Sanctuary of Las Lajas in Ipiales, Nariño

A majestic architectural miracle more than 300 years old

As far as religious tourism is concerned, Ipiales is Colombia‘s main tourist destination. Its beauty is highlighted by its sanctuary perched on a high hill that, both by day and by night, impresses local and foreign visitors alike.

Aerial view Santuario de las Lajas-Ipiales. Source:

A great reason to visit Ipiales

Almost three kilometres above the Guáitara canyon of Ipiales, the Santuario de las Lajas looks imposing. This minor basilica, declared a cultural heritage site in 2006, is one of the oldest pieces of architecture in Colombia. Every year it attracts thousands of pilgrims and travellers who, passing through the city of Ipiales, decide to visit it.

Located in the department of Nariño, the Sanctuary of Las Lajas sits on the Guáitara River, no more than 15 kilometres from the border city of Ipiales. Being a border town, the basilica is a common destination for those passing through between countries and for local and Ecuadorian pilgrims.

Ancient sculpture of the Basilica of Ipiales. Source: Colombia Travel Blog

Its construction dates back to the 1700s and, from the many stone slabs left by thousands of the faithful, it is clear that it was built with the offerings of people from both countries. It has a great variety of art pieces, such as sculptures, stained glass, paintings and indigenous artifacts.

In spite of being only a place of pilgrimage and with great religious and architectural value, nowadays it has been embellished even more; since, taking advantage of its height and design, the foundations in charge of its protection designed a light show to illuminate this sanctuary at night in an unforgettable way.

Light show at the Sanctuary of Las Lajas in Ipiales. Source: Colombia Travel.

The story behind the beauty

Legends tell that, in the year 1754, an indigenous woman named Maria was travelling along the road with her daughter Rosa on her back. As they passed what they called the “Cueva de las Lajas” (Cave of the Slabs) because of the shape of the flat stones it was made of, they sat down to rest. Suddenly, her daughter Rosa began to call out to her and say that “the mestizo lady was calling her”.

This happened several times, but Maria had chosen to keep the secret from her sceptical neighbours. One night, little Rosa disappeared and Maria went desperately looking for her. At a certain point in the search, a thought crossed her mind: Rosa might be in the Cueva de las Lajas.

And indeed, there she was. But she was not alone. Rosa was accompanied by a woman of astonishing beauty who was watching her play with a little boy on the floor of the cave.

When Mary saw this, she realised that it was Jesus. She worshipped him at that moment and for many days she visited the cave with Rosa, filling the walls with fresh flowers. But sadness came into her life when her little girl fell gravely ill and succumbed.

Painting of the Virgen de las Lajas de Ipiales. Source: Inter Faith Mary.

Grief-stricken, Mary carried her daughter’s body to the cave. There she met the mother of Jesus and asked her for a miracle. The beautiful woman, compassionate in her motherly heart, begged her little son to grant Mary the miracle of resurrection for Rosa, and Rosa breathed again.

Mary happily returned to the village with Rosa, telling everyone what had happened. Many accompanied her to the Cueva de las Lajas and when they arrived they saw a supernatural light show on the rock walls and the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus with the child in her arms, engraved on a large flat stone at the back of the cave.

It is said that many pilgrims who have visited the Sanctuary of Ipiales, from that time to the present day, have received numerous miracles for their lives. That is why it continues to be an important destination for many faithful Catholic Christians who seek to revive their faith a little more.

Plaques of thanks from the faithful who have received miracles. Source: Viaje Interminable.

How to get there

The nearest major city is Pasto. There you can take a bus from the passenger terminal to the city of Ipiales. price varies between 15.000 and 20.000 C.O.P.

In Ipiales, you can take a taxi to the Corregimiento del Santuario de las Lajas, where you will find several ways to access the basilica, including a high altitude cable car.

History, beauty, culture and mysticism in one place.

It is not a destination to be missed. From the grandeur of its construction, to its elaborate nightly shows, the Santuario de las Lajas, like the Salt Cathedral in Cundinamarca, attracts thousands of visitors each year. Be one of those who revel in 300 years of history at the Basilica of Ipiales.

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