By Marina Aagaard, MFT. Photographer: Henrik Elstrup
Underground sightseeing. Yes please. Thanks to the tip of a steward onboard the KLM Dreamliner, that flew us to Bogota, we are on our way to see the Saltmine in Nemocon today; Colombia’s second largest salt mine.
Not to be mistaken for the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, as recommended by a taxi driver outside the hotel did; an underground church, though – according to some reports on the internet – not nearly as photogenic as the Salt Mine, which we got the tip about.
The Salt Cathedral, however, is only 25-30 minutes from the salt mine, so if you have time, you could opt for that as well. Our time was limited and we had to choose.
Today the weather is gray with a light drizzle, so it’s a perfect day to go underground.
You can get to the Salt Mine on an arranged bus ride, by public transport (bus) or by taxi. The trip takes 1-1½ hours from Bogota. We take a taxi at the hotel, agreed total price for 6 hours 240,000 Colombian pesos.
The trip starts on the highway, but then we end up on some narrow, rugged roads and finally on some very bumpy, gravel roads. Shaking experience, but worth the trip.
Along the way you get to see more of Colombia close up. Residential areas, industrial districts, supermarkets and gas stations as well as luxury villas hiding in the mountains and sheds or unfinished homes in unthinkable building materials.
On the road you see large chrome-shining trucks, old-age cars and fearless motorcyclists in a reasonably chaotic traffic scenario; not for people with weak nerves.
But the heart rate comes back down, as we roll further into the countryside where cows graze along the road. Everywhere in the fields and meadows, a lush green landscape, you see grazing cows, horses, sheep and goats – and our taxi driver must stop for a rooster and hen crossing the road.
Mina De Sal De Nemocón
After this drive filled with memorable impressions, we reach a small town, Nemocon, where we drive steeply downwards, a 20 degrees slope at least. At the bottom, the driver stops and points up a driveway indicating, we have to go that way on foot.
Some 50 meters away at the gate we are met by a young woman who starts speaking rapidly in Spanish. Not my language, I can only mumble ‘inglese’, after which she turns her back to us and goes for help. Surprisingly few young people speak English.
Now a guide rushes to greet us in understandable English. He explains with words and hands, what we have to do. After 10 minutes we meet with him by the entrance to their exhibition.
As we are the only English speaking visitors we get an exclusive tour just for us, while the group in front of us is a lively group of 20-30 Spanish-speaking visitors.
We start in the exhibition room, a tiny geological and prehistoric museum. Here our guide explains about geology, salt extraction and Nemecon’s history. Not everything is understandable, but most of it. We gather a.o., that between 1816 and 1968, after which time the mine closed, about 8 million tonnes of salt were recovered.
After this introduction we proceed to get a hair net and protective helmet on. The guide explains about the tour again, what we are going to see and that we must be careful on the moist mine floor and hold the railing, when we go down into the mine.
Down in the darkness
From the entrance you go down, it is not too steep and you only have to go 80 meters down. The entire upper mining area is at this level. Some shafts go down to 120 meters below ground level, but they are partly flooded and not accessible.
Thanks to a very large air vent, tunnel, the climate is pleasant. Enough air, and it’s cool, but not cold.
It is dark in the mine, but it is illuminated by spotlights with bright, white light. The dark walls are decorated with white salt deposits and marks from mining tools.
First you enter a ‘hallway’ with high wooden structures to prevent collapse. The guide is lively and easily understandable as he tells us about the mine and mining.
Next stop on the trip is the “magic experience”: A large room with a canal filled with salt water. The still water reflects the ceiling of the mine and the lamp posts that are set up for the sake of the effect. To increase the magic effect, the room is lit in different colors.
The multicolored lights are obviously popular; every visitor is snapping away. Personally, I would have preferred the original lights, because the mine and its salt deposits in itself is a natural attraction..
A small boardwalk (above) leads to a salt formation that almost resembles a waterfall. Here I am standing and taking photos of the attraction.
Another popular goal in the mine is a small chapel with the miners’ patron saint, and a Jesus figure created in salt from the figure in the church on the Monserrate mountain. The chapel is used for fairs, concerts and weddings.
In a larger room there are salt stalactites from the ceiling and a few salt stalacmites from the floor.
Where the air has flowed, snowball-shaped formations are formed. The others are thin like long drops.
Another salt lake, which is deeper than it seems, the still, salt water is crystal clear.
In many places petrified woodwork (to prevent the mines from collapsing) is seen. Also spots of orange paint is seen in spots, which assist the technicians in keeping an eye on the mine walls; check that they are not caging inwards. There are also strings with markers hanging from the ceiling; to check the mine ceiling.
Another photo stop. A beautiful salt lake reflecting the mine ceiling and salt stalactites.
In the mine there are also three tableaus showing the German geologist Humboldt, who helped Nemocon improve salt extraction, Nemocon’s strongest man, and a local chieftain.
A large area is dedicated to commemorating the Chilean rescue operation, where Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed mine were rescued after 33 days. Part of the movie Los 33 was filmed here in the Nemocon salt mine.
After a 1½ hour tour of the mine, you go outside again. From the exit you can walk a few meters up the hill, from where you can look down on Nemocon and distant mountains.
With the entrance ticket from the mine visit, you have the opportunity to go to the small town and visit the diminutive salt museum. No big attraction, but local history; A single room with the history of the salt mine shown with figurines and a single display of very beautiful salt pieces.
One should devote 2-3 hours for the visit, maybe a little more if you want to enjoy a cup of coffee, water or a piece of cake at the salt mine mini-shop or down in the city, where there are a couple of small restaurants.
The entrance fee for the mine is 12,000 pesos for adults (~3½ EUR, 4½ USD), a reasonable price. The mine is open every day from 10.00-16.00; but check times and prices in advance.
After the visit, we take the taxi back to Bogota, a slow ride in heavy afternoon traffic.
A recommended visit, which allows you to see a bit of the countryside.