Nov 15

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Cali – Colombia’s Sizzling Salsa Capital

If this isn’t your first time here you’ll know the leader of this here Colombia Travel Blog is Marcela, and Marcela is Colombian. The fact that Marcela is Colombian means she is genetically disposed to like salsa, and like salsa she does indeed. Lucky for Marcela, then, that last year she got to visit the city locals call the ‘Salsa Capital of the World’ – Cali. Here she recounts her trip, and gives a few tips for those planning a trip to Cali, Colombia.

Cristo Rey, Cali
Cristo Rey, Cali

Cali is one of the oldest cities in Colombia as it was founded in 1536. It is a colorful and very lively place, hot all year round, and its considered Colombia’s capital of Salsa!

At around 9 am I decided to go and find some breakfast. I walked about 3 blocks and found a fruit street vendor on the Sexta Avenida. What a better way to start my day than with a freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a recently cut sweet papaya and a huge piece of pineapple. I must say that words can’t describe the freshness and sweetness of the fruits in Colombia not to mention the exotic ones like Chontaduro which is the fruit of a palm boiled and eaten with salt.

Anyway, I just sat on the curve by the Carrito de Fruta and started chatting to the afro-Colombian man that was showing off his skilful fruit cutting technique. As he was cutting all sorts of fruits to prepare a delicious salpicon (very much like a fruit salad with loads of watermelon which gives it its pink colour) he was asking me if I was from Bogota as well as taking orders and money from other people that – it seemed – were walking to the office with their plastic glasses full of salpicon. I replied that, yes I was travelling from Bogota and asked him how he guessed from only a couple of words I’d said…. and he replied that we “rolas” (women from Bogota) are too white to be from Cali and then we both laughed. Around this area of Colombia there is a huge community of African slaves’ descendants that were brought to the country to work in the land and populate the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

I headed straight to the Caicedo Plaza, right in the city center, where Cali’s oldest church – La Merced Cathedral- is. I took Av 6, turned left on Calle 4N and left again on Carrera 4.

Along the way I found the Archeological Museum La Merced. It has an impressive collection of more than 1100 pieces of pottery from pre-Hispanic times. They have a very small entrance fee of $4.000 (US$2) for adults and $3.500 (US$1.75) for students. Have in mind that they are open from 9 to 5 only from Tuesday to Saturday. I then continued with my walk and 5 blocks ahead I finally reached the Plaza Caicedo.

This square has such an interesting feeling to it. It was named in honor and memory of a national hero called Caicedo y Cuero, and it’s a mayor a meeting point for everybody including scribes, artists, street vendors, lottery vendors and shoeshine boys, all offering their kind services to the locals and are always fascinated with the tourists that are now travelling to Colombia. It’s surrounded by a mixture of old and new buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace that interestingly contrasts with the old tropical palm trees that refresh the view.

Salsa dancers on the streets of Cali
Salsa dancers on the streets of Cali

Is really hot in Cali! I decided to go back to the hostel walking while realizing that I was staying in one of the best neighborhoods of Cali: Barrio Granada where there are loads of restaurants, bars, hotels and hostels…. but I didn’t have time to explore that area, as I had made an appointment to meet some old friends for a authentic Cali Salsa night! So, after a much needed shower considering the 25C average temperature, I got on a taxi and went to an area of the city called Cali Viejo, our meeting point. This little hill that happens to be right in the middle of the city is one of many viewpoints that Cali has. This particular one is very famous not only because it offers great views of the city but also has a real size statue of the city’s founder, Don Sebastian de Belalcazar from where it gets its name, Mirador de Belalcazar. Around the Mirador there are many parks such as the Parque del Acueducto and also the Crystals Theater, the old Penon neighborhood and the prettiest little colonial church of San Antonio. This little church is much more than an old building; it is a colonial relic with its baroque main altar and its original bell tower.

After meeting my long-time-no-seen friends, we caught up for a couple of hours while having more than a few beers at the view point amongst hundreds of locals. It was getting late and I was ready for my Cali Salsa night!, so already in party mood, we all headed to Kukaramakara Cali one of the best salsa discos in town.

I had a fabulous time that night and danced nonstop as if I was at the very Salsodromo. When I noticed, I had danced until the early hours at the best Caleño style, and I was ready to go and sleep off the few “canecas” of aguardiente del Valle (bottles of local aguardiente) before continuing my trip to the surroundings of Cali on the valley of the Cauca River later that morning.

Cali's beautiful architecture
Cali’s beautiful architecture

Just a few things to keep in mind whilst travelling to Cali, Colombia:

My Top 5 things to do in Cali

• Go to Granada neighborhood for great food and drinks
• Have a beer or two at the Belalcazar viewpoint
• Have a “Cholao” (crushed ice with condensed milk, caramel and lemon) at the Canchas Panamericanas
• Go to La Cueva del Tango. A meeting point for salsa and tango dancers. Carrera 11 and Calle 22, Obrero neighborhood.
• Take a salsa lesson in one of the 220 salsa schools. The most famous ones are Swing Latino (calle 29 32B-33) house of many world champions and Rucafe where you learn to dance with no alcohol instead, they give you an empanada and a champus (a local frozen drink made of maize, lulo and pineapple) not my favorite but if you are there must try it!

Other cool stuff to see, do and eat in Cali

• Visit the Three Cross hill which can also be seen from the Belalcazar view point
• Visit the zoo. I’m not a fan at all but people highly recommend it. Carrera 2 oeste and Calle 14, Santa Teresita neighborhood.
• Visit the Pance River, just out of Cali.
• Buy hand crafts at the La Cruz hill/viewpoint.
• Have a pizza in Salerno
• Have a green mango with salt and lemon whilst walking along the Cali River.
• Have a beer at the Gato (cat) monument.
• You must eat plantain toasts at the Parque del Perro (dog’s park).
• Eat pandebonos…. you’ll see them everywhere for breakfast and as a snack.


Marcela (and Paul)