What should I visit in Cali? Basic guide to the salsa capital

The city, known as “A Branch of Heaven”, offers salsa classes, ecotourism and nightlife.

One of Colombia’s principal urban, industrial and cultural centers, the vibrant city of Cali attracts visitors throughout the year from across the world.

Prepare for your trip with this tourist guide and discover why it’s been said that Cali is a branch of heaven!

Route 1: Cultural Cali

The “Branch of Heaven” is also a haven for art thanks to the city’s network of museums and contemporary art galleries. This route will uncover the cultural face of the capital of the Valley:

ª The route begins at the Calima Gold Museum, a museum of the Bank of the Republic, which houses a magnificent archeological collection of gold ornaments, wood and stone artifacts and ceramic figures from the early settlers in the Valle del Cauca and the semi-nomadic groups that inhabit the region.

º The next stop is the Merced Archeological Museum, Cali’s most important museum, where you’ll find ceramic objects from the people of Quimbaya, Calima, Tierradentro, San Agustín, Tumaco and Nariño, and a replica of a funerary temple constructed below the earth. Here you’ll find cultural activities like documentary screenings, book launches, plays and poetry readings.

The museum is part of the Complejo Religioso La Merced, or the La Merced Religious Complex, which also includes the Colonial Art Museum and the Merced Church.

º Next, head to the Enrique Buenaventura Municipal Theatre, declared a national monument in 1982, or check out the nearby contemporary art circuit, made up of the Association for the Promotion of the Arts Proartes, the Jenny Vila Gallery and the La sucursal.clo, among others.

º The last stop on the route is the Tertulia Museum, just 5 minutes from the Peñón Park on Avenida Belalcázar, where you will find a space dedicated to contemporary art, an educational room and an engraving workshop.

Route 2: For nature lovers

Thanks to its privileged geography, Colombia is the second country with the highest

biodiversity in the world, as well as the second highest number of flowering plants, and is an ideal ecotourism destination.

In Cali and the Cauca Valley, you will find a variety of options for ecotourism and open-air sports. Here are the highlights:

º Bird watching and hiking

To observe the region’s rich natural beauty, visit the San Antonio Cloud Forrest, located just 20 minutes from Cali’s urban center and home to more than 210 species of birds.

Another option is the National Farallones Park, an hour and 15 minutes from Cali by highway and home to more than 300 species of birds, or 40% of the country’s known species. In addition to bird watching, the park offers camping, ecological walks and hiking.

º Water sports

The Calima Lake, three hours from the Valley’s capital between the Darién and Restrepo municipalities, experience the best winds in the Americas and the third lake with the strongest winds in the world, making it ideal for water sports like sailing, water skiing and diving.

Other sites to see in Cali include the zoo, 10 hectares (25 acres) that are home to 350 animals, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, fish and butterflies; and the Orquideorama, where each November, more than 5,000 varieties of orchids are on display from Colombia, Uruguay and Peru, among other countries.

Route 3: To see with family

Between Palmira and El Cerrito, approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes from Cali via Ginebra, you’ll find the Sugar Cane Park Museum, an ideal place to visit with family and to learn more about the culture of the Valle de Cauca. With a guided tour, discover the history of the sugar cane industry. You’ll also have the chance to experience more than 300 plant species and 100 bird species that live in the park’s nearly 7 hectares (17 acres).

Route 4: Restaurants to try in Cali

Also known as “La Sultana del Valle,” The Sultan of the Valley, Cali offers gastronomy for all tastes. Here are our recommendations:

º Colombian food

Let yourself enjoy the unique flavors of los aborrajados (plantain croquettes), las marranitas (green plantain balls stuffed with pork belly), la lulada (Colombian lulo drink), el champús valluno (lulo, pineapple and corn drink) and el sancocho de gallina (hen sancocho) in a wood oven in some of the city’s most typical restaurants, like El Zaguán de San Antonio, located in the city’s colonial sector, or El Portón de Meléndez. If you’re looking for the best pandebonos (Colombian cheese bread), pandeyucas (Colombian yucca bread), kumis (yogurt drink) and avena (oatmeal drink) in Cali, don’t miss 100 años de Pandebono or La Casa del Pandeyuca.

For foods from other regions in the country, La Barra and the open kitchen in the Teatro Mágico del Sabor are two spots you won’t want to miss.

º International food

During your stay in Cali, enjoy flavors from around the world, thanks to restaurants like Pica, with its creative Peruvian cuisine; Il Forno, specializing in Italian food; and Bourbon Street, with an extensive menu of Cajun Creole dishes inspired by New Orleans, among others.

º To finish your gastronomy tour with a sweet treat, visit Macondo Postres y Café, selected by La Barra Magazine in 2014 as having the second best coffee in Colombia, or Primos, located in the Parque del Perro, a sector known for its restaurants and bars.

Route 5:  Salsa schools and clubs in Cali

º If you’re looking to improve your moves, the World Capital of Salsa is the idea place to learn to dance at one of the city’s more than 100 salsa schools. Here is a directory of Salsa schools in Cali.

º After class, practice at La Bodega Cubana or the famous Club Discoteca Changó in the Juanchito neighborhood, known around the world as the salsa Mecca. Tin Tin Deo, La Topa Tolondra and Éxtasis are some of the most visited Salsa clubs in Cali.

º If you’re in Cali the last Friday of the month, don’t miss the carpa Delirio. Located in the Parque del Amor, this 4-level, 800 square meter space offers a salsa and circus show with more than 120 artists and a live orchestra.

º The Salsa capital also offers a number of other musical genres: for crossover, head to Kukaramakara and Praga, and for rock, try Martyn’s Bar.

º If you’re traveling during the Feria de Cali, this infographic will provide everything you need to know about one of Colombia’s most important celebrations.

Keep in mind:

º Flights to the international Alfonso Bonilla Aragón airport, located in the city of Palmira, originate from Miami and New York, in the U.S.; San Salvador, El Salvador; Esmeraldas, Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Madrid, Spain.

º The airport also has connecting flights to 12 national destinations (Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Guapi, Medellín, Pasto, Puerto Asís, Quibdó, Santa Marta and San Andrés) via 6 airlines.

º At the airport, you’ll find 24-hour taxi service, buses to the Cali and Palmira transport terminals and car rental services. If you’re interested in these options, inquire at the airport.

º Cali’s climate is humid and warm, so don’t forget to pack light, cotton clothing.

º Check the weather forecast before your trip; you may be arriving during winter, when downpours are likely.

º Cali has an integrated transport system that connects the city. It costs $1.700 Colombian pesos per trip.

º If you’re traveling by taxi, the minimum trip is around $4.500 Colombian pesos.

For further information on the Valle del Cauca, read these articles (in Spanish):

Vallecaucana Food: highly provocative and seductive

Cali, a key industrial investment hub

La Feria del Cali, a party to the salsa beat

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