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Cali, Colombia: the home of salsa! The climate is hot-hot-hot here, but during rainy season the weather can change to thunderstorms in an instant. Overall, we’d say Cali is pretty under-rated. Not many people put Cali in Colombian travel itineraries, and we have to admit that neither did we in our ideal 2-week trip plan, but that’s only due to time constraints and the fact that there are SO MANY amazing and diverse things to do in this country.
If you love dancing and partying with locals, this city is not to be missed. So, here’s our guide to Cali, Colombia!
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Cali in Colombians’ minds has a bad reputation for safety, but we were lucky to have no problems during our short time there. However, we heard many travellers’ stories of people who did run into trouble, so be on your guard, and follow all advice from locals about what is safe and what isn’t.
At night, the general recommendation is not to walk around in small groups or alone, and don’t be flashy with anything that looks expensive (remember, what’s cheap to you might not be cheap to someone else). There is a noticeable problem with homelessness in the city, which is a real shame to see. However, Cali is still a very vibrant place with an interesting history, so there’s a lot to enjoy to make up for having to be a little more cautious.
Salsa in Cali, Colombia
For many people, Cali means Salsa. Most large hostels in Cali offer salsa lessons – often free – to guests, so take advantage while you’re here. To put our newfound salsa skills (lol) to the test, we were recommended to go to La Topa Tolondra nightclub, which is especially popular on a Wednesday.
Although a really fun night with some incredibly talented dancers and decently-priced drinks, we did kind of get the impression that this is just where gringos go, and any locals were just there to either ogle or woo one of the many tall blonde women. For a salsa experience in Cali Colombia that’s a little more authentic, have a pop round to Tienda Vieja or El Rincon de Heberth.
If you don’t want to do any of the dancing yourself, you can watch it from the comfort of your seat at salsa shows such as Delirio. Get your tickets beforehand!
7 things to do in Cali, Colombia (that aren’t salsa!)
1. Take the Cali Colombian Street Food Tour
Up high on our list of things to do in Cali (in Colombia, maybe!) is the Callejeros Street Food Tour. Run by a multi-lingual Dutchman who is married to a Paisa, this tour takes you all over the city in search of new and exotic dishes and fruits to try. Having spent 7 months seeing things in markets and not being able to name them or know even how to begin eating them, going on this tour so early on in our Colombia trip was really refreshing.
We tried around 25 different dishes, drinks, fruits and desserts, plus we did some coffee-tasting at the end. With a fixed price of 40,000 pesos each including all food and drink samples, this is well worth it. The tour leaves from El Viajero Hostel in San Antonio; you can either book through their website or ask your hostel to notify them that you’re coming the day before.
2. Shop shop shop
Cali has some of the cheapest clothes markets we’ve seen, and the stuff seems generally good quality. Around the Sucre area (Calle 12-15 with Carrera 5-9) you’ll find blocks and blocks of shops and market stalls with some great stuff – genuine-looking Adidas crop top for £2, anyone?
3. Walk up to Cali’s Tres Cruces
If you’re up for hiking, you can walk an hour up to the Tres Cruces (three crosses) at the top of the hill that looks over Cali. Start at the bottom of the ‘Sendero al Cerro de las Tres Cruces’. A warning though, go in the morning as the policemen who patrol the area vacate their posts from the early afternoon, leaving the hike vulnerable to muggings. Locals advise strongly against hiking up there once the police have left.
4. Hike to the peak of Pico de Loro
Pico de Loro is a mountain in the Farallones de Cali Park (as part of Valle de Cauca) with a peak of almost 2900m above sea level, and is accessible for experienced enough hikers. We recommend taking a guided tour for this one, to cover transfers and keep you on the right track for your 5.6 mile trek.
5. Step back in time at El Paraíso
36km outside of Cali, Colombia’s colonial past comes alive at Hacienda El Paraíso. A preserved country house in the midst of a sugar cane plantation that inspired several romance novels, the Hacienda is now open to the public to learn about how sugar was made there and how colonial people lived in 17th and 18th century Colombia.
To get there from Cali, you can either take the El Cerrito bus and stopping at ‘El Placer’ in Amaime (from which a car will pick you up to take you the rest of the country road) or you can go via a small-group tour which includes a guide to sort everything out for you and tell you what you’re looking at whilst there.
6. Take a cycle tour in Valle del Cauca
Adventure though the Cauca Valley on a mountain bike with this here Cali tour. 6 hours out in the Colombian countryside is without fail an awe-inspiring experience! There are 30 rivers in the South-West of Colombia, and plenty of ups and downs ove the cordilleras that form the landscape of the Valle del Cauca.
After all that activity, what could be better than sitting back with an ice cold crafty? During the night-time in Cali, you can normally find a good bar in Barrio Granada, and the 4-44 Craft beer pub also comes highly recommended by locals.
Where to stay in Cali, Colombia
Many gringos flock to El Viajero Hostel in San Antonio old town, but to be honest despite the location being good we found our stay there a bit meh. The real gem in Cali was La Sucursal, which made it onto our favourite hostels of South America round-up. This was in a barrio called Granada, which is an up-and-coming hipster area with super-cool bars and nice restaurants. The staff at the hostel are excellent, and the beds comfy. Lots of open-plan spaces make it easy to meet people too!
If you don’t want a hostel vibe and your budget is a little less stretched, take a look at the beautiful Leclerc Boutique Hotel, which is also in the swanky barrio of Granada.
Where to eat in Cali, Colombia
First things first, if you’re ever in San Antonio old town of Cali, you NEED NEED NEED to try the motorway bridge arepas. Here is a map. Pin it. It will change your life.
Also in Old Town is La Chicharra which do reasonably-priced menu del día lunches with typical Colombian dishes.
If you find yourself in Granada, Aguiles on Calle 15 Norte is an incredibly cheap place to go for lunch, but you could trick yourself into thinking you’ve spending your whole daily budget by the high level of quality.
Where to go after Cali in Colombia?
Cali is under-estimated as a travel hub; there are so many destinations easily accessible from Cali in Colombia! If you’re heading towards the border with Ecuador, Ipiales and El Santuario are must-visits on the way down. To the North, Colombia’s coffee region is an obvious next destination from Cali, and to the East you’ll find routes to the Tatacoa Desert via Neiva.
West is the more off the beaten path Colombia, with the region of Chocó lining the jungley Pacific coast. Absolutely do not miss a visit to El Valle, Chocó if you’re travelling during whale season.
Recommended stay to enjoy Cali in Colombia: 3-4 days
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