Cali: The World's Salsa Capital

Movers and shakers will love Colombia's third city
Cali: The World's Salsa Capital

Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, was founded in the early 16th century and is one of the oldest colonial settlements in Latin America. That said, relatively little of the historic architecture remains, and the city is today far better known for its animated nightlife. Caleños are prolific and highly proficient dancers, and have rightfully earned the city the unofficial title of the world’s capital of salsa music.

What to see and do in Cali

Nightlife is one of Cali’s major attractions (see next section), but the city also offers a number of interesting sites and enjoyable activities. One popular part of the city, particularly with the backpacker crowd, is the bohemian neighbourhood of San Antonio. Most activities in this area take place outdoors, including concerts, parties and markets and artisan fairs. This is the oldest part of Cali and is home to a number of decent restaurants, many of which are located around the main parks at San Antonio and Artesanal Loma de la Cruz. Another frequently visited area is the Granada district in the east of the city. A number of gourmet restaurants, exclusive shops and fashion boutiques are all situated here.

For some respite from the heat of the city center, a recommended day trip is to the River Pance in the south of the city. There is a marked path running alongside the river and a number of great areas to take a refreshing swim. For those wishing to stay longer than just a day, there are camping and basic accommodation facilities at the Fundación Farallones, located towards the upper end of the river.

For some respite from the heat of the city center a recommended day trip is to the River Pance in the south

A fascinating, if slightly unorthodox, tourist activity is to visit the campus of the Universidad Nacional, Cali’s principal public university. The university is a hotbed of political activity, with its walls daubed in political graffiti, and the site often seeing strikes and student protests. A quick stroll around this open access site provides an interesting insight into Colombia’s political scene which it is difficult to experience anywhere else.

Among Cali’s more traditional tourist sites is the city zoo, an 11 hectare site housing over 2,000 animals. Nearby are the city’s Botanical Gardens, home to 100 species of butterflies and 120 types of birds, housed in 14 hectares of tropical forest. For excellent views over the city, you may also wish to visit the top of Cerro los Cristales, a hill housing a 31m statute of Christ at its peak.

Nightlife in Cali

Salsa music may not have originated in Cali, but it has been taken up by the locals there with gusto. There are a wide variety of nightlife spots in the city and the majority of these play the music for which the city is most famous. One of the most well-known spots is the Tin Tin Deo salsa bar. This is located near La Sexta, an area of restaurants, relatively upmarket bars and clubs. Another popular nightlife spot is Menga, in the north of the city, which boasts a large number of establishments offering both salsa and ‘crossover’ music (a mixture of different Latin music styles). Carrera 66, in southern Cali, is an emerging and increasingly lively center of restaurants, bars and clubs.

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Some salsa clubs attract huge crowds of elderly couples on Sunday daytimes

An interesting cultural phenomenon are also the clubs known as Viejotecas, a term derived from combing the words Viejo (old) and discoteca (club). These clubs play classic salsa vieja, during both the day and night. They are especially popular with the older generation of the city’s residents, with some such clubs attracting huge crowds of elderly couples on Sunday daytimes.

The most dedicated salseros can cross over the bridge over the Cauca River to get to the Juanchito district. This is one of the less affluent areas of Cali, but is a recognised center of salsa music and offers a substantial number of clubs dedicated to the genre. The area accordingly offers a less polished, but perhaps more genuine, experience of Caleño nightlife than do many of the clubs in Menga and along La Sexta. One of the most famous clubs here is Chango, which offers regular live music and events.

How to get around in Cali

Since 2008 Cali has benefited from MIO, a mass transit system based around dedicated and interconnected buses. Other bus companies operate outside of this network, with their names based around a color system e.g. the black and white line. Taxis are also ubiquitous and cheap.

Getting to and from Cali

Cali has a large airport, named after Alfonso Bonilla Aragón, which handles both domestic and international flights. It is located about in Palmira, about 15 minutes by road from central Cali.

The city also lies on the Pan-American highway meaning it is served by a large number of buses to Bogota, Medellin and many other destinations in Colombia. All long-distance buses leave from the central terminal, located at Calle 30N 2an-29.


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