In this guide we will share all the information you need to know before visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia.
Las Lajas Sanctuary is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of South America and a place you should definitely visit in Colombia. The gothic style cathedral is famous for its architecture and the landscape that surrounds it.
Where is Las Lajas Sanctuary located?
Las Lajas Sanctuary is a basilica built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River, a ten minute drive outside of the small city of Ipiales in Colombia. It is a fairy-tale European castle built in the heart of a Colombian canyon, just across the northern Ecuadorian border. Because of its remote location Las Lajas Cathedral has been able to remain off-the-beaten-path.
Las Lajas Sanctuary is the perfect weekend getaway destination from Quito or anyone who is traveling from Ecuador to Colombia by car.
➳ Read More: Complete Visiting Guide to Quito
How to get to Las Lajas Sanctuary?
Las Lajas Sanctuary is located in Ipiales about 15 minutes away from the Ecuadorian and Colombian border. Here is how you can reach Las Lajas from both Colombia and Ecuador:
- From Quito to Las Lajas is about a 5 hour bus drive to the border and from there you can either get a bus to the Ipiales or a taxi straight to Las Lajas Cathedral. If you are driving after crossing the border you will need to drive about 15 more minutes to the cathedral.
- From Ipiales to Las Lajas you can hire a shared taxi that charges per person or hire your own taxi for a set price. The drive is only about 10 minutes from Ipiales. Once the taxi drops you off, you will still need to walk down the hill for another 5 to 10 minutes to reach the sanctuary.
- From Cali to Ipiales is a ten hour bus drive, from what we have read in other blog posts it is better to take a minibus rather than a coach bus. While it is true that the coach buses are more comfortable they tend to take longer as they go along the curvy road through the mountains.
We strongly recommend to travel by day only!
It is important to have in mind when organizing your trip that recently the border of Colombia and Ecuador has seen major traffic from Venezuelans heading south to Ecuador. The wait time at the border ranges from 10 minutes to several hours depending on the number of people trying to cross the border.
Update 2020: The Colombia Ecuador border is closed at least through the end of 2020. Make sure to check the news for the latest information about the border reopening.
Is Ipiales Safe?
Yes, even though Ecuador and Colombia are not known for being safe countries, Ipiales and Tulcán (the closest cities to the cathedral in Ecuador) are safe during the day. The park is always packed with people who are enjoying the beauty of the area. I would not recommend to go at night though.
➳Find the best hotels in Ipiales: List of hotels
Visitors guide to Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
The history of the Sanctuary of Las Lajas, Ipiales
This sanctuary dates back to the 1700s, but the Gothic Revival church was only completed in 1949. The church and the attached bridge are built across a canyon and reach a height of 330ft above the riverbed.
Las Lajas is a Minor Basilica and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Lajas, who is painted on the rocks of the canyon. Legend has it that this painting of the virgin was found an indigenous woman in the 18th century. The basilica was originally built as a simple wooden chapel and only after four renovations has become the impressive and imposing work of architecture that can be enjoyed today.
On the walkway down to the Sanctuary of Las Lajas you can see plaques of gratitude to the Virgin. The construction and remodeling of the church were financed with donations from faithful Colombians and Ecuadorians.
What to do in Las Lajas Sanctuary
Besides the church and going shopping there is not much to do in Ipiales. The Cathedral is the only landmark in the area and Ecuadorians cross the border to buy different things as things are cheaper in Colombia than in Ecuador.
As Las Lajas is located down inside a canyon, be prepared for a hilly walk. From the parking lot it is easily a 15 minute walk down hill to reach the start of the church. You can also cross the bridge and start walking up the other side of the canyon for the perfect view of the imposing white architecture contrasting the luscious green landscape. Expect a half an hour walk back up the hill to your car or taxi, as you are over 8500 feet above sea level. It is free to wander around the area and visiting the church.
Make sure to visit the inside of the cathedral and then walk up to the different viewpoints on the far side of the gorge, where you will get the best photos of Las Lajas.
Cable Car to Las Lajas Sanctuary
There is also a new Teleférico de Las Lajas which takes you on a 15 minute ride from outside the canyon to behind the church. During the ride you get a short view of the other side of the church and the canyon, not visible by walking. As the ride is not necessarily worth doing round trip, we suggest you take the ride up and have one person bring the car to the top.
Tickets and hours depend on what time of the week you visit:
- Monday to Friday from 9AM to 7PM. Tickets cost $16.000 COP roundtrip and $10.000 COP one-way.
- Saturday, Sunday and Holidays from 7AM to 8PM. Tickets cost $20.000 COP roundtrip and $12.000 COP one-way.
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