“That’s the city I have to bus through to get down into Ecuador, right? I’ll probably just stop for a night to break up my journey. I heard there’s not much to see…”
Talk to anyone about their Colombia itinerary, and that’s the response you’ll likely get.
And it’s a shame, really.
Medellin, Cartagena and Bogota get all the attention, while Cali—the Salsa Capital of the World— is overlooked.
Well, that ends today.
I’m about to show you why Cali is a city NOT be missed.
While not the most touristic (or prettiest) city in Colombia, there are loads of fun things to do in Cali Colombia.
It has a special charm and a weird way of sucking people in (said the guy who came for a weekend and ended up staying for 3+ years).
So, whether you’re planning an extended stay or just passing through, here are some awesome activities that’ll make Cali worth your while.
March 2021 Update: Cali has been slowly been opening back up after a long lockdown. In February, there were frequent “toques de queda” or “mini-lockdowns” where everything shut down for a few days. That said, things are starting to feel a bit more relaxed now. Expect mask requirements and capacity limits in different establishments. Before traveling to Cali, make sure you check the current situation online. Hopefully, things will be back to normal soon!
Cali Colombia Map
Before jumping into the list of cool places to visit in Cali Colombia, take a quick peek at this map to help orient yourself. I’ve added pins for all the sites I mention around the city.
#1 – Enjoy the “Pizza Path” up to Cristo Rey
Cristo Rey (Christ the King) is Cali’s version of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city.
Not just the statue itself, but also the view of the city.
And it gets even better.
On the path up to Cristo Rey (what I call the “Pizza Path”), you’ll find thousands of delicious pizzerias with stunning views of the city. (Ok, maybe not thousands, but like 20).
Here’s my advice.
Cristo Rey is normally open from 9am-7pm on weekdays and 9am-8pm on weekends. But if I were you, I would shoot to arrive around 5pm.
That way, you won’t have to endure the afternoon heat, you can catch the sunset, and best of all, you can grab some dangerously cheesy pizza for dinner afterwards.
#2 – Take salsa classes
Out of all the things Colombia is known for, salsa dancing is up there at the top. And the best place to dance salsa?
Cali’s claim to fame is salsa. The city lives and breathes it. From taking salsa lessons, to partying in salsa discotecas, to enjoying impressive salsa shows – if you like dancing, Cali is the city for you.
There are hundreds of salsa schools in Cali. And depending on where you go, you can find daily group classes for as little as 5,000 pesos and private lessons for 50,000.
Note: To help you estimate prices, $1 USD is roughly 3000 Colombian pesos. (Update: As of January 2021, it’s hovering around 3500 COP per $1 USD. Colombia is an affordable country to begin with, but right now, you’re money will go even further.)
Some popular schools are Joy Dance, Manicero, Arrebato, Swing Latino, and Salsa Pura. Many hostels offer free (albeit very basic) salsa lessons as well.
Salsa dancing is hands-down one of the best things to do in Cali Colombia (I’d even say it was one of my best experiences in South America as a whole). If you come to Cali and don’t dance, you’re missing out!
#3 – Dance at the salsa clubs
After you take a few lessons, you’ll probably want to test them out on the dance floor. And let me tell you, there’s no shortage of options here.
You can find popular places to dance salsa every night of the week. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of discotecas for you to get a taste of Cali Colombia nightlife.
If you’re only in Cali for a few nights, I’d recommend the La Topa Tolondra. It’s the most popular salsa bar in town and will give you a genuine Cali Colombia salsa experience.
If you have more time, you can also visit my list of “honorable mention” salsa clubs—Zaperoco, Tin Tin Deo, MalaMaña, and Salsa al Parque (“Salsa at the Park” – a monthly event)
Discotecas within the city limits close at 4am. That said, if you’re looking to party ALL night, just head outside the city to Menga or Juanchito, where the party never ends. (Note: These places are best visited with a Colombian friend who can help you avoid sketchy areas.)
Basically, if you looking for what to do in Cali at night…you’re spoiled for options.
#4 – Get “wow-ed” at a salsa show
But what if you’ve got two left feet and would rather just watch other people dance?
Well, there’s something for you too.
There are a handful of remarkable salsa shows where you can go to eat, drink, and enjoy the best professional dancers of Cali (and the world). The most popular show is called Delirio—a salsa-circus hybrid.
Delirio performs once per month and is probably the best “Cali-style” salsa show on earth. It’s a little pricey (115,000 – 240,000 pesos depending on your seat), but it’s definitely a show you’ll never forget.
#5 – Explore the San Antonio neighborhood
Cali isn’t as touristic as some other Colombian cities. But most travelers who do visit tend to stay in the San Antonio neighborhood. It’s the “historical zone” of Cali, where all the houses still have traditional architecture.
It has a different feel from the rest of the city. I want to say that feeling is “quaint”…
But when the park and streets are jam-packed full of people and motorcycles on weekends, it loses a bit of that quaintness (great for people-watching though).
In San Antonio, you’ll find basically everything you need. Hostels, Airbnbs, salsa dancing schools, souvenir shops, and all sorts of creative bars and restaurants.
There are also many comfy cafes with fast wifi (my favorites are Pao, Corinne, and Tostaky)—perfect for digital nomads or those who have jobs that involve travel.
(Speaking of digital nomads, here is a video we made on the pros and cons of digital nomad life in Colombia. Really, it applies to any type of traveler thinking about coming to Colombia—not just digital nomads):
Best of all, San Antonio is close to La Topa Tolondra (#1 salsa bar)—perfect for those who want to showcase their new salsa skills at the club.
#6 – Check out the Cali Zoo
The Cali Zoo (Zoologico de Cali) is known to be the most beautiful in all of Colombia.
And it’s not your typical zoo.
I’m normally not a big fan of caged animals. But here, the animals have more freedom than any zoo I’ve been to. Many of the 233+ different species even roam around free.
Add to that the fact that the Cali River runs straight through the zoo, and it feels like you’re walking right through the jungle.
The zoo is open from 9am – 4:30pm and is located on the west side of Cali. The entrance fee costs 22,000 pesos for adults and 15,000 for kids.
#7 – Float down the river in San Cipriano
San Cipriano is a unique, off-the-beaten-path day trip for those looking for adventure (and river tubing).
The cool thing about San Cipriano is that the journey to get there is just as exciting as the place itself.
Let me explain.
This is a jungle town. Meaning, it is literally in the middle of the jungle. As far as I know, there are no roads in or out.
So how do you get there?
Moto-brujas (roughly translated to “motorcycle witches”)
Picture a motorcycle hooked to a cart-full of people, flying down rickety train tracks (that are still used by trains).
That’s a moto-bruja. And that’s how you get to San Cipriano.
To get to the entrance to San Cipriano, catch a bus from the Cali bus terminal headed to Buenaventura. Tell them you’re going to San Cipriano (the stop you need to take is called Zaragoza).
The bus ride takes about 2 hours and costs around 20,000 pesos each way.
#8 – Go Luxury Glamping
There are some awesome Colombia glamping experiences scattered all over the country. We recently tried our first glamping up in the mountains right outside of Cali.
It was spectacular to say the least!
As you can imagine, this isn’t the cheapest place to stay in Colombia, but it’s definitely worth the splurge. And when you compare it to what a “normal” hotel costs in the US, it’s not so bad.
This place isn’t yet posted on Airbnb or Booking, so if you’re interested, drop me a comment below and I can hook you up with contact info.
It is located about an hour outside of Cali (depending on the type of vehicle you use for the unpaved road). You can rent a car, take a taxi, or if you’re adventurous, take the local “chiva” bus.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I highly recommend visiting on a weekday. Weekends are when Colombians go to the mountains to party, and they love blasting their music so the rest of the mountain can hear.
#9 – Go Trekking
There are plenty of adventurous treks in and around Cali. However, these trails aren’t always well marked and many people have gotten lost.
That’s why these days, a guide is REQUIRED for most treks.
One (somewhat strenuous) trek I highly recommend is called Pico de Loro
I did it through a company called PicoLoro Ecotourism. They have regular hikes scheduled that you can join. The downside is they’re a bit more expensive than finding your own local guide directly.
Another option for finding treks is to check out the social media pages of local hiking groups. There are lots of them, but here’s a few to get you started: Nomadas de la Montana, Guiafarallones, and Caminantessinlimites
If you’re looking for an overnight or weekend trip from Cali, I highly suggest checking out the Cocora Valley trek near Salento (4 hr bus ride)—one of my absolute favorite places in all of Colombia.
#10 – Climb Cerro de Las Tres Cruces
This one’s for those of you who love trekking but are short on time.
You can climb up to Cerro de Las Tres Cruces (Three Cross Hill) to a beautiful viewpoint in less than an hour. And the best part is, the hike starts from right within the city.
However, there are some safety considerations to consider before setting off.
I recommend starting your climb early in the morning between 5:30 – 7am. This is when there are the most people on the trail. And when it comes to hiking in Colombia, the rule of thumb is “safety in numbers.”
If you go mid-day, it’ll be scorching hot and lonely. Not the safest idea.
Another option is to go at night with a hiking group. These groups leave from the Pacific Mall at 7pm (7pm Colombian time, which really means about 7:30) and climb the mountain with police escorts. The cost is 3,000 pesos.
(Note: Check the Nomadas de la Montana Facebook page for the most up-to-date information).
#11 – Stroll along Cali River and visit “The Cat and His Girlfriends”
When you get to Cali, you might notice a bunch of cat figurines, paintings, and souvenirs all over the place.
These are all based on a famous cat sculpture, “El Gato” (and his 15 girlfriends), that can be found along the Cali River.
Here you’ll find a nice walking path where many Caleñas come to exercise. It’s not too far from San Antonio—so if you’re staying there and want to go for a stroll, this is a nice place to stroll to.
After visiting Cali’s famous felines, you can cross the street and grab a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants (my go-to is the BBQ chicken pizza from Pizzamania with extra cheese. Give it a try. You won’t regret it.)
#12 – Taste local foods
Speaking of food, Cali’s got some traditional dishes that are pretty darn delicious.
Make sure to try these while you’re here:
- Sancocho – Cali’s typical soup. It’s usually accompanied by chicken, rice, beans, plantains, and sometimes avocado.
- Ensalada de Frutas (Fruit Salad) – This isn’t your ordinary fruit salad. In Cali, fruit salads are not only full of delicious fresh fruit. They’re also loaded with ice cream, shredded cheese, condensed milk, honey, peanuts, and coconut. This might be one of my favorite things in this world.
- Cholado – A refreshing cup of shaved ice filled with fruits and sugary flavoring. A great place to eat cholados and fruit salads are at Las Canchas Panamericanas. Here you’ll find about a hundred different stands selling basically the same thing. (I always go to “Oasis”, a building across the street from all the tents).
- Aborrajado – Fried plantain with cheese inside (and one of personal favorite Colombian foods). Yummmmmy! Usually sold at all those little stands that sell empanadas.
#13 – Treat yourself to a fancy meal
If you’re looking for a luxury dining experience, you’ll find Cali Colombia restaurants to be an incredible bargain. You can eat at high-class restaurants for a fraction of what it’d cost in other countries.
My top three recommendations are:
- Platillos Voladores
- Antigua Contemporanea Cafe
#14 – Experience “La Galeria” local market
If you’ve never been to a Colombian market before, this is the ultimate local experience you won’t wanna miss.
La Galeria is Cali’s most famous market where you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for—from souvenirs to household supplies to your standard witch potion ingredients.
But my FAVORITE part of La Galeria are the seemlingly endless types of exotic fruits to try. My Colombian father-in-law used to go fruit shopping here every Saturday morning. And each week he’d buy me a bag of fruit I’d never heard of before.
Every week I thought I tried it all, and every week he’d surprise me with something new!
La Galeria is pretty close to Las Canchas Panamericanas (home of the cholados and fruit salads), so if you want the ultimate local culinary experience, combine these two activities together.
#15 – Relax (or party) at a “finca“
“Fincas” are cottages up in the mountains where Colombians go with friends and family to escape the city. (I’m actually writing this from a finca right now!).
They come in all shapes and sizes, but many include pools, jacuzzis, saunas, sports fields, traditional Colombian games, beautiful flowers, lots of animals and pretty birds, stunning mountain views, and cool fresh air.
They’re typically meant for groups, so to get the best price, you’ll want to find some friends to split the cost (brownie points if these are local Colombian friends).
#16 – People-watch at the Pance River
The Pance River (Rio Pance) is one of the most popular weekend hangouts for Colombian families. Since there are no beaches near Cali Colombia, this is the place to cool off and escape the heat.
People love going here to eat Sancocho in restaurants along the river, run along the trails, workout in the exercise parks, and sit in the ice-cold river while drinking Aguardiente (typical Colombian licor).
If you’re looking for a “local experience,” head here on a Sunday with a group of friends.
It’s located just 20 minutes south of the city itself and can be reached via taxi or MIO (public bus system)
#17 – Chill at Chorrera del Indio
The literal translation for La Chorrera del Indio is “Indian Spring,” but that name doesn’t do it justice. I think a better name for it would be “The Magical Secret Waterfall”.
By “secret”, I mean it’s one of those beautiful places you go to and wonder why there aren’t more people there.
I’ve been there twice. The first time I had the place completely to myself. The second time there was one family having a picnic.
The only explanation I can think of is that nobody wants to pay the 8,000 peso entrance fee (which is ridiculous). You have to pass Rio Pance to get here (which is free), so everyone just goes there instead.
Better for us, right?
The only downside is that it’s hard to get to. If you don’t have access to a car, you’ll have to take a long-ish taxi ride—about 35 minutes outside the city.
Also, the path to La Chorrera can get congested (AKA absolute madness) on holidays and weekends—especially Sundays—so keep that in mind.
If you decide to go, bring some food and drinks and have yourself a picnic. There is a sign that says “No alcohol allowed,” but I’ve never been one for following rules 😇.
#18 – Celebrate in “La Feria de Cali”
Each city in Colombia has one big festival it’s known for. Barranquilla has Carnival. Medellin has The Flower Festival. Pasto has The Blacks and Whites Carnival.
In Cali, we have “La Feria de Cali”.
And it’s epic.
The best way to describe it is a huge, non-stop, 7-day party to finish out the year. From December 25th to the 31st, the entire city works half-time (if at all), so they can go out and enjoy the events and parties each day.
It starts off with a bang on Christmas Day with the most popular event, Salsodromo. Think of it as the “Carnival of Salsa” (this is the Salsa Capital of the World, after all).
The highway shuts down, and streets fill with over 500,000 rowdy Caleños—all gathering to watch Cali’s top dance academies perform in the salsa parade.
If you’re thinking about visiting Cali Colombia for La Feria, it’s best to plan early.
Accommodation tends to book up fast. And if you’re planning on buying a ticket to see Salsodromo from the “paid section”, it’s best to buy a couple months beforehand. (You can buy them on the streets the day of the event, but it’ll cost you more.)
#19 – Exercise with locals at Ciclovia
Every Sunday morning from 8am-1pm, the city closes down the roads near Las Canchas Panamericanas and tons of people come out to run, walk, ride bikes, and rollerblade with their family.
There’s also usually some sort of aerorumba instructor on a stage in front of Las Canchas giving free classes.
It’s an awesome atmosphere, so if you’re able to drag yourself out of bed after Saturday Salsa Night, it’s a fun (and healthy) experience.
And after you get your sweat on, you can treat yourself to a refreshing fruit salad ice cream across the street.
(There’s also a popular Sunday Ciclovia in Bogota in case you miss the one in Cali).
#20 – Go Bird-Watching
Growing up in Michigan, I always thought birds were dumb. Then I got to South America—and WOW!
I never knew such beautiful, exotic birds existed. And guess what?
Cali has more species of birds than any other city in the world! And every February, Cali holds the International Bird Fair where bird-watchers from around the globe come in hopes of spotting them.
So basically, if you’re into birds, Cali is the place to be.
Cali Colombia Tourist Attractions Checklist
Here’s a handy checklist of the top things to do in Cali Colombia for quick reference. It includes everything we just talked about all in one place.
⃞ Take the “Pizza Path” to Cristo Rey
⃞ Go to some salsa classes
⃞ Dance at the top salsa bars
⃞ Go to a professional salsa show
⃞ Explore San Antonio
⃞ Check out the Cali Zoo
⃞ Float through the jungle in San Cipriano
⃞ Go trekking
⃞ Climb Three Cross Hill
⃞ Stroll along the Cali River
⃞ Taste the local foods
⃞ Treat yourself to a fancy meal
⃞ Experience “La Galeria” local market
⃞ People-watch at Pance River
⃞ Chill out at the Indian Waterfall
⃞ Celebrate in La Feria de Cali
⃞ Exercise with locals at Ciclovia
⃞ Go Bird-Watching
How to Get to Cali, Colombia
Now that you know what to do in Cali Colombia, here’s how to get there:
The Cali Colombia Airport (Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport) is actually located in Palmira, a town about 20 km outside of Cali. It’s about a 40-minute drive from the airport to the center of Cali (depending on traffic).
To get to Cali from the airport, you have three options:
- Cheapest option: Take the airport shuttle bus (~8000 pesos) to the Cali bus terminal, then take a taxi from there to your destination
- Mid-range option: Take a taxi or Uber from the airport to your destination (45,000-65,000 pesos)
- Expensive option: Private shuttle with Colombia4u ($78 USD, almost 4x as much as an Uber)
The Cali bus terminal (Terminal de transporte) is located on the northern end of the city.
The three most common cities to bus to Cali from are Bogota, Medellin, or Ipiales (Ecuador-Colombia border crossing).
Bus prices vary based on the season (can double or triple during holidays) and in many cases are negotiable.
|Route||Est. Price||Est. Length of Trip|
|Bus from Bogota to Cali||55,000 pesos||10.5 hours|
|Bus from Medellin to Cali||65,000 pesos||8.5 hours|
|Bus from Ipiales to Cali||75,000 pesos||12.5 hours|
I’ve always bought my tickets in the terminal, but some new online booking platforms have recently popped up (like BusBud) and look awfully convenient.
Where to Stay in Cali, Colombia
As mentioned earlier, San Antonio is the most touristic neighborhood—filled with hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.
However, there are many other great neighborhoods as well, like Miraflores, El Peñon, and Granada (to name a few).
Best Hostels in Cali Colombia
When booking hostels, I like to use Booking.com instead of Hostelworld (if possible) because you usually don’t have to pay a deposit and can typically cancel for free if your plans change. That said, some hostels are only listed on Hostelworld.
- San Antonio neighborhood
- Terraza with sweet view
- Yummy breakfast
- Miraflores neighborhood – Less touristy and quieter than San Antonio
- Closer to Manicero and Joy Dance salsa schools
- Great for co-working
- Yummy breakfast
- Miraflores neighborhood
- Close to Parque del Perro (The “Dog Park”) – Lots of restaurants and small discotecas
- Hot tub – Not sure who would want to use this in the Cali heat…
- Yummy breakfast
Best Hotels in Cali Colombia
I’m not a hotel guy, but if that’s your style, here are some of the top-rated luxury hotels in Cali.
Hotel Intercontinental Cali — Fancy and expensive
Hotel Spiwak Chipichape Cali — Fancy and really expensive
Cali Marriott Hotel — Fancy and really really expensive
AcquaSanta Lofts Hotel — Fancy and you-better-be-rich-if-you-wanna-stay-here expensive
Airbnbs in Cali
If you want some privacy but don’t feel like shelling out tons of money for a hotel, there are tons of great (and affordable) Airbnbs all over Cali. Here’s a map of some cool (and cheap) options:
If you plan to post up in Cali for a month or more and want an apartment with an amazing view, check to see if this one is available.
Lastly, if you haven’t yet created an Airbnb account, click here to get a free $34+ credit towards your first booking (that’ll get you at least one free night in a cool place).
Cali Colombia Safety Tips
Don’t draw attention to yourself. Colombians have a saying “No dar papaya” (Don’t give papaya)—it means don’t walk around showing off your valuables (phones, jewelry, money, etc.). If you’re out on the streets, keep it low key.
Avoid walking around at night. Especially in deserted or poorly lit areas. You’re better off taking an Uber for a few bucks.
Stick to touristic areas (anywhere on this list). Just like any city, there are dangerous neighborhoods. Unless you’re with a Colombian friend (or know which neighborhoods to avoid), it’s best to stick to touristic places.
Have common sense. Staying safe while traveling in Cali comes down to having common sense. Don’t make yourself a target, and you’ll avoid 99% of problems.
Don’t be paranoid. There’s a fine line between being careful and being paranoid. Be careful, but remember—while there are some bad eggs out there, most people are good.
Don’t travel without insurance. Having an accident or sickness without insurance will ruin your trip (it has saved me on multiple occasions). I’ve happily used World Nomads insurance for years, but recently switched to Safetywing, a much cheaper alternative. See my full Safetywing review, or type in your info below to get an instant quote.
Cali Colombia Travel Guide Recap
So, you convinced yet?
If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, don’t forget Cali.
Colombia’s other big cities are nice, but everyone goes there.
Cali is different. Cali is authentic. And, as far as tourism goes, Cali is still basically unexplored.
If you’re looking for a unique experience—an experience that most tourists don’t get—come visit Cali.
Who knows, it might suck you in too.
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Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).