Cali is the forgotten mistress of Colombian cities: hot, sprawling, unruly, unforgiving and ultimately captivating in the chaos of its seductive embrace. It can offer a hedonistic salsa-inspired break for the visitor, but can also surprise and overwhelm. There is seemingly no order to the construction or layout of the various neighborhoods here and the first time visitor may find this a daunting prospect. But rest assured the Caleños, with their blend of African and Spanish heritage, have a different, more relaxed, outlook on life and ensure an unforgettable and all-embracing welcome to Colombia's second city.
Cali is both a geographically strategic and important economic hub, providing tourists with access to the Pacific ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco whilst being surrounded by immense cultivations of sugarcane that stretch out into the distance. Don't get the wrong idea though: work and economic drive come a distant second to the more hedonistic pleasures the city has to offer.
While Caleños are notoriously laid back, they take their salsa and partying seriously, as demonstrated by the numerous dance venues on Avenida Quinta, in the outlying barrio of Juanchito and, of course, during the notorious Feria de Cali every December.
For lazy days of sightseeing the colonial district of San Antonio is hard to beat. Gently inclining streets take the visitor to a shady area of town free from the congestion seen elsewhere. Bohemian in style, benefitting from a gentle afternoon breeze and with fantastic views over the sprawling urban area, it is a great place to enjoy some traditional food from the Valle de Cauca.
Given its proximity to the Pacific coast it will come as no surprise that seafood features heavily on the Caleño menu, but opt for something different, perhaps the piangua clam that is harvested by hand from the roots of the mangrove trees, and wash it down with local juices with exotic sounding names such as of the chontaduro or borojo fruits. Even more traditional is champus, a drink made from a base of maize and blended with cinnamon, pineapple and lulo.
If you fancy escaping the cacophony of car horns and diesel emitting buses, then take a day trip out to San Cipriano where the locals have constructed motorbike powered trams on a disused railway line to transport locals, goods and now tourists to their isolated town. Here, after an adventurous journey, you can swim in crystalline green pools. Alternatively, head to the holiday destinations of Juanchaco and Ladrilleros for beautiful beaches and whale-watching.
Carrera 7 No. 13-55
sanˈtjaɰo ð̞e ˈkali, Colombia
Casona Vieja Bosque Municipal 200 MTS después del Zoológico
Calle 5 No 38-71