When one thinks of traveling in South America, thoughts of the deep green amazon jungles, white mountain peaks in the Andes, and unique cultural celebrations are what usually first comes to mind – not unforgettable architecture. Don’t get me wrong, when the Spanish conquered many cities they did build some pretty neat looking colonial style buildings, but nothing that really compares to the architecture one can see in Europe. Except this one cathedral. I call it “the castle church” because it truly looks like a castle from one of the fairytale stories I read once as a child. It was a remarkable sight to see that I almost skipped out on during my travel plans, and I’m sure glad I didn’t!
Most travelers don’t make it to “the castle church” or correctly called Las Lajas sanctuary due to its somewhat inconvenient location. It is a bit off the beaten path located only a couple kilometers from the Ecuador border in Colombia. However, for those who are crossing this border anyways (between Tulcan and Ipiales) it only makes sense to make a short stopover at this incredible architectural feat.
My Visit to Las Lajas
I was entering Colombia from Ecuador and had been told by a friend to make sure I visit Las Lajas. By the time I finally made it across the border and found accommodation in the less-than-impressive town of Ipiales, I was exhausted and ready to ditch my original plan of making a late afternoon visit to the Las Lajas cathedral. I thought that since I am not overly interested in architecture that it could easily be something that I could miss. While laying on my hotel room bed I contemplated my energy level and then decided to Google pictures of the cathedral. The pictures looked fantastic, so I bought myself a coffee and headed off to the bus station to try and get a glimpse of the cathedral for myself.
Getting to Las Lajas from Ipiales was surprisingly easy and affordable. From the main bus station there are shared taxis or “collectivos” which cost only $2,500 COP per person each way. To rent an entire taxi and avoid having to wait for other individuals to fill the car before leaving, expect to pay 12,000 COP each way. The taxi or collectivo will stop at one viewpoint along the drive and then will drop you off at the Las Lajas parking lot. From there is it a short ten minute walk to the actual cathedral and bridge. There is no entrance fee to walk in or around Las Lajas.
For those crossing the Ecuador and Colmbia border it is possible to make a quick stop along the journey to Las Lajas. I decided to spend the night in Ipiales just to ensure I wasn’t rushed and to prevent having to take a night bus. However, many travelers cross into Colombia and hire a taxi right from the border to take them to Las Lajas before heading to the bus terminal. Those going to Ecuador from Colombia make the stop with a taxi on the way to the border. This can be a bit more costly depending on your negotiation skills as the taxi driver must wait for you at Las Lajas with any of your large luggage. That all being said, the entire cathedral could be explored within 30 minutes and would only be a slight detour from the border crossing.
An Amazing Sight to See
Once I first saw Las Lajas in person I was in awe. The cathedral is built completely onto a cliff edge hanging over a huge gorge! Its peaks resemble that of a castle and the details on the building add the sense of royalty. I explored, took a ton of photos, and an hour or so later I was satisfied with my experience at Las Lajas. I was sure glad I decided to make the trip – it was well worth it!
The thing that surprised me most about the Las Lajas cathedral was how beautiful it was, and how infrequently it is talked about as a tourist destination in Colombia. I was just lucky that my friend had told me about it, otherwise I would have never gone. It is such a unique church in comparison to the dozens of others I saw while exploring South America, I would encourage anybody travelling in this direction to take the time to visit Las Lajas.
About the Author
Bailey is an adventure traveler and writer. Along with her boyfriend Daniel, the two travel theworld writing about all of their experiences and providing advice to other backpackers on their blog, Destinationless Travel. Having spent the last 13 months in Latin America, Bailey iscurrently on her way to live out of a van in New Zealand. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Youtube.