Have you ever had that feeling,
that feeling you get when you arrive at a destination you have been dreaming about for months or years and the place ends up being not as incredible as what you had imagined.
The disappointment you felt as a result because of the time and money you spent to get there and the pictures you pored over in a guide or online were so nice!
The slight tinge of anger because someone must have been a Photoshop wizard because the place you’re standing in only looks vaguely like the photo that drew you here?
Well, I have experienced that kind of disappointment a few times while traveling but visiting the Las Lajas Sanctuary in Colombia was not one of them.
I had come across a picture of the Sanctuary while searching “things to see in Colombia” about 3 months before we left Canada. The photo reminded me of Basilicas we’d seen in Italy. The gothic style and dramatic way it was situated: build right into the rock face of a plunging gorge.
Ya, we had to see it while we were in Colombia for sure.
When our 3-month visa was almost up in Colombia we planned our route to get to the Ecuador border. We still hadn’t seen the Las Lajas sanctuary yet, but lucky for us it is near the border of Ecuador so we planned to visit it on our last day in Colombia.
After our stay in Popayan, we took a bus to Pasto and spend one night before we would head to the town of Ipiales and the village of Las Lajas. The village is home to Sanctuario de Las Lajas, the place I had been dreaming about for months.
Looking forward to seeing it for so long I worried I may have built it up in my mind to be better than it actually is or that the pictures I had seen were better than the real thing.
The truth is Las Lajas Sanctuary was better than every picture I saw and even better than I had imagined.
In the taxi on the short ride from Ipiales to Las Lajas our cab driver, a man of few words, played pantomime tour guide. He meandered down quite streets in Ipiales (there was a parade happening at the time which left certain streets almost deserted) pointing out interesting things.
As we wound down streets to avoid the parade route our cabbie rounded a bend and slowed to a near crawl to show us restaurants, cafes and street vendors all in a row selling cuy (guinea pig). The little critters were displayed to be easily seen from the street: some skewered, some barbecued and some slow roasted on a spit.
On the way to the village, he pulled off the highway and stopped the cab so Rob could get a photo of Las Lajas from the roadway. We weren’t sure why he had pulled over at first because you couldn’t see the entire view from inside the cab.
Rob hopped out and I opted to stay in the cab with Mak. I could hear Robs ooohs and ahs so I opened my door and stepped out of the cab. I peered out over the edge and was was surprised by how magnificent the sanctuary looked from far away.
The view from the road was a serious tease knowing we would have to descend a mile on foot into the gorge to see the church and cross the dramatic bridge to the waterfall nearby. Every part, from the steep walk down to the church and the entire Sanctuary itself, was amazing.
The sanctuary is built on the bridge that spans the deep gorge. The inspiration for the church was the Virgin Mary. It is said an image of her emerged from a huge vertical rock 45 meters above the river way back in the mid-18th century. The church was built right against the rocky wall of the gorge where the image first appeared.
As you descend the long stairway down to the church the rock wall of the gorge is filled with hundreds if not thousands of plaques of thanksgiving to the Virgin.
Being there taking in its grandeur, I began to reflect on our time spent in the amazing Country of Colombia. Our time there, the things we saw, the friends we made, the entire experience was way better than we ever imagined it could be. I was overwhelmed with thanks myself. Grateful to all the beautiful Colombianos that made our 3 months in Colombia the best travel experience of my life.