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The Unexpected Beauty and Cultural Diversity of Cali

Cali, the third-largest city in Colombia, defies its crime-ridden reputation to offer a vibrant and enjoyable experience. Navigating safely is feasible, given knowledge of the right places. Despite a lack of conventional tourist attractions, Cali’s allure lies in its rich culture, diverse culinary scene, distinctive neighborhoods, and lively nightlife.

The city provides numerous opportunities for staying active, from engaging in salsa dancing to invigorating hikes leading to breathtaking viewpoints. Nature enthusiasts can explore Río Pance in the nearby national park.

Cali’s charm extends beyond its energetic atmosphere to include riverside strolls through downtown, palm tree-lined plazas, delightful cuisine, and bustling markets that immerse you in the local way of life. It promises a diverse array of experiences to fill your days with joy.

1. Do Salsa or Show Off Your Moves

In Cali, salsa isn’t just a music genre – it’s a vibrant way of life. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn salsa steps or dance with the locals at popular spots like El Manicero, Son de Luz, and Swing Latino, offering classes for all levels. Catch dazzling salsa shows at these venues.

Visit salsa clubs like Zaperoco, Tin Tin Deo, and La Topa Tolondra on a night out for a real-life experience, where seasoned dancers and tourists create a lively atmosphere.

If you’re in Cali from Christmas to New Year’s, don’t miss La Feria de Cali – a week-long celebration featuring salsa parades, concerts, and citywide parties. It’s your chance to witness renowned salsa artists and dancers in action.

2. Stroll Along the Río Cali and Visit the Cat Park

Experience the tranquility of strolling along Río Cali, a scenic river in the northern part of Cali. Enjoy pedestrian paths, bike lanes, and green spaces with iconic city views, including the Torre de Cali and Puente Ortiz.

Discover the whimsical Cat Park, featuring a three-ton bronze cat sculpture by Colombian artist Hernando Tejada. Surrounding it are 15 smaller cat sculptures painted by local artists, showcasing the city’s creativity and humor.

Close by is Parque del Peñon, an ideal spot to relax and indulge in local treats. Try cholado, a cup of mixed fruit with condensed milk and syrup, or try the refreshing lulado, a drink made with lulo fruit juice, ice, and water.

3. Admire the Architecture of Capilla La Ermita

Explore the captivating Capilla La Ermita in Cali, a stunning neo-Gothic church completed in 1948. Inspired by a German cathedral, it showcases a fusion of European elements—Dutch windows, French bells, Italian marble, and German stained glass. Nestled near the Plaza de Caycedo, the church’s bright white exterior and intricate details make it a must-see. 

Wander through the area, discovering colonial buildings and monuments. Don’t miss the Plaza de los Poetas with statues of renowned Colombian writers like Jorge Isaacs and Alfonso Bonilla Aragón.

4. Explore the Bohemian Barrio San Antonio

Barrio San Antonio, Cali’s oldest neighborhood, exudes charm with its bohemian atmosphere, rich history, and vibrant culture. The area boasts picturesque old buildings, theaters, and cafes, embodying the artistic legacy of Colombian writers and artists who once called it home.

Explore the cobblestone streets and indulge in the cozy ambiance by savoring a cup of coffee while observing the local scene at one of the numerous cafes. Discover art galleries and shops offering local crafts and souvenirs. For a taste of the region, try pandebono, a cheese-filled bread roll, or arroz atollado, a rice dish with pork, chicken, and vegetables.

The iconic Iglesia San Antonio, constructed in 1747, graces the neighborhood’s hilltop. Its simple yet elegant design and panoramic views of Cali and the valley make it a must-visit spot. Admire the statue of Sebastian de Belalcazar, the city’s founder, enhancing the historical allure of this captivating district.

5. Have Fun in Cali

Cali is a city that will make you feel alive and happy. It has a lot of things to offer, from culture and history to nature and entertainment. You can dance salsa, visit museums, walk along the river, admire the architecture, explore the neighborhoods, and eat delicious food. You can also meet some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in Colombia, who will make you feel at home. Cali is a city that you’ll never forget and that you’ll always want to come back to.

6. See the Statue of El Cristo Rey and Enjoy the View

Cali’s iconic landmark, El Cristo Rey, a 26-meter-high Christ figure atop Cerro de los Cristales, resembles Rio’s Christ the Redeemer but has its unique charm and history. Built-in 1953 to mark the end of the War of a Thousand Days, it offers a breathtaking view of Cali and the valley.

To reach the statue, you can drive or take a 5-kilometer hike lasting around 1.5 hours. Snack vendors and viewpoints line the trail, offering scenic breaks. At the top, enjoy a panoramic view and explore the chapel and museum. Ideal times are morning or afternoon, with clear weather. Bring a sweater and mosquito repellent, and don’t forget your camera to capture the stunning scenery and impressive statue.

7. Shop for Handicrafts and Experience the Local Vibe at Parque Artesanal Loma de la Cruz

For a taste of local culture and unique souvenirs in Cali, check out Parque Artesanal Loma de la Cruz. This vibrant park features a craft market with handmade treasures like jewelry, pottery, leather goods, and paintings. Engage with artisans crafting their goods and learn about their techniques.

Amidst the artistic buzz, enjoy local cuisine at nearby bars and restaurants. Indulge in Cali’s specialties like pandebono, arroz atollado, cholado, and lulado. Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere with live music, street performers, and local artists.

The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., bustling on weekends and holidays. Easily accessible by walking from the city center or taking a taxi or bus, it’s a perfect spot to soak in Cali’s culture and bring home unique mementos.

8. Cool Off and Connect with Nature at Río Pance and Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali

Cali, a hot and humid city, offers a refreshing escape just 20 kilometers south at Río Pance and Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali. Río Pance, a pristine river flowing through mountains and forests, provides opportunities for swimming, picnicking, and exploring rapids and waterfalls. Hiking trails along the river reveal diverse flora and fauna, including birds, butterflies, and monkeys.

Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali, spanning 150,000 hectares, features various ecosystems like cloud forests, rainforests, and paramos. Notable peaks like Pico de Loro and Pico Pan de Azúcar offer breathtaking views. Activities such as hiking, biking, and camping allow visitors to immerse themselves in the park’s biodiversity

9. Have Fun and Dance the Night Away at Cali Nightlife

Cali, the salsa capital of Colombia, is famous for its vibrant nightlife. The city offers diverse options for revelers, ranging from intimate bars and restaurants to lively clubs with various music genres like salsa, reggaeton, rock, and electronic beats. Cali’s locals, known for their friendliness, are eager to welcome you and share their dance moves.

Barrio Granada is a top nightlife hub, boasting trendy spots, high-end clubs, and excellent dining choices. Notable venues like La Sucursal del Cielo and Bourbon Street host live music and shows, making it a must-visit district.

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