This enchantingly beautiful neo-Gothic church can be found in the Guáitara River canyon, just outside the town in the department of Nariño.
Any first-timers entering or leaving Colombia on its southern border with Ecuador really ought to have Las Lejas Sanctuary on their agenda, rather than just skipping through the town of Ipiales and heading north or southward.
10,000 pesos buys you the taxi fare from Ipiales, and once you begin the walk down the road and pathway to the church, it also begins to appear as some kind of elaborate European castle.
Step inside and you can’t help but gape at the gold details on its columns and rib-vault ceiling; chandeliers dangling beneath and stained glass illuminated in sunlight.
There are several places opposite the church that offer great viewing points, so follow the walkways and get snapping. You’ll find a few eateries as well, offering local food with a view of this neo-Gothic beauty.
Las Lajas is well and truly geared for the tourists and devout pilgrims, with hotels and many restaurants along the road that descends towards it. Get photographed with an alpaca in traditional Colombian costume, pick up souvenirs, candles and other religious objects.
If you’re game, fork out around $20-$25 for one of the local specialties – cuy. These guinea pigs can be seen at many of the restaurants, speared onto a rotating spit-cum-ferris wheel; bronzing the poor creatures until crisp. If that’s not your thing, there’s plenty more traditional food on offer.
We had breakfast at Restaurant Danny, a popular eatery that has a basic breakfast of eggs, coffee and bread. Aside from that you can order chicken soup, cuy, roast chicken or fried pastries. Our choice was a couple of humitas and quimbolitos – freshly steamed and ready to tear into.
The town of Ipiales is one that travellers may not want to spend a great deal of time in. There’s very little to do here, it’s very commercial and you’d struggle to find any kind of redeeming features.
Iglesia San Felipe dominates Plaza La Pola, a small square that mills with locals and the odd food or juice vendor. Not much of a destination, but if you’re hungry, you can stop at one of a few restaurants on its peripheries.
Our one night in Ipiales meant we had just one meal in town – a couple of local beers and quick dinner at a very popular rotisserie called Píco Ríco.
The go-to is that roast chicken, which tempts as you enter from the street. I’m a bit of a sucker when I see golden chickens twirling over flames, so a quarto de pollo (5500) it was. Good, basic char-roasted chicken served up with roast potato. Don’t forget the hot sauce!
Beverages extend as far as softs drinks or Poker beer.
Píco Ríco, 5-50 Calle 14
Local buses from Otavalo to Tulcán (Terminal Terrestre) leave the stop on Panamericana Sur just past the roundabout on the south of town, and run every 15 minutes or so. Just flag one down that has ‘Tulcan’ on it. Cost is $3.50.
When you arrive in Tulcán, get a taxi from the bus station to the Frontera (border), cost is $3.50. You’re dropped at Migration. Go through the migration process on the Ecuador side, walk over the bridge to Colombia and to Migration on the Colombian side. Once processed, grab a taxi to Ipiales Centro – cost around 8000 pesos.
Taxi from central Ipiales to Las Lejas Sanctuary costs 10,000 pesos one way.