Cali — the capital of Colombia is the kingpin of the Valle del Cauca department. It sits in the depths of the green Andean ranges, surrounded by cocoa farms and jungle. The city itself is home to more than 2.3 million people. That makes it the most populous in south-western Colombia, and the third most populous in the country overall.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the town garnered a dark reputation for gang activity and cartel rule. However, recent years have seen regeneration in Cali, with prestigious sporting events and bohemian enterprises flooding back into the districts.
These days, there are oodles of things to do in Cali, whether that’s climbing high-altitude mountains or tapping your foot to a salsa beat. This guide reveals a curated selection of 10 of the top activities you can get up to. It’s got urban parks and Neo-Gothic church spires alike, so there should be something for every type of traveler…
Dance the salsa (or learn how to dance the salsa in Cali, Colombia!)
Cali locals often talk about how their city is the self-proclaimed salsa capital of the world. That’s not to say the foot-tapping dance was invented here. It wasn’t. It actually arrived in Colombia after being transferred by American naval officers via Cuba. Still, there’s no question that Cali is salsa mad. Yep, this Colombia city downtown is awash with neon-lit dance halls. There are burlesque taverns peppering its center. And you’ll catch little bars with twirling pairs of salsa dancers in the corners.
The upshot is that Cali, Colombia, is one darn fine place to try your hand at the style. There are oodles of schools with accomplished salsa teachers. They offer lessons in traditional Cuban salsa. Or, you can go for sessions in the home-grown Cali salsa (known locally as salsa caleña) method. That’s all about jostling your feet at high speed across the dancefloor, incorporating rock and roll kicks and twists as you go.
If you’re not one to hit the dancefloor yourself, you can always opt for a simple salsa show. They take place in cafes, bars, and even eateries all over town. Some of the best districts to look for an evening’s entertainment are around Avenida Sexta and the Juanchito sector.
Wander around the strange and pretty El Gato del Río, Cali Colombia
The centerpiece of the so-called Cat Park of Cali Colombia is the oversized bronze by Colombian artist Hernando Tejada, known as El Gato del Río. That stands proud on the side of the meandering Cali river at the western end of the metropolis. Around it, another 15 smaller figurines and models of cats have been added, creating a park that’s filled with feline effigies.
All the statues have their own unique flair and style. Some are colorful and creative. Others are dark and brooding. There are even cat figures with flamboyant bushy tails crafted from metal wiring. You can wander between the lot and spent time mulling the curious urban art of the city.
Wonder at the stunning Capilla La Ermita
The Capilla La Ermita clutches the edge of the Simón Bolívar Park in the beating heart of Cali, Colombia. It’s risen and risen since its construction in the first half of the 20th century to become a veritable icon of the town. It’s easy to see why…
The architecture is nothing short of stunning. Grand spires dotted with stone filigrees soar over the plaza. They crown a building of light blue and grey hues. Blooms of bougainvillea frame the lot from the nearby parklands, and elaborately gabled entranceways gild the façade.
The result is a masterwork of Neo-Gothic design. And that’s only talking about the outside. Delve in and you’ll be able to see a gorgeous altarpiece that was transported all the way to this Colombia city from Italy. The interiors also glow with a haze of light that filters through beautiful stained-glass windows depicting the lives of the apostles.
Whiz down the slides at the El Parque De La Caña, Cali
If you’re looking to inject a little adrenaline into that jaunt to Cali, Colombia, the El Parque De La Canya is sure to oblige. The largest waterpark in the country, it’s a top spot to go to cool off when the jungle heat gets just a little too much. There are wave pools, lazy rivers, and kids’ splash spots to get through.
Of course, there are slides to boot! From the high-speed Tobogan Kamikazee to the twirling Tobogan Extremo, these fun-filled rides help to make La Canya one of the best things to do in Cali for those with the family in tow. In addition to all that, there’s a manmade lake and a series of football pitches in the complex.
Entrance to the waterpark is around $4 per child and $5 per adult. Normal opening hours are from 9 am to 5 pm. Try to arrive early when it’s hot – the attraction can get busy when the Cali Colombia, the weather is on the balmy side.
Explore the Barrio San Antonio
Spilling down a hillside on the western edge of the Cali city center, Barrio San Antonio offers a glimpse at an age-old Colombia city. It’s all cobbled lanes and narrow alleys – the sort of vintage town you’d expect to find in Europe. Spanish-styled churches with adobe walls and whitewashed color schemes pepper the plazas. Carib-colored cottages line the streets. And you find rows of low-rise Latin bungalows to boot.
A lot of Cali, Colombia, locals will recommend the Barrio San Antonio as the place to go for regional food. There are countless little cantinas occupying the street corners. They serve salsas of chontaduro palm peaches and traditional mango viche cups. Interspersing them are art galleries and walls scrawled with intriguing street murals.
But the barrio isn’t just a hub for Colombia culture. You’ll also find loads of nightlife spots and bars within. And that’s not even mentioning the hand-roasted coffees that you can grab from the boho cafes. Most get their beans from plantations in the nearby Valle del Cauca.
Breakaway to beautiful Lake Calima, Cali
When the weather in Cali Colombia gets scorching (and it often does), you can plot a course for Lake Calima to be certain of somewhere to cool off. Cradled under the wooded Cerro Calima to the north of Cali, it’s a reservoir and a watersports hub to boot.
Most people will go for lively beach number five. That’s where most of the kitesurf schools await. Engage their services to make the most of the strong and constant winds that roll over this portion of the Colombian Andes. Or, think about hopping on one of the regular boat rides, which promise something of a more serene and relaxing day in the highlands.
Of course, you could also stick to dry land. Along the banks of Lake Calima, you can discover meandering bridle paths. And there’s a unique touch to the architecture up here so that the local homes resemble quaint Swiss chalets that look plucked straight out of the Bernese Alps.
Go hiking in the hills of Pance
Just a whisker to the south-west of Cali’s center, little Pance sits at the gateway to the Farallones de Cali National Natural Park. That makes it the perfect place to go if you’re pining to explore the wilder side of the Valle del Cauca. Accordingly, there are plenty of homestays and hiking outfitters set up in downtown.
The dramatic Pico de Loro keeps watching over Pance. The lookout points on those beckon trekkers with stunning panoramas of the region. As you gaze from them, it’s often possible to see all of Cali itself, along with the snow-capped topp of the colossal Nevado del Huila volcano to the west.
In addition to arduous hikes, Pance puts jungle walks and waterfalls on the menu. Some excursions from the town can take you to the Cascade Topacio, which crashes down sheer-cut cliffs in the middle of the rainforest. Other outings mean delving into woodlands filled with exotic hummingbirds and even capuchin monkeys!
Wander the artsy paths of Loma de Cruz
Every Colombia city has its great parks, and Cali is certainly no different. When you’re done pondering the curious feline structures of the Cat Park, how about moseying over to Loma de Cruz? This is a dedicated space for public art and sculpture. It’s sat just to the south of the Barrio San Antonio, so is easy to reach on foot.
The green spaces are shaded by high trees and there’s almost always some sort of arts festival or market taking place in the area. A Gaudi-style walkway pierces the main drag, linking all the nooks and crannies of the garden. And there are permanent shops where you can drop in for those important Cali souvenirs – think magnets, local Colombian crafts, novelty hats and more.
Ride the rails to San Cipriano
Set high up in the jungles on the Pacific side of the Valle del Cauca, tiny San Cipriano is a breath of fresh air away from the buzz of downtown Cali Colombia. It straddles a tropical river that’s known for its see-through waters. You can spend whole days chilling by the side of that, or opt for tube rides down it. There are also waterfalls and wild walking routes weaving and wiggling into the surrounding forests.
The natural wonders of San Cipriano aside, there’s another reason folk will flock from Cali to this high-perched hill station. It’s all about the ride in. You hop on handmade boxcars that sit on the old railway lines out of Cali and get pushed along by a purring motorbike engine. It’s certainly not the safest mode of transportation in Colombia (some accidents have been known to happen), but it’s sure to blow the cobwebs away!
Scramble to the top of Cerro de las Tres Cruces
Love views? Looking for adventure? Cue the Cerro de las Tres Cruces – the mountain of the crosses. Towering 1,480 meters above sea level right above the heart of the Cali, Colombia, downtown core, it’s an ever-present feature of the city’s topography. You’ll always be able to spy out the summit, not least of all because of the cluster of telegraph spires and crosses (hence the name) that adorns the top.
Getting there isn’t a walk in the park. Challenging lanes hop over the dusty ridges and the mud banks as you ascend. Along the way, you’ll need to scramble up grassy slopes and contend with the scorching heat of the Colombian jungles. The reward? Sweeping views of the metropolis, the rising Andes, and the green, rolling plains that unfold southwards.
The journey usually takes around an hour in total. It’s important to let somebody know you’ll be heading off up the Cerro de las Tres Cruces before you go. Oh, and be sure to take plenty of water, bug spray, and sunscreen!
So you’re planning a trip to Cali, Colombia?
We promise the best attractions to keep you entertained. And though this city might be underrated, there are so much more awaits, than any one of us can imagine. Explore and have fun. Share with us your experience here in Cali Colombia, we love to hear from you.