For years it has been on my Colombia wishlist: a visit to the famous cathedral Las Lajas in Ipiales. I flew to Pasto to finally witness this architectural wonder with my own eyes. To describe it in one word: impressive. On the border between Ecuador and Colombia, you’ll find Las Lajas in quite a remote corner of the country. But if you have the chance: visit this wondrous place. In this article I’ll tell you all about Las Lajas, of course including all the practical information on how to get there and when to visit. Are you ready? Admire a church in a place like you never saw it!
The Las Lajas Basilica | One of the 7 wonders of Colombia
In the town of Ipiales, just 10 kilometers from the Ecuadorian border, you’ll find number two of Colombia’s seven wonders. Las Lajas. Or Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Las Lajas as the church is actually called. The basilica is built in a gorge in the rocks above the swirling Guitara River. Las Lajas is 100 meters high from the ground to the tower and over the bridge you walk at 50 meters.
According to the legend, in 1754, an Indian mother and her deaf-mute daughter took shelter in the gorge during severe weather. When the daughter received an apparition from the Virgin Mary, she began to speak for the first time in her life. A painting of Mary remained on the rocks, revered as miraculous. Following this legend, a small chapel was built in the gorge in the 19th century. To replace this chapel, the present neo-Gothic Las Lajas was built between 1916 and 1949.
Discover Las Lajas
After first briefly crossing the border into Ecuador to visit this special cemetery I leave with the colectivo to Las Lajas. In 15 minutes I arrive at the top of the mountain already. From there I walk past stores full of souvenirs down the steep path. Along the way, I also encounter the typical dish cuy, for which this region is known. Or guinea pig. Fortunately, I am a vegetarian…
Once down, I arrive at the cathedral. Magical! It turns out there is quite a lot to do and there are wonderful places to sit and enjoy the view of Las Lajas, the waterfall and good food.
The immediate surroundings of the cathedral
Once you cross the bridge you will come across a few stores and restaurants. You can walk up and down there. Up goes a path to a large statue on the mountain from where you have a nice view of Las Lajas. In the middle at equal height is a path to the waterfall. Lovely the sound of the splashing water and also a beautiful view of the basilica. Walking down you have a place to sit and relax for a while. For children, there is a playground. There is also a path under the bridge that you can walk. I still have some time to go until the evening, so I visit all these places and drink nice hot agua de panela at the little restaurant.
Impressive Las Lajas
I especially enjoyed the views of the impressive cathedral. Really really beautiful how it is built above the river against the rock.
Las Lajas in the evening
In the evening, the church is illuminated in many colors and it is definitely worth staying to see it. The lighting starts as soon as it is dark enough, which in my case was around 6:10PM. Because I had to catch the bus back to Pasto, I couldn’t stay very long, so unfortunately I didn’t experience it completely dark. But dark enough to get a beautiful view of Las Lajas with lights.
Practical information: visit Las Lajas in Ipiales Colombia
How do you get to Las Lajas?
Do you stay in Pasto? Then you can visit both the cemetery in Ecuador and Las Lajas just fine in one day. Depart from the terminal in Pasto by bus to Ipiales early in the morning. Around 6 or 7 o’clock, for example. There are many road works on this route (January 2020) and therefore it takes a little longer. It took me about 2 hours going there, almost 3 hours back. Arriving in Ipiales, I went first to Ecuador. Here is a roadmap of how to get where.
From Ipiales to Las Lajas
- At the Ipiales terminal you will find colectivos (white minivans or cabs that leave when full) to Las Lajas
- Cost 3500 pesos
- When you arrive, you walk down the steep path. Are you mobility impaired or simply don’t want to walk? A cable car also goes to Las Lajas. You can take these there and back or just one way. If you arrive at Las Lajas, ask the driver to drop you off at the cable car.
Duration: 15 minutes.
From Ipiales to Cementerio de Tulcán in Ecuador
- From the terminal in Ipiales take a colectivo to the border (Puente Internacional de Rumichaca)
- There you transfer to the colectivo to Tulcán
- There you will visit the Cementerio de Tulcán
Duration: 30 minutes.
NOTE: You do not need to show a passport and if you are not going to do anything else in Ecuador (like have lunch) you do not need to change money. The colectivos cost between 2,000 and 3,000 pesos.
From Tulcán to Las Lajas
- One block from the cemetery you will find Parque Ayora, there white/blue minibuses(colectivos) go to the border with Colombia (Puente Internacional de Rumichaca), passport is not required
- At the border change to a colectivo to the terminal of Ipiales
- There you transfer to a colectivo to Las Lajas as described above
Duration: 45 minutes from Tulcán to Las Lajas.
From Las Lajas to Pasto
- Walk back up to the colectivos
- Go to the terminal of Ipiales
- Buy a ticket to Pasto (10,000 pesos)
- Between 2 and 3 hours later you will arrive in Pasto
NOTE: Not as many buses go in the evening. If you stay until dark go to Ipiales in time to catch the bus to Pasto. It is best to arrive in Ipiales before 7:30PM.
In short, it is incredibly easy to visit everything in a short time.
Weather & altitude
Las Lajas is located at an altitude of 2900 meters. So bring warm clothes, especially if you stay until the evening. A thick sweater or jacket, for example. To and from the colectivo is a steep path. Down no problem, but up can be tough if you are not used to the altitude.
How much time do you need to visit Las Lajas?
Take at least 1 to 2 hours to visit the church and walk around everywhere.
What is the best time to visit?
If you only want to see Las Lajas during the day it doesn’t matter. If you also want to see the church with lights, come around 4 and wait until dark. Be sure to return to Ipiales in time to catch the bus to Pasto (see above).
There are few tourists during the week, more on weekends and high season. If you want more peace and quiet, come during the week. By the way, Las Lajas is not a mass tourism destination, so as busy as Cartagena or Salento it won’t be. I spent hours there and saw almost no foreigners.
A visit to Las Lajas is free.
Except for the city of Pasto, the rest of Nariño province lies in red and orange areas. Las Lajas is always good and safe to visit, though the road between Pasto and Ipiales and the border crossing can be more risky. However, this depends on the situation in the country at the time you go and specifically in that area. Check with your hotel about security. I was told that the route Pasto – Ipiales and across the border is perfectly safe. Should something unexpected come up, they can tell you at your hotel.
Where to stay.
I stayed in Pasto for 5 days to discover the province of Nariño. This province does not yet have many tourists, and even in Pasto the range of hotels and hostels is not very large. There is actually one well-known and very good hostel and that is Hospedaje La Bohemia. Here I stayed for 4 nights and loved it. Very friendly and helpful owners, incredibly clean, a kitchen equipped with everything you need, water from a water filter and beautiful views. I did everything alone, but if you want to meet fellow travelers, this is the place in Pasto. Book your stay here!
Las Lajas: an absolute must-see in Colombia!
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