Cali (short for Santiago de Cali) is the capital of the Valle de Cauca region in Southwestern Colombia. A city of 3 million people it is best known for being the world capital of Salsa and also for infamous Cali Cartel.
How we got to Cali
We arrived in Cali from Filandia in the coffee region and the route there was straight forward. First we had to get a bus from Filandia to Armenia (4,5000COP) and from Armenia we hopped straight on a direct minibus to Cali for 20,000COP each.
What we did in Cali
Cali isn’t really a well worn destination on the gringo trail but it still has enough things to do to occupy a few days.
Free Walking Tour
We like to do a free walking tour when we arrive in a new city to get our bearings and a feel for the city. This was one of the most important things we did in Cali because, to be honest, we were abit scared when we arrived. The city’s reputation had preceded itself with us but after the tour we felt more comfortable in our surroundings.
San Francisco Church, Cali – One of the Free Walking Tour Locations
The tour itself covers most of the attractions in the Cali and the guide, Paul, is really knowledgeable about his city. You start at La Ermita park, go through the Poet’s park, check out the cathedral and cultural district and walk to San Antonio park, among others.
The typewriters at Poets Park – they fill in documents for the people of Cali (for a fee of course)
The tour leaves at 4pm everyday (except Thursday and Sunday) from outside La Ermita church and as is normal with Free Walking Tours a tip is expected. To sign up just go here.
The tour ends with a sunset over San Antonio park
El Gato del Rio
Perhaps the most famous landmark of Cali, El Gato del Rio, is a bronze sculpture designed by Colombian artist Hernando Tejada. The cat has also been joined in the park by 12 “girlfriends”, each with a different artistic twist.
The famous El Gato del Rio
One of his new “girlfriends”
La Ermita Church
Perhaps the most beautiful church in Cali, La Ermita is famous for its Gothic style architecture. The original church was destroyed in an earthquake, everything except for a painting of Jesus Christ holding a sugarcane plant. For this reason the painting is considered sacred and can be viewed inside the church.
La Ermita Church
San Antonio Park
This park is located on top of a hill and is full of bohemian type people selling jewelery and hanging out. On the top of the hill is the beautiful Iglesias de San Antonio. Due to it being on a hill the park also has some great views of the city and it is a great place to go and watch sunset.
San Antonio Park – a hive of activity
Cocktails at La Tiendita
It was my birthday when we were in Cali and so to celebrate we wanted to have a few drinks. The San Antonio area is a pretty hard place to find a bar at 5pm however and after alot of walking around we settled for La Tiendita. It was 2 for 1 on cocktails when we arrived and so we had some very strong whiskey sours and mojitos to get us ready for the night ahead!
Pizza at One-Way
Located next to San Antonio park this pizza place was a great find for us (and it was just up the road from our hostel). It is relatively cheap, we got a big sized medium pizza for 26,000COP. They also give you a choice of games while you are waiting for the pizza, jenga, uno, dominos – your choice!
It would be a crime not to dance salsa in the world capital right? On the Saturday night of our stay we headed for La Topa, which was recommended to us by many people as a tourist and beginner friendly place. We paid our 5,000COP entrance fee at 9.30pm and the bar was pretty full when we arrived! We managed to get a table upstairs surrounded by locals and ordered a bottle of aguardiente (which came with the Colombian custom of a jug of water). After watching the locals do their (very impressive) dancing we decided to give it a go. Buoyed by the lessons we had in Medellin (and no doubt a couple of shots of aguardiente) we managed to hold our own for a few dances!
Look out for the Street Art
Colombian cities are becoming quite famous for their street art and Cali is no exception. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled and you might spot some gems!
Colombian Street Art
Other things to do
There are many other things which we didn’t get the chance to do in Cali including; walk to Tres Cruces for a view of the city, the view from the Cristo Rey statue, Caliwood museum, Belalcázar Statue. Cali is also a great place to do a day tour to San Cipriano. Check out our blog to discover this fascinating place.
Where we stayed in Cali
All tourists should stay in the San Antonio neighbourhood of Cali. Considered the safest area for tourists, it also has a range of western-style restaurants and bars. We did struggle to find good and cheap places to eat here though, alot of the places were out of our budget!
We stayed in SanTonio Casa Hostel which had a nice, cheap double room for us. The couple who run the place are lovely (although they speak Spanish VERY fast). For those on a budget I think it is worth it for a night or too although be warned, this isn’t a hostel, there is no atmosphere!
I found this bar with cool posters of football players on the outside!
Our Top Tips
- Stay in San Antonio, it is tourist friendly and you can easily walk to the downtown if you like.
- Walk along the river, this area is really nice and has a few (but not many) places to eat and drink.
- Spot some graffiti along the way. There is some nice street art in Cali!
- Go on a day trip to San Cipriano!
- Be smart with your stuff, dont flash your wealth around.
- Go Salsa dancing, its a crime not to do it in Cali.
- I say this with some apprehension – try Chontaduro. It’s a staple of Cali snack life but it wasn’t for us, make your own minds up!
- Have a lulada in Cali – its the home of it!