As I mentioned last week, Seth and I planned to visit Zipaquirá this weekend. Before we could even begin to formulate a plan, our friend Juancho sent Seth a Facebook message asking if we would like to accompany him and a friend on a mini-tour of the northside of Bogotá. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance.

We started our Sunday bright and early. Juancho and his friend Gabriela picked us up at our apartment just after eight in the morning. We promptly drove to the outskirts of Bogotá, where we stopped at a roadside diner for a quick breakfast. Bellies full, we drove through Cota and walked around for a bit before continuing on our way. By ten o’clock, we found ourselves in Zipaquirá. The four of us climbed the steps to the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral), and Seth and I grabbed a tinto (sans aguardiente, no matter how badly the shopkeep wanted to up-sell me). I snapped a couple photos of the town.

The Catedral de Sal, dubbed The First Wonder of Colombia, is the largest deposit of rock salt in the world. In 1932, decades before any official underground church had been built, the miners carved a small sanctuary in which they could pray to the saints for protection before starting work. In 1954 the first Salt Cathedral, which consisted of three naves and a monumental cross, was dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, Patron saint of miners. Because it was constructed inside an active mine, the cathedral eventually became too unstable for service and was forced to undergo renovation. In 1995 the second Salt Cathedral was inaugurated. It currently consists of fourteen small chapels (the Stations of the Cross), a dome, and three naves. 250 thousand tons of rock salt had to be extracted in order to build it.

When Juancho, Gabriela, Seth, and I first entered the grayish-white Cathedral, we could smell the sulfur wafting through the dark corners of the cave. What started out as a quiet and eerie journey quickly became a flashy and animated one. Each Station of the Cross boasted its own large, chunky cross and multicolor light show. I tried to snap most of my photos during the shows’ neutral phases, but alas, I did not always have such good luck or timing.

While the fourteen small chapels left something to be desired, the view of the main altar from the “westwork” was especially striking. The nave was incomprehensibly vast.

After spending a good two hours strolling around the Cathedral, we began our guided behind-the-scenes tour. We secured our hard hats and tiptoed blindly through the darkest corners of the mine. We learned how to hold a pickaxe and how to manually ventilate the shaft.

By two-thirty or so, it was time for lunch. Juancho, Seth, and I ordered costillas de cerdo (pork ribs) at a cozy restaurant at the bottom of the mountain, while Gabriela asked for ajiaco en cazuela. We drank some oh-so-fresh jugo de mora to wash it all down.

Afterwards we decided to walk off our calories in the central plaza of Zipaquirá. We admired the colonial architecture of the Palacio Municipal de Zipaquirá and the Catedral de la Santísima Trinidad y San Antonio de Padua de Zipaquirá, known simply as the Catedral Diocesana de Zipaquirá. I vowed to return to Zipaquirá on a Saturday in the not-so-distant future so that I could document the inside of the church without disturbing its faithful parishioners.

Juancho grew impatient with what little he thought Zipaquirá had to offer, so he hurried us back to the car. Next stop: the Cabaña Alpina complex in Sopó for postres (dessert). The four of us independently scoured the factory for the most delicious looking treats before eventually settling on the merengón de kiwi (kiwi merengue), cheesecake con salsa de mora (cheesecake with berry sauce), cheesecake de chocolate (chocolate cheesecake), queso con mora y arequipe (cheese with berries and a caramel-type sauce), and Colombian quesillo—a weird anise flavored cheese that I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat. Five desserts for four people? Sounds legit. We arranged our desserts on a patch of grass and enjoyed the sunset. I admired the houses sitting on the mountains in the distance, like a tiny toy village atop a serene and snowy hill. It was a sweet ending to an already perfect day.

To see more photos of our trip to Zipaquirá and Sopó, click here: