Ipiales & The Las Lajas Sanctuary Travel Guide

Although Ipiales appears to most tourists as a town on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, those who look a research a little bit further will soon realize there is a very good reason spend a day or two in town. Just a couple kilometers out of town sits perhaps the most impressive cathedral in all of South America. The Las Lajas Sancruario sits beautifully across a valley with an architecutral style more similar to that of a European castle than a South American church. However, the church is somehow remained off the radar of most foreign tourists and amazingly this incredible cathedral remains an off the beaten path destination. As Colombia becomes a busier tourist destination look for Ipiales, thanks the Las Lajas Cathedral, to become a target on the tourism map.

Panoramic image of Las Lajas Sanctuary

Panoramic image of Las Lajas Sanctuary – Click to Enlarge

Things to do in Ipilales

Other than the church there really isn’t much to do in town and the city isn’t exactly “beautiful.” Beyond the church, which isn’t really in town, you’ll have a tough time occupying yourself too much.

  • Getting to El Sanctuario Las Lajas: To get to the church you can take either a “collectivo” taxi which charges 2,000 pesos a person or hire your own taxi for about 8,000 – 10,0000 pesos. Once you get to the drop off point its a steep 5-10 minute walk down the hill to the church. The church is free to enter although the museum below is, which is well worth a look through, is 1,500 pesos a person.

Las Lajas Church

Where to Eat

The best food in town is in the main Plaza de Independencia.  On my most recent trip we went to a place called La Terraza which had fantastic food.  In fact, it was some of the best food we’d had in all of Colombia.  Try the burritos, or one of the amazing salads.  Around the plaza, there are also lots of good places to get set lunches for very cheap.

The first time I visited Ipiales I ate almost every meal at the Hotel de los Andes where I was staying, and the food was so amazing that I never wanted to leave. They serve some of the best steaks in Colombia (called Baby Beef) for about 12,000.

Where to Stay

There are bunch of places to stay in town and all budgets are accommodated.

  • If you’re just looking to crash for the night try the Hotel Metropol which is right across from the bus station and costs about 20,000 pesos for a single room.
  • Backpackers tend to head directly to Hotel Belmonte which is a cheap family run place that has single rooms for around 13,000 pesos and doubles for 26,000. They now have wifi in the main area.  I stayed here the second time in town, but wished I would have chosen the one room with a private bathroom as the locals using the shared bathroom were constantly leaving it in a disgusting state.  Still, the owners here are extremely sweet.  Good budget find.
  • The nicest hotel in town is the Hotel de los Andes which costs 58,000 for a single or 78,000 for a double. Despite being expensive, the amazing restaurant below makes staying at Hotel de los Andes well worth it.  I stayed here my first visit to town, and am told that the hotel has gotten even more posh, and slightly more expensive, since then.

Getting out of town (Colombian destinations)

The main bus terminal serves all of Colombia. As is usually the case in Colombia the company Boliviarano has the best quality buses and the best service.

  • Pasto: The city of Pasto is about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours away,
  • Popayan: To get to Popayan it is about 12 hours. Note: do not take this bus at night as it is risky due to high levels of bus hijackings. Besides, this is one of the most beautiful drives in Colombia so you wouldn’t want to miss it anyways. Heading from Pasto to Popayan try to get a seat on the right side of the bus.
  • Cali: Cali is about 16 hours away, and from there you can connect to Bogota.

Getting to Ecuador

What once used to be a challenging border has since become quite simple. From Ipiales you’ll take a taxi (about 7,000 pesos) to the border (about 10 minutes away). At the border you’ll need to go to DAS on the Colombian side to get your exit stamp and then walk across the bridge to Ecuadorian Immigration to get entry. You will not need to show onward tickets or anything at this border, just make sure you fill out the immigration form before entering the line. These border officials give visas as long a 3 months without issue. From the border you’ll catch a taxi to Tulcan (15 minutes) which usually charge 2$ a person and often work as collectivos. From Tulcan you can get to Otavalo (3 hours; 3US$) or Quito (4 1/2 hours; 4.50US$) without problem as buses leave ever 30 minutes or so.

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