Just a 15 minutes drive from the Ecuadorian border, Ipiales isn’t a run of the mill sketchy border town. We spotted our first wild alpacas, enjoyed the photo-worthy canyon views and explored the town’s epic cathedral.

Ipiales is home to the famous Las Lajas Sanctuary, a stunning basilica church, nestled between steep canyon walls. The Cathedral stands on top of a bridge connecting the banks of the Guáitara River. According to legend, in 1754, an indigenous woman and her daughter saw the figure of the Virgin Mary while seeking refuge under the lajas during a storm. Laja is the Spanish word for a blueish sedimentary rock, similar to shale. In the following years, the cathedral was built into the rock to mark the location of the miracle.

las lajas church basilica ipiales colombia

3 ways to see Las Lajas Sanctuary

Walk to Las Lajas from the town’s center.

Descend into the town of Ipiales, and park in the town’s main square. Walk past placards commemorating the donations of hundreds of local families.

Cost: Free + $6,000 COP parking

las lajas sanctuary ipiales colombia steps placards

Take the gondola down to the Church.

Taking the gondola down is a good way to see the Cathedral without driving all the way into the valley. The gondola cables span the massive canyon that cradles the Guáitara river, making for excellent views.

Parking is free at the gondola entrance.

Cost: $16,000 COP for a roundtrip ticketgondola things to do in ipiales, colombia

Run down the Las Laja Churches steps at sunrise.

You may even spot some other Colombians doing the same. The town rests at an altitude of almost 9700 feet (2950 m), so its a good place to train for other high altitude activities.

Cost: Free + $6,000 COP parking

Accommodation in Ipiales

Most people opt to stay in Ipiales instead of Pasto before crossing into Ecuador. The accommodations are cheaper and the setting is much more tranquilo.

From the town’s parking lot, there are 4 basic hotels to chose from. The one with the large ‘Hotel’ banner was recommended to us by the parking lot attendant. It has clean rooms and a friendly staff. They even let us store our surfboards in their kitchen for the night.

You can request a room overlooking the parking lot to keep an eye on your car.

Cost: $90,000 COP per night for a room with 4 beds.

Getting to the border

The Ecuadorian border is just a 15 minute drive away.