The world already knows Bogotá and Medellín, but Colombia has another jewel: Cali, the so-called world capital of salsa music. But this big city isn’t just salsa, because it has a lot to offer: old streets, always a hot climate and stunning street art. Several years ago, this town was full of cars. But recently a highway has been replaced by a pedestrian zone and the number of cyclists is increasing.
The Bulevar de la Avenida Colombia is literally in the city center, sandwiched between the commercial zone, local gouvernement buildings and a green parc. The result of this cambio, or change, is really impressing, because this city has decided to give the streets back to the people. In the middle of the road is a bicycle highway, at the right are bars and some outstanding pacific restaurants and at the left side is a small river with even an urban jungle.
Cali’s commercial zone has not much to offer. But if you enjoy cheap products, agua panela (panela water) and a multicultural vibe, el centro is something for you! Personally, I enjoyed it a lot, unless the absence of main historic attractions.
Next to el centro is the historic quarter San Antonio. It’s quiet comparable to Bogotá’s La Candelaria, but this neighborhood is even safe at night. And not so gringolandés. In the old colonial houses you can sip very good coffee and eat fusion kitchen. I managed even to enjoy a Moroccan plate mixed with Indian and Syrian ingredients… In South America. And is was fantastic.
Another main attraction is a small hill near San Antonio, the Colina San Antonio. The view is quite interesting; you see all the windowless skyscrapers from el centro. Another interesting place is the Centro Comercial Chipichape. I don’t like shopping malls, but this one is worth a visit for its name and its past: until a few decades ago, this building was a railway station.
For my fellow travellers to Cali: this city is huge. If you stay in San Antonio, you can easy walk to el centro and Chipichape. If you want to go further, you can use Cali’s rapid bus system MIO. I didn’t used it, but I had the impression that this system was even more difficult than Bogotá’s TransMilenio network. So, I wish you luck to try it.
Curious? Cali has an airport which is served by national and international companies. It’s a 15 hour bus drive from Bogotá, but just 50 minutes by plane. The bus station is next to el centro, the airport is really far away from town in the sugarcane fields (a 40 minute drive).
Safety: el centro is safe during shopping hours (Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM and on Sunday just in the morning) and Chipichape and San Antonio always (but avoid highway Calle 5 at night).