On the edge of an abyss in the Andes mountains, at nearly three thousand meters above sea level, Las Lajas Sanctuary rises imposingly, a neo-Gothic basilica in white and grey stone.
Built between 1916 and 1949 across the Guáitara River canyon, less than ten kilometers from the Colombian border with Ecuador, it is dedicated to Our Lady of Rosario de Las Lajas.
Impressive not only for its beauty but also for the extraordinary environmental conditions in which the basilica was constructed, one hundred meters above the river bed. The Sanctuary, complete with three naves is built on a bridge with two arches, at the very edge of the abyss.

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Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales
Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales

It is a breathtaking structure with an amazing assembly, built on the side of a cliff over a gorge, giving it a fairy-tale appeal that is truly magical.

Las Lajas Sanctuary is one of the greatest outstanding cathedrals in the world, located near the Colombian city of Ipiales. The detailed, gothic-themed ambiance is incredible to witness.
The basilica is referred to as Las Lajas because of the type of stone used in its construction. The word laja in Spanish translates as a slab in English, which is a reference to the sedimentary rock that is found in this region, similar to shale or slate. The Sanctuary made up of three naves built on a bridge with two arches, is located on the very edge of the abyss.

About twelve minutes from Ipiales by taxi, there is now an option to get to the Sanctuary by teleférico.
Since 2015, the teleférico de Las Lajas runs for nearly a mile and crosses the river canyon Guaítara twice. The journey is fifteen minutes with a mesmerizing view. From a height, you can really appreciate the beautiful views that surround the municipality of Ipiales.

Teleferico down to Las Lajas
Teleferico down to Las Lajas

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The Legend
The story goes that in the eighteenth century, Maria Meneses de Quiñones, who descended from indigenous caciques of the Potosi, with her deaf-mute daughter was traveling through the Guáitara river canyon when a massive rain storm engulfed them. Suddenly, the women felt a force calling to them and to her amazement upon looking up, saw the image of the Virgin Mary on the rocks above. Instantly her daughter was cured of both her inability to hear and to speak.
A short time later a blind man, who was collecting money to build a chapel around this image, unexpectedly regained his sight.
Thanks to these miracles the inspiration to create Las Lajas Sanctuary was born.

At more than 3,000m/9,843´ above sea level, amidst Andean moorlands, volcanoes, and lagoons in the south of Colombia, live the Indigenous Pastos.
The community divides itself into three areas called resguardos, namely Panan, Chiles, and Gran Cumbal. Other Pasto communities live across the border in Ecuador, in spite of being divided by the border, and maintain their culture. One hundred and twenty thousand people who identify themselves as Pasto currently live in the border region between Colombia and Ecuador. Their language sadly is now officially extinct. Ipiales in southwestern Colombia is located high in the Andes on the banks of the Guáitara River and is known as the city of the three volcanoes.

Ipiales, Nariño

A Spanish settlement was founded there in 1585 by missionaries working among the indigenous Pasto Indians.
While European colonization beginning in the sixteenth century destroyed a lot of Colombia’s indigenous culture, many groups survived and continue to thrive today. Most existing groups live in the departments of La Guajira, Cauca, and Nariño.

Nearly seventy percent of the families in Gran Cumbal cultivate a shagra (small plot of land) next to their houses. This encourages an in-house market where members of the community exchange products, creating an effective safety net of food security and sovereignty. Out of all the crops found in a shagra, among them broad beans, onions and medicinal herbs, none is more important than the potato. The potato is their main source of food. It is what feeds them and allows them to live. Without the potato there is nothing.

For this indigenous community, existence and cultural continuity are constant struggles against the forces that threaten their way of life. The Pasto people, however, have had two crucial historical tools of resistance – the shagra and the potato.

What the elders have taught has been transmitted through the shagra, learning about the interrelation with nature. The shagra is based around harvesting crops that grow symbiotically with one another. It is also a central pillar for the Pasto view of the world.

“We have to rediscover our past in order to understand what is happening to Mother Earth. We, as indigenous cultures, have the answers to many of those questions and we can contribute, from practice and action to the reconstruction of life on the planet.”

Ipiales has a Mediterranean-style climate, cool and fairly overcast. Average daytime temperatures are 60f/16c, while the nights are chilly at 48f/ 9c.
Rain is never far away with the drier months from June to September. Rainfall in Las Lajas/Ipiales is significant, with rain even during the driest month. Precipitation is 2,705 mm/106” per year.
Summer starts at the end of June and ends in September.

Embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Caño Cristales, one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. Check here the 3-5 day itinerary Caño Cristales.

Ipiales may not be as fashionable as some other cities in Colombia, but do not let them escape your attention.
A smaller, but absolutely beautiful destination that is worth serious consideration. Prepare to be surprised by some of the unique things to do and places you can explore in these mysterious mountains.

Las Lajas Sanctuary
Is famous among Colombians for both its legend and its stunning architecture. Spanning across the Guaítara River, the Gothic-style church is a breathtaking structure. Without a doubt definitely one of the finest places to visit in the country.
Las Lajas Cathedral is located on the Colombian side of the border with Ecuador, near Ipiales. Its position is remote and far from any major tourist location, which has helped Las Lajas remain hidden from the masses and well off the beaten path.
As described above, you will not be disappointed.

Santuario de Las Lajas
Santuario de Las Lajas

Main Plaza
Ipiales will surprise with wonderful shopping. In the main plaza, there are many market stalls as well as small shops selling good clothing and all kinds of electronics.
Since Ipiales is not a town typically known for tourists, the prices are a lot more affordable. Given that it is a border town and things in Colombia are generally cheaper than in Ecuador, people from the south stock up on clothes, electronics, and so on in Ipiales before heading back to Ecuador.
The locals are very friendly and it is a great place to pass a couple of hours.

Cumbal Volcano
This is a fascinating place, with beautiful scenery adorned by frailejones (shrubs) and an incomparable verdant green. The walk around the lagoon is beyond belief, with different species of fauna typical of the páramo (high altitude treeless plateau) ecosystems including eagles and deer.
Wear warm clothing as it can get down to freezing at the crater.
Rainbow trout thrive in the waters of this lagoon, so it is possible to take a small boat out onto the water and fish.
The Cumbal volcano contains a number of myths and legends with which the locals can regale you.

Volcan Cumbal
Source: Colparques Cumbal

Aldana and Guanga weaving
Learn the art of Guanga weaving, an ancestral art.
Aldana is a small pueblo about half an hour from Ipiales where local women teach the techniques of Guanga weaving. Using sheep wool, a water-resistant natural material, learn how to make scarves, bags, hats, gloves, and other traditional textile products typical of the Nariño Andes. Make something to take home that you have personally made as a momento.

Guanga weaving.

La Cocha and La Corota
A majestic place full of charm, and enchanting natural beauty. Enjoy the fabulous backdrops of the Cocha Lagoon and La Corota Island, both of which will undoubtedly captivate you.
Laguna de la Cocha is the second-largest lake in Colombia.

La Cocha, Nariño

Visit the pueblo of El Puerto to see the beautiful wooden houses which are decorated in an almost Swiss style.
Sail gently across the Cocha lagoon towards the green and exuberant island of La Corota. Walk along a winding path to discover a wide range of autochthonous fauna and flora.

If you are planning a trip to Colombia, it’s important to be informed about safety measures and precautions. Check out our blog on safety in Colombia for more information

There is a myriad of places to stay in and around Ipiales, catering to all budgets.
What is noticeable is that the rates are significantly less than most metropolitan areas in Colombia.
It is unlikely that many would stay more than a couple of nights, in which case around the bus terminal is a good option.
Near the main shopping mall are some decent establishments, about ten minutes from the bus station.

Colombian cuisine represents a journey through taste, where rich and intricate traditions from every corner of the country come together.

All manner of expressions has been entwined over time through the Indigenous, European, and African heritages. As well as ecological diversity with the rich and varied environments, typical to each town and region.

  • Cuy, Conejillo de Indias (ginea pig): Locally known as kuy or kuwi, this is very popular in the department of Nariño, especially as a nutritional source. With high protein and very low-fat content, this animal is the traditional and favorite dish of many. The favored cooking method is to roast the guinea pig.
  • Juanesca: The origin of this dish is Ecuador, although it is cooked in many places in the Andes mountains, mainly during Semana Santa (Holy Week). This plate is the perfect combination between grains (corn, rice) and fish. A very substantial meal!
  • Empanadas: These are made from fermented corn dough. In all Nariño, especially in the Andean zone, are filled with meat, rice, and green beans. The texture of the dough gives them their characteristic sharp flavor.
  • Quimbolitos This cake is made in the north of Ecuador and in the southwest of Colombia. A sweet cake is cooked in a big achira leaf (canna lily) which gives it a unique taste and flavor.
  • Frito: This is a very traditional dish, really simple to make and totally delicious. Pork, steamed potatoes, peanut chili, and popped corn are served with onions and eggs.
  • Hervido de Piña Nariñense: This is a traditional hot drink from the Nariño. Typically enjoyed during the colder months, the brew is made by boiling water with fresh fruit including mora (raspberries), maracuya (passion fruit), and pina (pineapple) to name but a few. The hot juice is then mixed with aguardiente (anise-flavored liquor) before being served in glasses or cups garnished with a little sugar and pineapple slices. Of course, the drink can also be made without the addition of alcohol!

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