At night Cali, Colombia beats with the quick rhythmic steps of sensual salsa while seemingly carrying the soul of the entire country on its shoulders.  The city is one of the greatest places on the entire planet to spend a Friday as there is no shortage of live music, bustling street scenes, and hips moving along with the tunes of local bars.  During the day, however, it takes a little bit of exploration to reach beyond the concrete exterior to find the heart of this city that seems to leave its soul on its sleeves during the nighttime.  Those who give Cali a chance tend to fall in love with the bustling activity and vibe.  To this day Cali remains slightly off the normal tourist route in the country due to the distance from Bogota and the popular Caribbean coast, however the city is well worth your time if you make it out here.  Also, if you are hoping to learn to dance the salsa in Colombia, there is no better place to learn than in this every moving city.

Cali Colombia

Cali Colombia

Things to do in Cali

  • The Zoo: Colombia has one of the most extensive wildlife systems in the entire world and much of that is on display at the zoo in town.  You’ll need to take a taxi to get here, but it is worth the trip.
  • Salsa Lessons: Cali is the heart of Colombian salsa, and you can’t escape the dance while you’re in town so you might as well join right in.  Just about every single hostel in town offers salsa dancing lessons although if you are more serious you might want to check out one of the dance studios.  If you’re just looking to have a dance, you’ll have no problem finding a pretty girl or handsome man willing to show you the steps at a local bar.
  • Hiking: This is a must do for anyone visiting Cali.  Head to Cerro de las Tres Cruces for unbelievable views of the city.  The hike is about 2 hours round trip, although it is possible to also hire a taxi to take you up the hill.
  • Churches: There are a number of churches in Cali worthy of stopping in at for a look.  From the Iglesia de San Antonio you’ll enjoy great views of the city as well as some interesting statues.  The more Gothic looking Iglesia de la Ermita and the impressive Iglesia de San Francisco are also worth a bit of an exploration.
  • Museums: Although not nearly as impressive as the famous Museo de Oro in Bogota, the version in Cali is still well worth a visit if you’re into Pre-Colombian art and history.  If you are looking to explore a little deeper into the history of this country prior to the European arrival you’ll also want to check out Museo Arqueologico de la Merced.

Where to Eat and Drink in Cali

The place to eat in town for backpackers on budgets seems to be a place called Baharoque which serves a variety of types of cuisine and styles of meals depending on the time of day.  I continued my addiction to steak when I visited, my meal came to about 10US$ including a beer.  If you’re looking for something lighter try the tapas at the Spanish tapa bar on Avenida 9. For lighter, cheaper meals there are dozens of places in the center of town that offer set lunches and dinners for between 4,000 and 7,000 pesos (about 3-5US$).

The nightlife in Cali really begins on Thursdays when people pile into Blues Brothers which hosts live salsa music and cheap drinks.  On the weekend the nightclubs light up on Avenida Sexta.  The “in” places to go change just about as fast as people change salsa partners in Cali.  Ask around or just go for a wander on la Sexta to find a place to satisfy your party desires.  When I was in town the place to go on the weekend was called Tin Tin Deo.

Where to Stay in Cali

Cali has a significant number of very well established backpackers hostels.  While I was there I stayed at Iguana Hostel.  I payed 20,000 pesos (11US$) for a private single room.  The price of a dorm bed was about 8US$.  The hostel had great service and even offered salsa lessons. The Pelican Larry Hostel has also been recommended to me as a nice place to stay.


Getting out of Town

Towards Ecuador you’ll find the colonial city of Popayan (3hrs) and the rough city of Pasto (9hrs).  It is recommended to take these trips during the day as the route is still not completely safe at night.  There are also regular buses leaving Cali heading towards Bogota (12hrs) and Medellin (9hrs).

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