Cali is the swinging salsa capital of southern Colombia; a hot city near the Pacific coast which moves to its own unique rhythm and lives and breathes salsa music. It might not be as touristic as Bogotà or Medellín, but Cali has plenty to offer, and you will easily be able to fill 24 hours in the city. Here’s how to make the most of your time.
When you arrive in Cali in the morning, head to a hostel or hotel located in or around the neighbourhoods of San Antonio or Versalles – these are where most of the best hostels are clustered, and the neighbourhoods are traveller-friendly and feature plenty of good restaurants and cafés.
Once you’ve checked in, head out into Cali for a morning of exploring the best of what the city has to offer. Make sure not to miss a walk around the San Antonio neighbourhood: sites of interest there include San Antonio Church, a pretty little whitewashed church perched on a nice little hill with great views of Cali in the background; El Gato del Rio, a small riverside park famous for its beautiful and abstract sculptures of cats by artist Hernando Tejada; and the Museo la Tertulia, Cali’s best modern-art museum.
After your trip to the museum, head a couple of blocks over to Hotel Obelisco, where you can sample some of Cali’s most typical dishes for lunch, including chuleta valluna (breaded pork cutlets), and mini-empanadas known as empanaditas.
In the afternoon, it’s time for some fun at the zoo! While many zoos are far from pleasant places, Cali’s zoo is the best in Colombia and also operates as a foundation which invests most of its profits back into conservation efforts throughout Colombia. The beauty of the Cali Zoo is that it’s a truly Colombian affair, with many of the species on display native to the country, so it’s a wonderful place to discover the magic of Colombia’s enviable biodiversity.
In the evening, there’s really only one thing you should plan to do in Cali: dance salsa! The city is the Colombian capital of salsa music, and there are dance clubs and salsa bars open every single night of the week, making for a contrast from many Colombian cities, where it could be hard to find a good night out during the week. Ask in your hostel or hotel where the recommended bar is on your night of the week – although many of the better hostels have boards listing where to go out dancing for any given night – and pop on your dancing shoes.
Recommended salsa bars in Cali include Tin Tin Deo, La Topa Tolondra, Zaperoco and Delirio. However, you can’t go wrong by simply asking a local where they like to dance salsa – most people in Cali will have a strong opinion on the subject, so you’re bound to end up somewhere good by simply canvassing the staff of your hostel! Many of the better hostels also offer free salsa lessons, so you can get a bit of experience so as to not embarrass yourself in front of the calenos and calenas!
The next morning, chances are that you will be pretty exhausted from your dancing exploits the previous night, and by now your 24 hours in Cali have come to an end, so take one last chance to take a stroll around the streets of San Antonio or Versalles, enjoy a fresh lulada juice and a pan de bono snack before heading out of town, safe in the knowledge that you have enjoyed the perfect 24-hour trip.