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Travel Guide: A Day trip to Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

Las Lajas Sanctuary near Ipiales, Colombia

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!

Border Warning

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

Las Lajas Sanctuary outside of Ipiales, Colombia

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.

Santuario de las Lajas

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.

Las Lajas Cathedral In South America

Las Lajas Sanctuary outside of Ipiales, Colombia

Facade of Las Lajas Sanctuary near of Ipiales, Colombia

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.
Las Lajas Cathedral across river

More articles related to this:

Read More: What to do and see in Bogota

Read More: Complete Travel Guide to Visit Cartagena

Read More: Things to do and visit in Medellin

Read More: Complete Guide to visit Tayrona National Park

Read More: One day trip to Guatape

Read More: Things to visit in Santa Fe de Antioquia

Read More: Complete Guide to visit Jardín

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What to do and See in Las Lajas
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Travel Guide- A Day trip to Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia Guide
Travel Guide- A Day trip to Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

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D. Snyder

Wednesday 22nd of July 2020

I have never been to the sanctuary of Las Lajas. However, having discovered it on the internet, and reading about it, it is quite easy to discover that this is not an ordinary "painting" on a stone wall. German scientists took core samples from several different locations on the iconic wall and discovered that the colors of the picture go several feet into the wall and are actually the colors of the rock and not paint. It is very miraculous.

laxman baral

Thursday 30th of April 2020

its really nice and great article with mention with us dear

William

Sunday 7th of July 2019

I live in. London and I was hoping to travel there soon what’s the best route for me ?

Travel To Blank

Sunday 7th of July 2019

The best way to go to Las Lajas I think it is from Quito. You can either rent a car and drive 4h30 but you can make some stops along the way either on your way there or back (Otavalo + Tulcán) or you can take the bus which it might be way longer. Las Lajas is in the broader between Ecuador and Colombia and the only thing to keep in mind is that there are long lines to come back into the country as there is a lot of migration coming into Ecuador. Also, I will say Quito as I think is the closest international airport to Las Lajas.

RUDY C.

Thursday 4th of October 2018

Hi! I was wondering if you can provide me some suggestions. If I have only 5 to 6 days to kill and Las lajas is the MUST VISIT site, do I fly to Bogota, Colombia or Quito, Ecuador makes more sense? How long is the trip from Quito? If I got your website info right, it's only for a day? How long is it from Bogota? What if I need to knock down a few spots in Bogota, can I fly to Las Lajas? Any suggestion would be considered. Thank you. By the way, I do appreciate your website - it's the first one I saw that have some info on this church/sanctuary.

Travel To Blank

Thursday 4th of October 2018

Hi! Well, Las Lajas is closer to Quito than from Bogota. From Quito is only 5 hours and from Bogota is almost 18 hours drive. To be honest, I think you will enjoy more the drive from Quito as you can spend sometime in our capital, then drive to Otavalo and before crossing the border to Colombia you can make a quick stop at the Tulcan Cemetery. Otavalo is along the route from Quito to Lajas and the whole trip should take you 5 hours drive. If you have 6 days what I would do is the following: DAY 1 AND DAY 2: Explore Quito, DAY 3 AND DAY 4: Explore Otavalo and the surrounding areas and Day 5: Drive to Lajas and making a quick stop to visit the cemetery (spend all day in Lajas (it can take you tops 3 hours to walk around, visit the church and take some photos) I did it in a day from Quito and back. Day6: Drive back to Quito and take off.

From Quito to Otavalo is 2h18 and from Otavalo to Las Lajas is 2h30. Quito has much to visit and so does Otavalo. I could help you plan your trip or you can see the guides I have for those places.

I do not think you can fly to Lajas but I am certain that you can fly to Pasto which is 2 hours north from Las Lajas.

Thank you so much and please do not doubt on asking me as many questions as you have, We are here to help and I would love for you to feel free to ask me anything and to help you get the best experience possible!