Simmering in the heat of it’s warmer low altitude tropical microclimate – is Cali, Colombia. A city that has been plagued by violence and upheaval for years, yet still attracts tourists, English teachers and foreign residents. In this article I will show you why you should add it to your itinerary. You will discover a different vibe, delicious food, art, museums, dance, colonial architecture, unique churches and more! Come along with me as I show you the Two Day Two Night Guide to Cali, Colombia.
The Two Day Two Night Guide to Cali, Colombia
How to Get There
You can drive, fly in or take a bus. In this case I opted to go by bus because the road from Periera to Cali is relatively straight flat and only two hours and 45 minutes by van. For me, it is one of the easiest-to-get-to big city destinations from the Coffee Region. In fact, the airport is actually outside the city and that can turn out to be an expensive taxi ride if you don’t want to go for a shuttle or bus option.
Where to Stay
If you prefer energy, salsa and a cocktail by the pool – I recommend El Viajero. If you prefer quiet nights, city views and privacy, then Hostal Kilele should be on your list.
El Viajero is a well-known hostel chain in South America. They have managed to create a brand that is easy to understand and irresistible which comes with a social scene that solo travelers will appreciate. In Cali, they offer salsa classes, a pool, bar service, tour options and BBQ parties every weekend. Their beds are comfortable, the showers offer hot water, and their staff is bilingual. You won’t have any problem meeting people or finding things to do. They are my favorite hostel in Cali, but visitors over 18 years old only, and no children.
Hostal Kilele is a newer hostel which is still under development. For now, they offer simple accommodations, average prices and a swimming pool. This option is great if you are traveling in a large group because you will find it easier to book, or if you have difficulty sleeping and need a quieter ambiance. The day we had arrived, there a girl working there who made us miserable by making us wait an hour for our rooms, after I changed my reservation (due to their lack of communication when I called to confirm the booking and prices). The next day we met Louisa and her boyfriend. They were very kind, empathetic and helpful – and it actually helped to make up for our poor reception.
What to Do in Cali, Colombia
Cali is more than the violence and crime which has for so long given it a bad reputation. It is the salsa capital of the world, it has a great shopping scene, a nice zoo, green spaces, hikes and museums. If the coffee region is for living the good life, Cali is for partying it up. You will find a culture that is warm and vibrant.
- Dance Salsa: Check into a hostel like El Viajero where free dance lessons are offered to guests. Be sure to visit places like Tin Tin Deo, Juanchito and Avenida Sexta – where you can find a variety of bars and nightclubs. If you are planning to stay longer, then there are many larger dedicated salsa schools who can help you learn how to get your rhythm. Click here to read more about my experience at Tin Tin Deo: openmindedtraveler.com/the-cali-colombia-salsa-scene/
- Hike: Near to downtown, the historic district of San Antonio and the upscale elegance of Centenario, is a mountain called Cerro de las Tres Cruces, or Hilltop of the Three Crosses at 1,465 meters above sea level. This hike is medium difficulty.
- Visit a Museum: Especially if you live in Colombia, you can learn a lot from the wealth of knowledge stored in the vaults of Cali Museums. Gold, artifacts, natural science and even cinema are featured topics of the museums available to visitors. Definitely check out Museo Archeologico La Merced, Museo de Oro in Banco de la Republica, and Caliwood.
- Go to a water park: Maybe you are wondering if Cali would be a good family destination. And, you will find out that yes it is. Hit the wave pool and slides at their water theme park named “Acuaparque de la Caña.” acuaparquecali.com
- Attend a festival. There are a few major festivals that you may want to plan for, the most famous being the Festivo Mundial de Salsa which is in September and Feria de la Caña which spans most of December ending right on or before Christmas Day.
- Discover Art and Culture. Check out the local and regional artisan crafts and souvenirs at Loma de la Cruz. Take breathtaking pictures of the city at Iglesia de San Antonio and wander the many art galleries, like Galeria Kaly – where you can buy nice PreColombino Art replicas. You will also find pottery studios in the neighborhood of San Antonio if you want to make your own piece. There are several theaters and cinemas throughout the city, be sure to check online at least one week prior to your visit for ticket sales and programming information. Special events may require ticket purchase ahead of time for best prices and availability.
There are legitimate reasons to exercise caution wherever you go. At the same time, you shouldn’t let it discourage you from visiting this fun and beautiful city during your Colombian vacation and our Two Day Two Night Guide to Cali, Colombia is here to help.
Where to Eat
With a nice variety of options, you can eat and drink your way across Cali. Then go dance off the extra calories at nightfall! Some of the places we recommend are in different areas. Some I found during my last visit, others are locally famous.
For Breakfast & Coffee:
Krost Bakery – This French-influenced bakery will have your mouth watering as soon as you walk in the door. Their coffee is great, but be sure to give their Chai Tea a chance too. My mother liked it so much she drank TWO in one day – and they are a good size. Their bacon sandwich is incredibly loaded with bacon – in a good way! I also liked their chocolate pastry but lost the cinnamon rolls before I could try them (they looked so good!).
Lunch or Dinner:
Cocina Artesanal Mexicana – Welcome to taco heaven. If only I could take this place home to Pereira with me! This was the best taco I have eaten in Colombia. They even have their own taco sauce which isn’t very strong, but super tasty, with a tiny bit of spice. They have a margarita made from “flor de jamaica” which you won’t find on the menu, but is available upon request. It was perfect! My mom had a burrito and Agua de Flor de Jamaica (Or Hibiscus Infused water).
Platillos Voladores – Or flying plates. I haven’t been here yet – but it is on my radar.
Cantina La 15 (note: You must call ahead for a reservation. Locals are reporting that there can be a bit of a wait for food due to demand and popularity). I was planning to go here, but due to the wet cold and rainy weather we unexpectedly encountered – the trip was cut short. But I would still like to try this restaurant and really see their dinner show presentation (no cover) and try their delicious Tex-Mex Infusion cuisine!
Recommendations for Visitors
- Don’t try to go to dangerous areas. Observe your surroundings and stay in places where security is visible, the lighting is good and the people look like they all have good jobs. Don’t flash money and/or electronics in public places. Organize your money so that you have coins and small bills available. Keep larger bills in a secret pocket or more well-secured part of your clothing and accessories. Avoid carrying more than 100,000 pesos in public places, and no more than 500,000 pesos in shopping malls and upscale restaurants to help prevent heavy damages in the case of theft.
- When in doubt – take a taxi. As one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia crime and fraud are an issue. And, you can prevent most bad situations through basic caution. If you are torn between walking and taking a taxi – take a taxi. For this reason, Cali isn’t the most convenient walking city. Don’t hesitate to ask a restaurant or business to call you a taxi. Never get into a taxi with plates from another city, they may not be working with proper license, or worse.
- Definitely take a couple lessons at a school or hostel. You will feel better when you go out, and if you do choose to imbibe – you will have some muscle memory to run-on. Cali is a great place for trained dancers especially, because you will see every style of salsa, but also meringue and bachata you could imagine. At the same time, be respectful of the time and effort others have invested in themselves by ensuring you know the basic steps before you expect too much of their time or attention.
- Do your homework. As the Colombian economy continues to slow down change is happening in the local markets. A famous French restaurant which has been blogged about frequently by other visitors has recently closed. La Tartine in San Antonio has closed down. As of our visit in September 2017, they are no longer in operation. If you see a restaurant which is empty at 7 pm on a Friday – there is a reason. We made the mistake of trying to eat dinner at a place nearby that looked good – but was totally empty. Their fish was too fishy and their beef too tough. Lesson learned.
- Don’t overlook the intellectual potential. Cali may read like an adventure novel, but it has many museums which are well-put together. Primarily La Merced, Natural Science and the Gold Museum. They even claim to have the first Cinema museum in Colombia – which is currently on my “To-Do” list. The Gold museum is beautiful and La Merced has plenty of artifacts, some English translation, and great insights into local and regional indigenous cultures.
- Keep your camera handy. There are many beautiful fountains all over the city. There are also many statues and beautiful Colonial houses to take pictures of. Even intersections provide great photo opportunities as you will often see people dancing popular and cultural dances for coins. Don’t forget to thank them with a coin if you liked their performance.
World Salsa Festival 2017 http://www.cali.gov.co/cultura/publicaciones/131989/festival-mundial-de-salsa-de-cali-2017/
Water Park Cali http://acuaparquecali.com/web/
Kilele Hostel https://www.facebook.com/kilelehostel/