SANTIAGO DE CALI
Santiago de Cali is a real gem: the most I have stayed there, the most I have given value to this gorgeous city.
Usually known as “Cali”, is the capital of Valle del Cauca, and is the 3rd biggest city in Colombia, after Bogota’ and Medellin. The city is in its full development although, keeps proud of a unique neoclassical quarter, very well maintained: Barrio San Antonio.
Generally people associated Cali to Salsa, specifically Salsa “Calena”, but I will show you that Cali is more than just Salsa, although I have to admit that Salsa in Cali is different from every other place in the world..that much that made me get Salsa class 🙂
Barrio San Antonio: as mentioned above this quarter is the neoclassic spot in the city, which still keeps its authenticity and proud. I have decided to get my accommodation here as is fairly central and close to many highlights and quite easy to get around, not forgetting the beauty of its streets and little shop/restaurant.
The history and the beautiful architecture, give the chance to this quarter to be declared a city heritage in 2000, and since then the tourism developed very fast: walking through the quarter’s streets you will easily encounter, boutique hotel, independent hostel, bakery and restaurant/bars and gorgeous handcraft shops. Also for the salsa lover, you will find Salsa school and Salsa bar. The Quarter goes from Calle 1 until Calle 5, that divided San Antonio from the city center (commercial side of the city). You can also walk up to the hill on Calle 1, to relax at San Antonio Park and visit the local church of San Antonio.
Last but not least, it will be easy to find workshops of any kind: from the vintage book to homemade chocolate and so on.
This quarter is getting very touristic, yet not super crowded, so it is lovely to be visited and not overwhelmed by the tourist: this makes the area quite safe most of all daytime. At night, after 22.00 I would still suggest avoiding the hill, as it has been a spot of rubbery, and most recommended to get back to your hotel/hostel by cab. Unfortunately Cali, is still host of rubbery and the target is not just the tourist.
Restaurant price: you can get lunch set Menu from 10000 COP onward, a slice of pizza for 3000 COP and local street food for 1000/2000 COP (mind that local street food it’s better known as Comida Rapida). I specifically recommend buying in a bakery, the Pan Au Chocolate, yummy!
Sleep here: as written above, it’s the right place to sleep at night, and you can range from hostel to boutique hotel, and also getting specific with a vegan hostel. I have been 3 times in Cali and each time I have stayed at Hostal el patio, CRA 5 # 2-35, own by Adriana and Fabio, a great Colombian couple that I will never stop to thank for their super kindness, and for being the best hosts ever. The hostel offers both dormitory and private room with private bathroom, with the comfort of a nice patio to be shared, and perfect clean kitchen with all the right amenities and super fast WIFI. The vibe in this place is really unique, and you will feel at home straight away: if you are looking for a nice place to stay, not crowded (the house host up to 16 pax) but yet a place where to meet cook people and get to know the real Cali, this is the place.
Loma de La Cruz: walking down from San Antonio, from Calle 6 within Carrera 16, you will get to Loma de la Cruz, Hill of the Cross, and in fact, you will literally get up a very stiff hill with a cross on it. This is one of the highest points of Cali, and perfect to enjoy a lovely view of the city, most of all at night with all the lights on.
Every day, from roughly 16.00/17.00, the hill hosts many handcraft kiosk and street food, and also very authentic traditional workshop of leather and cobblers.
I highly recommend to pay a visit here, most of all on Thursdays evening: around 1800/1900 the locals will gather together celebrating the traditional Andina Dance: so you can join them dancing this very funny and entertaining dance.
Galleria Alameda: based on the opposite side of Calle 5, at only 15 minutes walking distance from San Antonio, is based the market of quarter Alameda. Here you will find a big market that host everything from clothes to vegetable and fruits, fresh fish and meat, colorful flowers and handmade miscellaneous. As a big fun for markets, definitely, I have to alight this as one pf the must see place in Cali.
Canchas Panamericanas : you cannot miss eating the best Cholado of Cali, and this is the place where to be! Little
further away from Galleria Alameda, going south to the Stadium at Calle 9, you will find the best kiosk where to buy Cholado. Cholado is a refreshing and delicious tropical fruit salad mixed up with minced ice, condensed milk, syrup and crunchy biscuit on top. Make sure to have your belly empty, as is not a light shot 🙂 Prices go from 5000 to 12000 COP.
Parque del Penon and El Gato : going north from San Antonio up to Carrera 3 with Calle 3 Oeast, the Penon Park is the host of the famous Cat of Cali. This is a Hernando Tejada sculpture, among all the Cat’s girlfriends : many female cat’s statues resembling different name and quality such “Melosa” the sweet cat or the
“Gachusa” .. the badass cat 🙂 This park, alongside the riverbank, is a nice walk down to the boulevard of Cali, or if you going up towards north you will enjoy more green spots where to relax and read a book.
Parque de la Retreta and Parque Simon Bolivar : walking down from El Gato to Carrera 1, going more to the center of Cali you will encounter this nice park, famous for its stunning Church of Ermita. Gothic style temple built in the 1930 and 1948, with white predominant colors and Italian marble altar. A must see the church, also for its’ lovely surrounding: frequently the parks host art and cultural events such book exhibition.
Cristo Rey :a 26 meters Christ statue (yes, a mini Brazilian Christ Redentor), up to Cerro de Los Cristales in the village of Los Andes. Nevertheless, the statues are gorgeous and bigger than I expected, but what it really amazed me was the spectacular view of Cali from there. You can either reach the Christ by car (car park is just 3000 COP) or you can get a Taxi collectivo (taxi to be shared) close to Parque el Penon for 1500/2000 COP each way.
Cerro de las Tres Cruces :a hill known as Altos de Normandía with 3 crosses on it, the perfect place where to get a nice hike. From San Antonio up to this Hill, it will only take between 1 and 1.5 hours, and the view will be worth it a while.
Parque Nacional Natural de los Farallones : a little bit further away from Cali, this National park is the perfect place where to be on a very hot Calena day. These natural stacks are the youngest rocky formation of the Andes Occidental Cordillera, with 540 species of birds, and the house of 30 rivers. Many locals people will sunbath and get a refreshing bath at River Panche, why don’t do that???
You can either reach the park by car, the easiest way or with public transport :
At bus terminal go to Corregimiento de Pance to grab a bus – Topacio: will take 1 hour each
WHAT TO DO IN CALI
Dance Salsa: definitely Cali is very well known for Salsa, and it is true: it is literally impossible to find a local who cannot dance Salsa Calena (local style of Salsa) or at least who wouldn’t enjoy it. Salsa is in the air, on every street, shop and taxi ride. Lovely beats, that will surely thrown you to get some classes and shake your legs like a proper Colombian would do. The city is plenty of Salsa School and price range from 15000 to 40000 per private class or less for group class. Ask to your hotelier for the most recommended school, as there are several very good. A very good one in San Antonio is Salsa Pura, Cl. 4 #6-61 (for prices is better to go directly there and have a chat, so to get a customized price based on your level and quantity of class). But after you get your daily class (see mine here), some of them also free of charge, you must practice at nights !! Cali is clearly full of Salsa disco, in each quarter you will find at least 5 bars from small to big, so no excuse, get a taxi and off to dance Salsa. My favorite Salsa Disco is called Topa Tolondra, in Calle 5 : entrance is 5000 COP and Thursday night there is a live band.. must do! (Also free salsa Class each Monday at 19.00).
Shopping at Calle 14 :city center and the house of shopping, from clothes to shoes to accessories and for every budget. Here a warning tough: DO NOT EVER overpass Calle 14 going off to Calle 15 with Carrera 15 as is a bit dangerous and not only at night.
Adventure sport : Cali is surrounded by beautiful nature yet hills and rivers, so why do not get wild with some adventure sport? I have practiced my self Paragliding at Piedichinche hill and it was super fun. I suggest going with Parapente Cali, so to be with an official agency and security staff who will assist you all over. Price for Paragliding is 120000 COP and includes : photo/video (mind that the pilot who will tandem you is not a professional photographer and on top he/she has to drive you in the air, so photo and video might no be 100% perfect, think more like on the experience itself), transport to and from Piedichince or Cerro Negro (you need to shop at Parapente Cali office at 0800 am and you will return with them around 1800) and a incredible and unique flight experience.
Street Art: from the city center down to the boulevard, explore gorgeous graffiti.
Art/theater/events : Cali is not just Salsa and nature, it is also the house of art and culture, yet a very developed theatrical project. The town hall has decided to encourage local people to visit the theater and enjoy the performance, and it will absorb the 70% of the ticket cost. The general ticket will cost 10000 COP, but thanks to this Town Hall project, you can buy them for as little as 3000 COP. Art has never been so cheap and is definitely a perfect way to benefit from it, in order to find out more about local shows. For more info on timetable and location visit Cali teatro.
For its unfortunate past bond to drug dealing, which it might still be a present.. Cali is not necessarily the most tranquil city on earth. Now, I DO NOT wanna scare you as I was in Cali for a long time and loved it every day and never I have felt in dangerous whatsoever, but I have got to know the city and many local’s people advise on how to visit and get around, so I would love to share this info with you.
- City center : really tranquil with a lots of buzz thanks to the many shops and vendors, safe to visit day time, but I would not walk alone, nor for long after 2300. If you need to go to or from there at night I recommend to get a taxi (taxi are very cheap, min. fare is 4000 COP day time and 6000 COP night).
- San Antonio, as also mentioned above is really safe and touristic, but few tourist were robbed unfortunately up to the park hill. Avoid the area at night, and go back to your hotel by cab even if in a small group.
- The Northern side of the city is very residential and tranquil, on the southern side, not really a touristic spot tough.
- East: better to be avoided, nothing to know unless you have a specific reason, and if you do try to go there with a local person or to exactly get the right direction and be dropped by a cab. Of course, the more you will know around, the better it will be to adapt and walk with more ease.
- Both day and night time, avoid to go out on your mobile phone, or if it is a must to have it with you DO NEVER show your phone on the street. Mostly phone is the gadget that the most get stolen, and the problem is that sometimes (very rare cases), people got approached with a small weapon. So use the phone inside a shop. If you want to go out with your camera, better if yo are whit someone else, or just be very careful and sensitive to the surrounding.
- Cash: avoid to go out with plenty of cash, but try to get whit you what you really need, but always take something with you.
- Common sense: Cali is nothing else different that from many another big city, where poverty arise. Unfortunately some people might be badly tempted to rob you, as they would do with a local (is not just bout being a tourist), so as a Caleno would say “No dar papaya” : avoid to show off and expensive belonging, and be careful at night time or avoid areas that are not well known. Always ask your hotelier where is best to go and how, do not adventure without getting any information before and always make locals your friends, best way to get to know the city. These are only a few warnings, as I have mentioned above, nothing happened to me and I would definitely go back to Cali as I loved it, and I really recommend to spend there at least 1 week if you are flexible with time.
Have fun in Cali,