A Complete Guide to Cali, Colombia
Cali is the salsa capital of the world and home to some of Colombia’s best nightlife. I had low expectations due to the lack of typical attractions, but Cali makes up for it with sunshine, great food, and an excellent music scene. I only came because I had a few extra days in Colombia before a flight and was pleasantly surprised by the number of interesting things to do in Cali. However, the city itself isn’t the prettiest nor is it the safest place.
I enjoyed my time here, but I don’t think it’s a must-visit. Unless learning salsa dancing interests you, you’re traveling overland to Ecuador, or simply spending a long time in Colombia, you might find other destinations in the country more worthy of your time.
Safety in Cali
Cali doesn’t have the best safety reputation and I met a few people who got robbed by men with machetes. These incidents usually happen at night and I recommend always taking a taxi after the sun goes down. San Antonio is the best neighborhood to stay in for proximity to restaurants and attractions. Even so, a few restaurants in this neighborhood lock their doors during the day and you have ring the doorbell to enter. The obvious level of concern about safety doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Cali, but you have to be smart here.
12 Things to Do in Cali, Colombia
Street Food Tour – A food tour is one of the best things to do in Cali because there are many regional dishes in this part of Colombia and it’s priced very fairly. Expect to pay around 50,000-60,000 Colombian pesos (COP) which is half the price of typical food tours.
Iglesia Ermita – A gothic church with a beautiful interior and historic relics. Iglesia Ermita is the icon of Cali.
Free Walking Tour – These are a must for most cities, but especially in Cali. Your guide will explain the street art, recent protests, and history of drug violence within the city.
Carteles La Linterna – A print shop that will bring you to the past with its posters and t-shirts showcasing Colombia’s cultural icons, movies, and political statements. The artists that make the posters will probably be in the shop working on their next project. This is a great non-tourist spot to pick up souvenirs.
Hill of the Three Crosses – A viewpoint looking out over the city that takes 75-90 minutes to reach on foot. The city isn’t blessed with incredible views from above like Medellín, but you can see just how big of a city Cali is from here. For safety reasons the best time to do this hike is on Sunday morning. I went to the wrong entrance, and there were two men with machetes waiting behind the trees at the start of the trail.
Cristo Rey – The replica of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer marks Cali’s best viewpoint. You won’t be able to walk here, but you can take a taxi. Be sure to ask the taxi to wait for you at the entrance.
Galeria de Alameda – Cali’s largest market has exotic fruit, tamales, and cafes. If you go on a food tour this is likely where it will take place.
Caicedo Square Mall – Cali’s main plaza is where you will find lots of street food vendors, and if you’re lucky, a dance crew will be performing.
El Gato del Rio – Along the river, there’s a park with a bunch of cat sculptures. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s mildly entertaining to read the signs explaining each cat’s name.
Zoológico de Cali – A trip to the zoo always makes you feel like a kid again. For 27,000 COP you can see monkeys, lions, and tigers along with many animals specific to the Andes.
Casa de las Memorias del Conflicto La Reconciliation – A small museum that tells the stories of the victims of drug and guerilla violence in the region. All the info here is in Spanish and it’s free.
Parque San Antonio – Where locals gather to watch the sunset and drink a few beers. Within a few blocks of here, there are lots of outstanding restaurants.
Where to Eat
Criollan Lovers – A Peruvian restaurant with absolutely delicious food and live music. I highly recommend stopping by for a meal.
Cachai – Having never tried Chilean food, I decided to stop in and their sandwiches were excellent.
La Ventana de La Chicharra – Quality menú del día for 14,000 COP.
Casa Pavarotti – Dinner here was the most insane meal of my life. The owner is an absolute madman from Italy. There are three tables on the first floor of his house, and you legitimately feel like you are a fly on the wall. Friends of the family are coming and going, the owner is dropping hijo de puta every other sentence, and a family argument may break out. It is awkward, fascinating, and not for everyone, but you can’t dispute the quality of the pasta.
Parador San Antonio Arepas – A simple restaurant serving delicious Colombian street food.
Trinitario Coffee – An awesome cafe that supports sustainable farming and has a larger selection of coffee than I knew existed. The staff is very helpful and will help explain the menu.
Where to Stay
Viajero Hostel & Salsa School – A lively atmosphere at this hostel with a large bar and pool area in the San Antonio neighborhood. The hostel organizes lots of activities and you are bound to meet plenty of people here. They offer free daily salsa classes or you can pay for private lessons.
Oasis Cali Hostel – Offering free yoga and salsa classes, this hostel has more of a homely atmosphere. It’s a 30-minute walk to most attractions and in a safe neighborhood near the clubs.
How Long to Stay
3 days in Cali is enough time for most before heading elsewhere in Colombia. However, it’s one of those cities where you’ll meet backpackers who love it and stay 10+ days partying.
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Salento (5 hours by bus via Armenia) – A charming town in the coffee axis with the best day hike in the country and a tejo bar.
Medellín (10 hours) – Renowned for its nightlife, the city of eternal spring is famed for its history surrounding Colombia’s drug cartels.
Jardín (10 hours via Manizales and Riosucio) – A laidback, authentic town with great coffee and short hikes.
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