Las Lajas Sanctuary: South America’s Most Beautiful and Unheard of Church

The taxi driver mumbles “down there” in short quick Spanish while pointing down the hill and looking at my hand holding his fare. I place the 10,000 peso bill in his hand, toss my camera bag over my shoulder before heading down to what many say is South America‘s most beautifully hidden treasure: The Las Lajas Sanctuary.

My knees weaken as they pace the steep sidewalk down into the valley.  My ears are filled with chants from vendors selling candles, pictures of the virgin, and buckets to fill with holy water.  It’s a Sunday morning and the path is filled with families, church goers and a combination of indigenous men and sisters of the Catholic Church.

Then just below me, like a beautiful seashell poking out of the sand, the cathedral presents itself.  Las Lajas, doesn’t appear South American.  In fact, it hardly appears to be a church.  It is a castle hanging over the valley and one of the most beautiful sights on the continent.

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Cathedral

Las Lajas Church

As I walk across the bridge, I look back across the valley at the beautiful cathedral and wonder how many people can miss this place. Sure, the south of Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation for safety, nor does it hold all too many more gems waiting for the tourist crowd. The majority of tourists to the region scamper through Ipiales as quickly as possible using the town as a base for crossing the border with Ecuador, nothing more. Most that pass through this town have no idea Las Lajas Cathedral even exists; it’s such a shame.

Las Lajas

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Church
Las Lajas Cathedral

After taking far too many pictures I cross the bridge back to the sanctuary and notice that a sermon is being read. I enter the enormous doors and think to myself how proud my mom would be if she heard I was attending Sunday service. The walls are lined with intricate gold work that connects within the hinges of the rounded ceiling. Beautiful chandeliers hang offering an ambient light to the religious mood of the scene below them. I smirk, look down at my feet and turn to make my exit.

Inside Las Lajas Sanctuary
Las Lajas Priest

As I climb the hill to leave and an old man makes his way along side me. He wears a traditional hat, an armless poncho, and pushes his way up the slope with a wooden stick. It’s hard not to wonder where I am in this moment. Indigenous South American men, nuns from the church, and a cathedral posing as a European castle. In the end though, it doesn’t really matter where I am, it’s the experience, the feeling, the mood that hinges to the soul more than the destination itself. It is the feeling that you’ll remember long after the photos of the destination are lost in the back of your hard drive or the archives of an average travel blog.

Indigenous Man Colombia
Las Lajas Panorama


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

Share This Post On

27 Comments

  1. It is so rare to see something completely new on a travel blog but I can honestly say I’ve never seen nor heard of this beautiful church. Thanks for posting these awesome pictures and for stirring my travel lust!

    Post a Reply
    • @Amanda – Thanks for checking them out.

      Post a Reply
  2. This church really is beautiful – and in such a unique location! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a church as part of a bridge like that before.

    Post a Reply
    • @Christy – Cool history involved with the bridge actually. They had to build the bridge because the church started out small and became bigger and bigger, and started to stretch out into the valley.

      Post a Reply
  3. Amazing pictures, the architectural detail is so unique, especially when considering the time period it was built. And I agree, it most definitely has more a resemblance to a castle!

    Post a Reply
  4. It just rekindled my memories of my Hubbies visit and narration of the Royal castles he visited on his river cruise trip through Rhine river from Cologne Germany,

    Wonderful post. Thanks for letting us know one another treasure. Yes we have added the church to our wish list.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Uma!

      Post a Reply
  5. I would never in a million years have guessed this was in Colombia. It is absolutely breathtaking. I can totally relate how you couldn’t stop taking pictures, I’d be there all day 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • @Ted – I don’t even go into churches in South America anymore…Las Lajas was brilliant though.

      Post a Reply
  6. OMG I saw this like soooo long ago seriously years ago in a post in a travel mag about most beautiful churches in the world. I had forgot all about it well until now… wow. When I get to S. America I am def going here… oh this is beautiful. After seeing amillion churches in Europe… I must say this takes the cake for the WORLD (sorry Gaudi). Wow… love this!

    Post a Reply
    • @Jaime – I was sick of seeing churches… now I want to seek out more so that I can compare to las lajas.

      Post a Reply
    • Erik… and las lajas is only more impressive in person.

      Post a Reply
  7. That is one stunning church. It seems I am not as bored with churches as I thought, I’d definitely go see that one!

    Post a Reply
    • Jarmo – I was bored with churches too, but this church is so different, well worth a visit.

      Post a Reply
    • Thanks Claire… no beautiful photo is taken without a beautiful scene 😀

      Post a Reply
  8. Awesome pics mate! I remember talking to you online shortly before you went out to visit this church. Look like you made the right decision.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks Sam, glad you like them!

      Post a Reply
  9. Hello Brendan, This is a lovely lovely church and I so longed to visit it when I was in Ecuador just last month. I spent a day at Tulcan trying to get a Colombian visa or just a day pass but they make it so difficult for Indian passport holders. I was depressed for next few days, lol The pictures are beautiful, congratulations!

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks Priyank, having a Canadian passport really is a beautiful thing. I rarely run into issues like that. But look at it this way, if you see everything in one shot you’ll never have a reason to go back 😀

      Post a Reply
  10. Such beautiful photographs and thank you for sharing this hidden gem. I have never heard of this church before and I am sure that it is even more stunning in ‘real life’. I hope I have the chance to visit one day.

    Post a Reply
  11. May I use the image Las Lajas Church-10 on my website. See tabs Church / Structure / Church Architecture for examples.

    Thanks,
    Wayland

    Post a Reply
    • Not for free, I’m afraid. If you’re interested in purchasing rights to use them, email me using the contact form.

      Post a Reply
  12. Are you concerned only with architecture? How about the inside where the rock itself contains an image of the Virgin, Baby Jesus, Saints Dominic and Francis?

    A photograph of this miracle created for consolation might have been included.. Our Lady of Las Lajas, pray for us!

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *