Las Lajas Sanctuary (Santuario de Las Lajas) is arguably considered the most beautiful church in Colombia. It’s also considered by many to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world. And The Telegraph even named Las Lajas Sanctuary the most beautiful church in the world in 2015.

Las Lajas Sanctuary is a minor basilica church located in Ipiales, which is located in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño. The church sits on a 130 feet tall bridge over the Guáitara river. In addition, it’s located less than seven miles from the Ecuadorian border.

Las Lajas Sanctuary is a Gothic Revival style church built inside a canyon of the Guáitara river. So, it’s often been called a jewel of engineering. This Roman Catholic church is dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales.

The Las Lajas Sanctuary is famous for its stunning architecture and a series of legends involving the appearance of the Holy Virgin and a mysterious mural of which nobody knows the origins.

We have covered several of the beautiful churches in Medellín on this website. And some readers requested that we also cover the beautiful Las Lajas Sanctuary. So, this week instead of covering another church in Medellín we are covering Las Lajas Sanctuary.

Note the above photo of Las Lajas Sanctuary is by GameOfLight.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

History of Las Lajas Sanctuary

According to local beliefs, the Virgin Mary appeared to a woman and her deaf-mute daughter in 1754 at the same place where the Las Lajas church is now standing.

The Amerindian woman, Maria Meneses de Quiñones, and her daughter a deaf-mute, Rosa, were passing the Guaitara river when they found themselves hiding from a brutal storm.

The story says that while the two women were looking for shelter, they felt like a force was guiding them towards a cave, where they were able to see the image of Our Virgin Mary on one of the walls. The little girl then shouted to her mother, pointing to the image. It is believed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured Rosa. The news of the miracle reportedly spread across the area, making people wonder if it was really true.

The first shrine on the site was built a few years after the alleged appearance. And it was reportedly built from straw and wood. And in 1802, a larger shrine was built. At that time, worshipers erected the first version of the bridge connecting the church with the other side of the canyon.

The façade of Las Lajas Sanctuary

The façade of Las Lajas Sanctuary

The current Las Lajas Sanctuary was built between 1916 and 1949. It was built with funding from donations from local parishioners. The church is 330 feet (100 meters) high from the bottom of the canyon.

Many other cases of miraculous healing have been reported over the years and more and more people traveled to see the stone that had on it the image of Virgin Mary.

Las Lajas Sanctuary received canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1952. And it was made a minor basilica in 1994.

The central nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

The central nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

Inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

Inside the church you will find a beautiful white interior with gold trim. And the church has wooden pews like most churches in Colombia.

In addition, the church has several beautiful stained-glass windows. The stained-glass windows in the church include images of the church’s spires and carved fishes adorn the doors, inspired by the riverside location.

The left nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The left nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The right nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The right nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

Furthermore, there are many pieces of religious artwork to be found throughout this church and outside the church. For example, statues of white angels playing instruments adorn the bridge.

Statues on the bridge outside of Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

Statues on the bridge outside of Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

Furthermore, the roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary is designed to form a cross.

The cross shaped roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the top

The cross shaped roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the top

On completing their pilgrimage to the church, many leave plaques to commemorate their journey and/or to ask for a blessing from the virgin for themselves and their families. The plaques line the steps and path down to the church.

Miracle Plaques along walkway to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Miracle Plaques along walkway to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Location of Las Lajas Sanctuary

How to Get to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Ipiales is located in Colombia near the Ecuador border. From Ipiales, to get to the church you can take either a collectivo or shared taxi which charges 2,000 to 3,000 pesos a person. Or you can hire your own taxi for about 10,000 pesos.

Once you arrive at the drop off point, it’s a steep 7- to 10-minute walk down the hill to the church. Las Lajas Sanctuary is free to enter although the museum below costs 1,500 pesos per person, and it’s worth seeing.

Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the hiking path in the valley beneath

Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the hiking path in the valley beneath

Also, there is a hiking path in the valley below with some nice views.

Cable car to/from Las Lajas Sanctuary

Cable car to/from Las Lajas Sanctuary

In addition, you can take a cable car across the valley for more spectacular views of the church and the valley below. But warning, this isn’t the most direct route to return to Ipiales.

The cable car drops you off essentially in the middle of nowhere. From there, you can either catch a taxi, or jump on a bus, which will take you into town.

The church can get busy on holidays, photo by Arabsalam

The church can get busy on holidays, photo by Arabsalam

Furthermore, keep in mind this church is a popular site and on religious holidays it can get very busy.

The Beautiful Churches in Medellín

We have also been looking at the beautiful churches in Medellín metro area and the Aburrá Valley on this website in a series.

We have looked at a total of 33 beautiful churches in the Medellín metro area and the Aburrá Valley in a series on this website. And 22 of the churches we have looked at in detail are in Medellín:

  1. Catedral Basílica Metropolitana – the main church of the Archdiocese of Medellín and the largest church in the city.
  2. Iglesia de La Candelaria – the oldest church in Medellín, which is also a National Monument of Colombia.
  3. Iglesia San Antonio and Plaza San Antonio – the church with the largest dome in Medellín located next to Plaza San Antonio with four Fernando Botero sculptures.
  4. Iglesia Jesús Nazareno – another of the most beautiful churches in Medellín.
  5. Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro – a beautiful Gothic-style church in Medellín.
  6. Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús – a neo-Gothic-style church located in Barrio Triste in Medellín.
  7. Iglesia de San José – a Boroque-style church located in El Centro, Medellín.
  8. Iglesia del Señor de las Misericordias – a neo-Gothic-style church located in the Manrique neighborhood of Medellín.
  9. Iglesia San José – a Romanesque-style church located next to Parque Poblado in El Poblado.
  10. Iglesia de la Veracruz – a colonial church with a history that goes back to 1682, which makes it one of the oldest churches in Medellín.
  11. Iglesia de San Ignacio – a beautiful church in El Centro with a Baroque-style exterior and colonial interior.
  12. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora – a Roman-style church located next to Parque Belén in Medellín.
  13. Iglesia el Calvario – a Romanesque-style church in the Aranjuez comuna in Medellín.
  14. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Sufragio – a neo-Romanesque-style church in the Boston barrio in Medellín.
  15. Iglesia de San Benito – a neo-Romanesque-style church with a history that traces back to 1678, which make it one of the oldest churches in Medellín.
  16. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores – a Neo-Byzantine-style church in the La América comuna in Medellín.
  17. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Corazón – a beautiful Neo-Gothic-style church in the Buenos Aires comuna in Medellín.
  18. Iglesia de Cristo Rey – a beautiful church in the Guayabal comuna of Medellín with many beautiful stained-glass windows.
  19. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores – a beautiful Neoclassical-style church in the Robledo comuna of Medellín, which is also a National Monument of Colombia.
  20. Iglesia del Cementerio San Pedro – a beautiful church built in 1929 that has some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows found in the churches in Medellín.
  21. Iglesia de El Niño Jesús de Praga – a beautiful church in the Villa Hermosa comuna in Medellín.
  22. Iglesia San Joaquín – a beautiful church in the Laureles-Estadio comuna in Medellín that is reportedly the second largest church in Medellín.

Also, we have looked at the principal church in each of the other nine municipalities in the Aburrá Valley:

  1. Iglesia de Santa Gertrudis – a beautiful church in Envigado located next to Parque Envigado.
  2. Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario – a church located in Bello that is arguably the most beautiful church in the Aburrá Valley
  3. Iglesia de Santa Ana – a very popular church in Sabaneta located next to Parque Sabaneta.
  4. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario – a historic church in Itagüí near Medellín with a history that traces back to 1743.
  5. Nuestra Señora Chiquinquirá – a beautiful church in La Estrella with a Neo-Gothic-style.
  6. Catedral Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes – a Neoclassical-style church with a history that traces back to 1793 and is located in the Caldas municipality south of Medellín.
  7. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción – a Baroque-style church with a history that traces back to 1715 and is located in the Copacabana municipality north of Medellín.
  8. Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Rosario – a Neo-Romanesque-style church located in the Girardota municipality northeast of Medellín.
  9. Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua – a Neo-Romanesque-style church located in the Barbosa municipality northeast of Medellín.

Also, we looked at two smaller colonial-style churches while looking in detail at two nearby larger churches:

  1. Hato Viejo Chapel – a colonial-style church in Bello built between 1772 and 1796. It’s also a National Monument of Colombia. We looked at Hato Viejo Chapel while covering Nuestra Señora del Rosario.
  2. Capilla de María Auxiliadora – a colonial-style church in Barbosa built between 1773 and 1776. We looked at Capilla de María Auxiliadora while covering Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua.

In the metropolitan Medellín area, there are over 300 Roman Catholic churches. Most notably, a complete list of churches for the Archdiocese of Medellín can be found here.

Las Lajas Sanctuary at night, photo by Laurian Verre

Las Lajas Sanctuary at night, photo by Laurian Verre

The Bottom Line: Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Sanctuary (Santuario de Las Lajas) is one of the world’s most beautiful churches. And it’s definitely worth visiting if you are crossing the Ecuador/Colombia border by land.

This beautiful and breathtaking church has remained off the radar for most foreign tourists to Colombia. This is due to it being located a long way from the major cities in Colombia. So, it’s still an off the beaten path destination.

And this may not change as there really isn’t very much to do in the small town of Ipiales in my experience besides seeing the nearby church. But if you happen to be visiting Pasto, Ipiales and this amazingly beautiful church are only about two hours away.

Top Things to See and Do in Colombia

On the Medellin Guru website, we have been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Colombia in a series of top things to see and do in Colombia. This is due to many readers asking about several of these things to do in Colombia.

We have looked at several of the top things to see and do in Colombia:

  1. Cartagena – Oozing history, romance and sun-drenched beaches, the allure of historical Cartagena is hard to resist.
  2. Caño Cristales – the most beautiful river in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful river in the world by some people.
  3. Colombia’s Pacific coast – often overlooked by tourists visiting Colombia but offering untamed nature and undiscovered beauty that is off the beaten path for most foreign tourists.
  4. Las Lajas Sanctuary – the most beautiful church in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful church in the world.
  5. Parque Tayrona – known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
  6. San Agustín Archaeological Park – the largest group of pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues in South America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  7. San Jose del Guaviare – a hidden gem and eco-tourism location off the beaten path and offering wildlife watching, jungle trekking and delving into Colombia’s prehistoric past.
  8. Ciudad Perdida – is the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
  9. Carnival in Barranquilla – the second largest carnival in the world.
  10. Medellín’s Christmas lights – Medellín’s annual world-class Christmas lights known as Alumbrados Navideños.
  11. Medellín’s Feria de Las Flores – Medellín’s famous flower festival each year.

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