Cali is Colombia’s third biggest city and is the capital of the department Valle del Cauca. Located on the east coast of Colombia Valle del Cauca is renowned for its hot weather and Cali is no exception. With a tropical savanna climate Cali has a yearly average temperature of 30 ºC (86º F) and is often quite humid.
What to see and do in Cali
As in the case of many Colombian cities the best places to head for socializing, drinking and eating are the parks. Cali is no different. Despite its rather unattractive name Parque del Perro (Dog Park) is a great place to enjoy a beer or fruit juice. Set in the relaxed upper-end neighbourhood of San Fernando this tree-laden park is host to a variety of restaurants and is a lively place to start the night on a weekend. Meanwhile, a 15-minute walk away, Parque Panamericano is a must visit and is famous for hosting large events and sporting competitions. This park is also a great place to try a traditional ‘cholado’ - a delicious mixture of exotic fruits, ice cream and condensed milk. One of the city’s newest parks is the Parque Artesanal Loma de la Cruz (Artisan Park) which opened in 1990. This park, situated just north of San Fernando, gives a unique experience as you can be entertained by the various storytellers re-telling the history of Cali and Colombia. One particular highlight is the improvisational performers who use their wit and ingenuity to entertain the crowd with stories and performances. Located on a hill, this park also offers great views of the city.
The city has in its ranks one of the most famous zoos in the country, with one survey ranking the Zoologico de Cali in the top 5 in Latin America. Located alongside the Cali River this zoo has a glowing reputation for its projects and research on animal conservation, diet and improvements in environments. The zoo’s star attractions include two South African rhinos, an Asiatic brown bear and a friendly Galapagos giant tortoise which gives rides to children on its back.
Nightlife and Dancing
Even though dance and in particular salsa is popular throughout the whole of the country, Cali still holds the title of the ‘capital of salsa’ not just in Colombia but worldwide. In virtually any bar or club you attend in the city salsa or variations of the dance will be on show. There are two main areas in Cali which are dance hot spots, Juanchito and Menga. Located 30 minutes south of the city centre Juanchito is the place to go for traditional salsa dancing. This small village caters for a much older clientele in its various large clubs and bars. Agapito is a popular destination for locals, especially on Sunday afternoons when it hosts a ‘viejoteca’ event for the older dancers in Cali. Those of the younger generation would be better advised to head to Menga, in the north of the city. Here you can find a variety of clubs catering not just for salsa but other music including electronic and commercial. Café mi Tierra is a particular highlight as its spacious layout with three main areas creates a lively atmosphere without being too overrun. Close by is Praga, a large club which is always brimming on a weekend thanks to its perfect blend of salsa and crossover music coupled with a great sound system and light shows.
Places to visit near Cali
Just outside the city lies the township of Pance which is extremely popular thanks to its glorious river often frequented by locals, especially on a weekend, looking for a relaxing lunch and refreshing bathe in the lush waters. Meanwhile two and a half hours drive west from Cali is situated San Cipriano, a small village with a plethora of activities to enjoy. Set in rainforest surroundings San Cipriano offers trekking, swimming and rafting in its crystal clear waters, while the unique transport of a train / motorcycle is a memorable experience for visitors. Bus journeys from Cali cost 20,000 pesos (as of 2013) while the cost of a ride on the train/motorcycle is 8,000 pesos.
Best time to visit Cali
In December Cali hosts an annual Salsa festival (Feria de Cali) during which time the city moves into overdrive. For a week the city is transformed into a hive of activity with spectacular dance shows, salsa parades and all-night fiestas (parties), creating a feel-good vibe among the residents. The Feria which is traditionally held from 25-30 December is certainly the showpiece event for this city and attracts visitors from all over Colombia and indeed all over the world. Be warned hostels and hotels book up quickly so it is advisable to reserve in good time. Those who do manage to make it will not be disappointed.
Getting around in Cali
Although Cali doesn’t have a metro service like Medellin, it does have a metro-bus service, MIO, which is the main mode of public transport in the city. Major routes for the MIO are separate from the regular roads which make it an ideal way to navigate your way around the city without the annoyance of traffic jams. It is necessary to buy a card beforehand which you can top up at the desk before your journey. The city also operates a regular ‘street’ bus service which is slightly more complicated to navigate than the MIO. Another useful way of getting around is in taxis which have set prices for various locations in the city.
Getting to and from Cali
A 15-minute drive to the north west of the city in Palmira is located the airport, Alfonso Bonilla Aragon, servicing domestic and international flights. Cali is also easily reachable by bus from all major cities in Colombia with the terminal located in the city centre.
Safety in Cali
In terms of safety, Cali is like any other major city in Colombia in that you should take precautions when using your valuable items such as a camera or phone in public areas. You should avoid the poor areas known as Comunas in the city altogether, unless you are with a local who knows the area. It is also recommended that alcohol only be purchased from recognized shops and supermarkets rather than street vendors as cases of poisoning have been reported in the past. Otherwise the locals are extremely friendly and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome in their city.
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