South to Ecuador

Passing through deep valleys and a spectacular gorge, buses on the paved Pan-American Highway cover the 84 km from Pasto to Ipiales in 1½ to two hours. The road crosses the spectacular gorge of the Río Guáitara at 1750 m, near El Pedregal, where choclo (corn) is cooked in many forms by the roadside.


Ipiales, 'the city of the three volcanoes', stands close to Colombia's main border crossing with Ecuador and is famous for its colourful Friday morning indigenous market. The
Catedral Bodas de Plata
is worth visiting.There is a small museum, set up by Banco de la República. San Luis airport is 6.5 km out of town. Buses to most destinations leave from a new terminal at Carrera 3 with Calle 6, It has good facilities with a 24-hour left-luggage facility, US$1.10 per item and toilets, US$0.27. Most buses leave from here but
have kiosks at the border and will collect passengers from here for main destinations further into Colombia.

The city's main attraction, 7 km east on a paved road, is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of
Las Lajas
, which was declared a National Monument in 1984. Seen from the approach road, looking down into the canyon, the Sanctuary is a magnificent architectural conception, set on a bridge over the Río Guáitara. it is very heavily ornamented in the Gothic style. The altar is set into the rock face of the canyon where the Virgin Mary appeared around 1750. This forms one end of the sanctuary with the façade facing a wide plaza that completes the bridge over the canyon. There are walks to nearby shrines in dramatic scenery. It is a 10 to 15-minute walk down to the sanctuary from the village along a path lined with plaques giving thanks for miracles rendered by the virgin as well as a statue of Manuel de Rivera, a blind man cured by the virgin who walked through Ecuador begging for alms as thanks. He raised 388 pesos and 7 reales. Pilgrims come from all over Colombia and Ecuador (very crowded at Easter) and the
Sanctuary must be second only to Lourdes in the number of miracles claimed for it, although the church only recognizes one. In the vaults of the church is an interesting museum telling the history of the construction of the church as well as religious artefacts and some interesting taxidermy - a 'two-headed' and an 'eight-legged' sheep, presumably examples of further miracles but clumsily stitched together from many animals.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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