El Santuario de la Virgen Del Rosario de Las Lajas en Ipiales (or Las Lajas Sanctuary to its friends) is one Colombian creation you’ll never quite get over seeing.
Modelled on a style far removed from the archetypal architecture of the surrounding region, the cathedral shares characteristics that put it more in line with a European castle than a South American church, and this unexpected façade – coupled with its precarious positioning across the Guaitara River canyon – makes for a lasting overall impact.
But it is perhaps the story of Las Lajas’ creation that draws the most intrigue.
As legend has it, a mother and daughter were making their way through the valley when they were caught in a ferocious storm. Forced to find shelter, the pair sought protection by drawing closer to the rocks, when they were suddenly moved to face the heavens. On doing so, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared and miraculously, the deaf mute girl was immediately cured of her afflictions. Though sceptics questioned the story, their curious nature brought them to investigate the cliff where they themselves discovered a likeness of Mary, cradling her baby Jesus, had formed on the stone.
A short time later, inspired by reports of the apparition, a blind beggar began to seek funds to build a permanent shrine around the image. After a decade of collecting he returned to the site to lay the foundations and, as he placed the first brick, his sight was restored.
Though you will have to climb a while to fully appreciate the majesty of the monastery – and to see the imprint of mother and child that forms the back wall of the building for yourself – the spectacular views that extend out into the river valley are well worth the trek.
To top the day off, you can take a short drive into Ipiales and enjoy a plate of ‘cuy’ – the local delicacy that may cause some of the more sensitive of travellers to squeak.