Where Salt Comes From: Colombia’s Salt Cathedral

If you haven’t already, check out the first part in this series – Where Salt Comes From: Bolivia Edition!

Here is a fun fact – Colombians use way too much salt in their food! I’m a born and breed USA girl – land of greasy, salty sports bar food – but even I think that the food, on average, has too much salt. Let’s look at a typical breakfast… an arepa (kind of like a thick tortilla?) covered in butter and then with about a pound of salt on top. It’s yummy after awhile but the first bit sure wakes you up.

Well, anyways, a few months after Jaime and I started dating, we decided to take a trip to Bogota. Guess what one of the main day trips around Bogota is? Come on, guess…

Tours of the Salt Mine!

Outside the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral and Mine in Colombia

Not just any salt mine either – a religious, biggest salt cross in the world, time to go to church underground – salt mine. They literally build churches out of salt here… now do you believe me when I say they love salt?!

The Zipaquirá salt mine is located about 50 km outside of Bogota and makes a great day trip from the city. The mine is an active running salt mine but part of the mine has been sectioned off and is now used for the tours. The whole area around the mine has actually become one big “tourist attraction” and on the weekends it is packed with families from Bogota looking for a nice day outside of the city. You can walk through a maze, check out a museum, climb a rock wall, and of course tour the mine.

This particular salt mine is suppose to be the biggest in the world! It formed over 250 million years ago when an inland sea dried up leaving the salt under a layer of mud. As the Andes mountains formed, they pushed the salt layer up closer to the surface. The salt isn’t “salt, salt” but a hard rock salt thanks to millions of years of pressure underground. They mine out tons of rock salt each day and process it to be used in everything from industrial to food service industries. The minute you walk into the mine you can smell the minerals and see the beautiful rock salt finish on the walls.

Salt Cathedral

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá outside of Bogota, Colombia

Photo via McKay Savage

But yeah, people don’t come for the salt… they come for the church. Even though its not an “official” church, over 3,000 people show up here every Sunday. As you walk down into the salt cathedral/mine, you pass the 14 Stations of the Cross representing Jesus’ last journey (look mom, Sunday school paid off). Every station has beautiful salt sculptures and crosses that have been designed and carved by both the salt miners and famous Colombian sculptors. Once you get to the bottom of the Salt Mine (over 180 meters deep) you’ll see the real sight – a huge (suppose to be the world’s largest) salt cross. There is also a full church with alter (where people can get married), a coffee shop (would you like sugar or salt in that?), and (get this!) a 3D movie theater! The theater shows a fun animated film about how the salt mine was formed and how it is currently mined.

Miners for the Day

Salt Mine Tour near Bogota

Jaime and I paid extra to be “Miners for the Day,” which was actually more like “miners for 30 minutes” but still fun. They showed us how the salt was mined before modern technology and even let us take a few swings with the miners’ pick. What they don’t warn you about is how they take everyone through a skin tight tunnel in complete darkness halfway through the tour. Another fun fact… I’m slightly claustrophobic and being in complete and total darkness doesn’t help.

To be honest, the Salt Mines are a bit of a tourist trap. If you’re like me though and like learning random facts, like how salt is mined, it can make for a fun day. Plus, its great to get out of the city (I’m not a big fan of Bogota but don’t tell Jaime that). Be sure to walk down from the Salt Mines and back into the town at the bottom of the hill. It’s suppose to be the oldest known settlement in Colombia (pre-Spanish) and has the cutest little town square. If you stay for lunch though, be prepared for extra, extra salty food.

Lunch after the Salt Cathedral and Mine Tour in Zipaquirá, Colombia