As someone with two left feet, the Salsa Capital of the World seems like the last place I’d want to live. But with its energetic people and colorful culture, Cali made me fall in love. I’ve lived here for the past year and just can’t seem to leave.
Unfortunately, Cali is often underrated and overlooked as a travel destination because of its violent past. But the city is outgrowing its old reputation and is now an exciting and beautiful place to visit while in Colombia. Here’s what you need to know before visiting Cali, Colombia!
How to Get There – Cali Colombia
Cali has its own a irport- Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO)- which can be reached by domestic flights from other cities in Colombia and by international flights from Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and the United States. From the airport, visitors can take a taxi into the city for $50,000 COP or call an Uber for about the same price.
On land, Cali can be reached by bus from other major cities, like Bogotá and Medellín, but the trips are between 10 and 25 hours. I recommend flying with a budget airline instead, like Viva Colombia, which will only take 30 minutes to 2 hours and isn’t much more expensive.
Weather in Cali Colombia
Cali is super hot- at least coming from a person who’s used to four seasons and a brutal winter! The average temperature is between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius (77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, but the nights are a little cooler and refreshing.
It usually rains a lot between February and May, so come prepared with some clothes for the rain if you’re visiting during this time.
Safety in Cali Colombia
Cali has a reputation for being a dangerous city, but times are changing. While you do need to be a little more aware than in other places, there’s no need to worry! As a woman living alone here, I can assure you that it’s not as dangerous as people make it out to be.
Colombians love to use the expression no da papaya (don’t give papaya), which is their way of saying “Don’t make yourself a target”.
If you’re walking around with your typical foreigner outfit, talking on your iPhone, and not paying attention to your things, your chances of being robbed are about 1000% higher.
You can look nice, but try not to be overly flashy and always try to be aware of what’s going on around you. Use your judgment. If someone starts talking to you and you feel uncomfortable just walk away or to an area with more people. If you’re walking alone at night, stick to busier streets.
Petty theft is the biggest safety concern in Cali, but it’s incredibly easy to reduce the chances of it happening to you just by taking some simple precautions.
Where to Stay in Cali Colombia
There are several different neighborhoods in Cali and options for all types of budgets.
Most of the hostels are located in the neighborhood San Antonio. It’s one of the coolest places to stay in the city and I always recommend it to travelers. You can find a hostel for between $20,000 COP and $40,000 COP per night. Other neighborhoods with hostels include Parque del Perro and Granada.
If you have a mid-range budget there are plenty of AirBnBs and mid-range hotels throughout the city, priced anywhere from $45,000 COP to $100,000 COP per night. The North, South, and West are all great places to stay in the city.
If you’re looking to splurge, you can stay in some of the luxury hotels located in upscale neighborhoods like El Peñon, Santa Monica, or Ciudad Jardin. The most popular luxury hotels in the city are the Intercontinental in El Peñon and the Spiwak Hotel in Santa Monica.
Avoid staying in or visiting the East or center of the city unless you’re with someone who knows the area well. The areas around the Mio Station “Centro” and around El Bulevar are exceptions, but it’s best to visit during the day and be extra careful with your belongings. Some great places to go out are located in the center and it’s perfectly safe to take a taxi or an Uber there.
How to Get Around Cali Colombia
If you’re on a budget, Cali’s public bus system is called the Mio. It’s not so bad if you just have to take it every now and again. But if you need to travel a lot, it’s a nightmare.
If you can, I recommend taking Uber. It’s cheaper than taxi and the service is much better. It’s technically illegal, but tolerated. The only difference is that someone in your group should sit in the front with the driver and if the car is stopped by the Transit Police you should say that the driver is someone you know personally.
You can go from the North to the South of the city for about $15,000 COP. I almost never spend more than $11,000 COP, so it’s super affordable!
The Best Places to Eat in Cali Colombia
Cali has a huge selection of food- you can find anything from street food to satisfy your late-night cravings to upscale Peruvian and Argentinian restaurants.
The most typical street foods in the city are mazorca (a type of corn on the cob), obleas (two wafers filled with caramel, coconut, peanuts, and more), empanadas, arepas (a sort of corn pancake, usually with cheese), and other fried foods. I also recommend trying the fresh fruit from vendors on the street. Mango Biche- green mango with lime and salt- is a personal favorite!
Cholado and champús are two things you should definitely try when you visit. Cholado is crushed ice with fruit juice, fruit, condensed milk, and sometimes more ingredients. You can buy it in El Bulevar and other parks in the city. Champús is a drink made with corn, lulo (a local fruit), pineapple, and more and you can also buy it in parks throughout the city.
Typical Colombian food is available throughout Cali. My favorite places are Chocolate in San Antonio, El Buen Alimento (for vegetarian food) in San Antonio, and Pizzeria El Balcón on the way to Cristo Rey (this restaurant also has one of the best views of Cali).
The fanciest restaurants in Cali are generally Peruvian, Argentinian, or Italian restaurants. You can find these in the neighborhoods El Peñon, Ciudad Jardin, and Granada.
I’m also a huge fan of brunch and am happy to say that, after a long search, I have discovered a place with brunch and amazing Bloody Marys: Gringo Restaurant in El Peñon.
Some of my favorite places in Cali Colombia are:
San Antonio Park. It’s a nice park with a beautiful view of the city and is a great place to go at night with friends and grab a bite to eat or something to drink.
Cristo Rey, which is a giant statue of Jesus. But the real attraction is the view of Cali. Go around 4 P.M. and watch the city light up. Tip: Go during the week because on the weekends it’s overcrowded with locals.
El Gato is a really cool place to go if you’re into art. The story behind it is that the giant cat statue is “El Gato” and all of the smaller cats are his girlfriends competing for his attention. Each of the girlfriend cats was painted by a local artist and has its own personality description.
Kilometro 18 is the highest point between Cali and Buenaventura. It’s located just outside of the city and it’s a great place to go to escape Cali’s heat. It’s popular for groups of friends to come here to enjoy the cold and eat some typical Colombian food.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there are places just outside of the city which are popular for hiking and/or mountain biking. For example, Pico de Loro (a mountain around 2,800 meters high or about 9,000 feet) and Charco Escondido
There are also plenty of large malls around the city for shopping. The most popular are Chipichape, Pacific Mall, and Jardín Plaza. El Único is a popular outlet mall.
Cali is especially known for its nightlife. Caleños love a good party. Some great clubs that I can personally recommend are La Terraza, La Pérgola, La Purga, and Cafe Mi Tierra.
Experiencing the salsa culture is half the fun of Cali! Salsa dancing is what defines Cali and it’s what the locals are most proud of. I can guarantee that almost every person you meet will ask ¿y has bailado salsa?.
There are several great salsa schools in San Antonio- and some even offer free classes on certain days (like Salsa Pura does on Fridays). You’ll have no trouble finding a club that plays salsa music, although it might be almost impossible to find one that doesn’t. La Topa Tolondra, located on the Avenida 5, is a great place for foreigners to go and practice their moves- or even just watch the locals in their natural element!
On your next visit to Colombia, give Cali a chance and let it surprise you!
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The author of this piece is Brittany, who is originally from the US, but has been living in Cali Colombia while she works as a travel writer at her blog Leaving Gringolandia. You can connect with her there or catch her on Facebook.
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