture. Spanning across the Guaitara River, the gothic-style church is a breathtaking structure. For any visitors making the journey from Ecuador to Colombia by land, it really well worth visiting! In this guide, I will cover everything you need to know to in order to visit this magnificent place, the Las Lajas Sanctuary!
Where is Las Lajas Sanctuary located?
The Las Lajas Cathedral is located on the Colombian side of the Colombian-Ecuador border near the town of Ipiales. The location is remote and far from any major tourist city which has helped the Cathedral remain hidden from many and off the beaten path.
If you are traveling from Ecuador to Colombia (or vice versa) by road then you’re in luck! With a little planning, you too can visit this amazing place.
Getting to the Las Lajas Sanctuary
The nearest major city to the Las Lajas Cathedrals is Popayan. From Popayan, the journey is almost 8 hours to the city of Ipiales where the cathedral is located. This journey is long and as such really only makes sense if you are on your way to Ecuador. However, if you truly fall in love with the pictures in this blog then making the long journey can be done!
From Popayan, you will need to book one of the many daily buses that make the journey to Ipiales. It is important to note, that the times taken by different buses vary significantly. If you are traveling during the day then it’s important to pick a minibus as opposed to the larger buses. The larger buses do run this route as they connect in Popayan on their way from Cali. The time difference can be 3 hours as the windy roads prove very difficult for the larger buses.
The buses are pretty straightforward and run right to the main terminal of Ipiales (read below for a guide on getting to the church from the terminal) If you are planning on staying the night in Ipiales then you have plenty of time to see the church that afternoon and cross the border with Ecuador the next day. However, if you plan on crossing the border that afternoon and either staying in Tulcan (the city on the Ecuadorian side of the border) or getting a night bus to Quito then keep reading below for how it’s done!
“Super Taxis” was the cheapest company at COP30,000 and they took 8 hours. They weren’t the fastest but they certainly weren’t the slowest and we opted for this choice. The bus was a minivan and thus we had windows that opened (yay fresh air) and a faster journey!
The closest major city on the Ecuadorian side is Ibarra, however, this city is not really a touristic city so you will most likely be starting your journey from the capital, Quito. From Quito, the journey is around 5 hours to the border. From the border, it should only take an hour or so to cross and from there you can either get a Collectivo to the Ipiales bus terminal or if you want, a taxi straight to Las Lajas Cathedral.
Please note* Canadians are required to pay $190,000 COP at the Colombian border when entering. This must be paid in Colombian currency.
Please note in recent times the border of Colombia and Ecuador has seen major traffic from Venezualans heading south to Ecuador. First-hand accounts from other travelers have experienced wait times anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours. Please ask on the Facebook page “Backpacking South America” for a recent update.
Getting to Las Lajas Cathedral
From the border
If you have just arrived at the border from either direction or want to visit the church before you cross you can get a taxi right from the border. Taxi drivers know this route well and will take you for a small fee per car. When I visited this was $12,000 COP or around $4 USD each way. If you are on your own you can get a Collectivo (shared taxi) from the border to the Ipiales bus terminal for $3,000 COP per person and then a Collectivo from the terminal to Las Lajas for $2,500 COP each way per person.
You will just need to get to the bus terminal and get the Collectivo for $2,500 COP per person each way. The Collectivo is found out the front of the building opposite where the busses park. There are drivers actively finding people for the Collectivo. As for pricing, there is a sign in the taxi telling you the official rates (just in case the price has changed slightly)
Once you arrive at the church you will follow a clearly marked, large footpath to the cathedral. There are a few places to buy souvenirs and get food. It is completely free to wander around the area. If you don’t have your camera there are photographers there who know where to get the best shots – for a small fee of course.
Why we opted to stay the night in Ipiales
The reason we opted to stay one night in Ipiales after visiting is because of the higher dangers of traveling at night along the road from the border to Cali. In recent times, this route has become safer and the Colombian army now occupy the road with a huge presence, however, in order to not have to sleep on a bus or take an unnecessary risk we opted to stay the night. On many occasions we have taken silly risks to save a few dollars and it’s likely you will too – but please stay safe!
The city of Ipiales is a mere 15-minute drive from the Las Lajas Sanctuary and is the best place to layover on your trip. Although the city is not a tourist mecca and really doesn’t have much else to offer it’s still cool to visit a Colombian city where gringos are far and in-between. If you do end up staying the night then it’s a great place to do some shopping. The streets are literally filled with cheap clothing and electronic stores. With the lack of foreign tourists come really good prices!
The town can seem kind of sketchy especially with all the armed police, however, we found the locals to be nice and friendly. With any border town, extra care should be taken as these places can be home to organized crime.
Where to stay in Ipiales
We stayed at a hotel called Pension Valaparaiso. It was an ok place to stay with friendly staff and secure rooms. However, the showers and bed were not great but the location was in a busy area only meters from the main square. Given that there aren’t many places in town, I can recommend this place to others.
I had first seen the Las Lajas Cathedral on Instagram a few years back and remember thinking wow, that place is beautiful! A few years later I happened to be heading to the closest city to the Las Lajas Sanctuary and just had to jump at the opportunity. The extra nigh stay in Ipiales to see the church was totally worth it and I am glad I went.
Where to go next?