[contextly_main_module]

City Travel Guide – Cali, Colombia

Cali, Colombia may not be on top of your Colombia travel to-do list, but beware: Our  City Guide to Cali, which is full of things to do (including salsa clubs for newbies), hotels (in all price points), plus restaurants, and bars, will change your mind.

dancing salsa club Cali Colombia

Cali, Colombia is a hot city in every sense of the word, especially on the dance floor at one of the city’s famous salsa clubs, like La Topa Tolondra.

20 reasons to put Cali on your Colombia travel to-do list

The self-proclaimed Salsa Capital of the World is hot in both senses of the word so be prepared for sexy and sultry. Santiago de Cali (almost always just called Cali) is also increasingly safe. According to Insight Crime, Cali recorded a 54 percent decline in gang-related youth homicides in 2016 and in February 2017 the city government announced it would strengthen gang member re-integration programs in the city to give at-risk youth an alternative to gangs.

Certainly troubles persist, but modern Cali offers travelers great food, cool neighborhoods, and a Caribbean vibe that flavors it all.

What do do in Cali, Colombia

Like many people, we have mixed feelings about zoos. Cruel prison for animals, or valuable tool for educating the public about the value and wonder of our natural world? Maybe both. It is fair to say that when the Zoologico de Cali opened in 1971 it was an unforgivably bleak place.

King Vulture Cali Zoo

We saw our first up-close King Vulture at the not-heinous Cali Zoo.

Over the years, the Cali Zoo has eliminated tiny, dirty cages and improved general quality of life for the animals. Now operated by the Cali Zoologico Foundation, the number of animals went from about 250 examples of pretty common species (doves, ducks, etc.) to a current population of a few thousand animals representing a wide range of species (Andean bears, anteaters, etc.) that live within a garden-like 25 acre facility. Research, education, and children’s programs are also part of zoo’s mission. We toured the entire zoo and the enclosures we saw were cages, yes, but very far from the worst we’ve seen.

Parque el Gato Tejada - El gatos del rio Cali - Gachuz

Gachuz by artist Angela Villegas is one of more than a dozen cat installations in Parque el Gato Tejada in Cali, Colombia.

Parque el Gato Tejada started out with one bronze cat sculpture on the banks of the Rio Cali which runs through the city. Soon there were 15 more, each created by a different artist. Green spaces and walkways along the river link the cats together and it’s a peaceful place for an art-filled stroll.

Zaperoco Salsa club

Even newbies are welcome at Zaperoco salsa club.

And what about salsa in Cali? A no-pressure place for newbies to experience salsa culture in Cali is the Zaperoco Salsa Bar which opened in 1991 in the Granada neighborhood. Every Thursday the bar waives its usual cover charge and features a different salsa band every week. This is a great opportunity to see live salsa bands, experience an intimate, authentic salsa club, and maybe even dance a bit. We went on a Thursday night and we felt welcomed into the festive, casual, sweaty atmosphere of this popular place by the all-Caleño crowd.

Salsa DJ Ara Kazarians La Topo Tolondra Cali

Salsa DJ Ara Kazarians handling the tunes at La Topo Tolondra salsa club in Cali.

Ara Kazarians, the owner of the Hotel Salsa Peñon Inn (more below), is a passionate salsa lover and a salsa DJ as well. He tipped us off to La Topa Tolondra, a packed, sweaty, gritty salsa club where Ara DJs sometimes. The place reminded us of our favorite dive bars and music joints from New Orleans, but with salsa music instead of jazz.

La Topa Talondra salsa Club Cali Colombia

We loved the mural outside La Topa Tolondra.

If you’re way more serious about salsa than we are, plan your visit to coincide with the annual Mundial de Salsa festival and competition which attracts the world’s best salsa dancers and musicians.

Restaurants in Cali, Colombia

We did not expect to find a lot of great eats in Cali. Then we spent a day with Cali-born chef Paula Silva (who now presides over her luscious Hippie in Bogotá) and she took us to school. Check out Paula’s top Cali eats in our story for TheLatinKitchen.com, including the city’s famous sugar bomb the cholado (it’s got to be seen to be believed), Calathea artesenal ice cream, and El Bar de al Lado at Restaurante el Escudo del Quijote, and Azul Restaurante.

Azul Restaurant -Cali, Colombia

Azul Restaurant in Cali, where the “surprise me” menu is the way to go.

Here are some other great eats in Cali:

La Sanduchería del Escudo Cali, Colombia

Pick your ‘wich at La Sanducheria del Escudo.

La Sanduchería del Escudo in the El Peñon neighborhood right next to Restaurante el Escudo del Quijote, offers a long list of sandwiches including burgers and a Vietnamese bhan mi. The fresh-cut fries are terrific and they also sell Bogota Beer Company craft beer.

Platillos Voladores - Cali, Colombia

Platillos Voladores in Cali.

Platillos Voladores restaurant is located in a house where chef Vicky Acosta has created a casual environment with chic found-object decor and a lovely garden patio dining area that attracts a mixed crowd (hipsters and sophisticated older couples) who come for creative takes using Caribbean ingredients and yummy cocktails that pack a punch.

desert Platillos Voladores - Cali, Colombia

A dessert at Platillos Voladores, a classic in Cali.

Distilled sugarcane called aguardiente is basically the national drink of Colombia. Because of complicated laws about shipping alcohol around the country, each province has its own brands of aguardiente. In Cali, two big brands are Origen and Blanca. A good place to try some local aguardiente or a cold beer is the Public House bar in the San Antonio neighborhood, not far from the Granada neighborhood. Great music (heavy on the Rolling Stones), a simple but inviting indoor and outdoor space, and fair prices.

Even as a steady stream of hip newcomers open in the El Peñon neighborhood, one age-old institution remains. The Hotel Obelisco has a lobby restaurant that serves heaping plates of mini-empanadas along with famous lulo juice (a refreshing fruit that’s sort of a combo of orange and tomato). Other Empanadas Obelisco outlets have opened up around Cali, but the original is in the hotel in El Peñon. Sit on the patio if you can snag a table.

Pacifico Restaurante Cali

Flavors of the coast at Pacifico Restaurante in Cali.

The sleek Pacifico Restaurante you find in the Granada neighborhood today opened in 2002, but its roots go back to 1975 when the father of the current proprietor, Claudia, opened the first Pacifico on the coast in Buenaventura. When we had lunch at Pacifico the original chef was in the kitchen whipping up Caribbean seafood dishes like shrimp stew which really reminded us of Creole cooking from Louisiana. There are meat dishes on the menu, but seafood is where the kitchen really shines. And don’t miss the coconut flan, a signature dish that’s more coconut than flan and studded with raisins. It’s a family recipe that will never be taken off the menu.

Hotels in Cali, Colombia

We usually do not get too excited about chain hotels. Sure, international hotel chains like Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, etc. are perfect for business travelers who want to know exactly what their hotel will deliver so they can get their work done during a short working stay. But staying in an international chain in Cairo is going to look and feel a lot like that same chain hotel in Cleveland, so leisure travelers looking for a hotel that enriches their sense of place are normally better served by non-chain hotels.

Sombrereos Movich Hotel Cali

Traditional Colombian hats give the lobby of the Movich Hotel Cali a national flare.

In Colombia there is a local micro-chain called Movich Hotels with hotels in Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, Pereira and Medellin. We stayed the Movich Casa del Alferez Hotel Cali where we were pleasantly surprised by the balance of city business hotel services (everything you’d expect) and actual personality and cultural style (like a lobby wall decorated with traditional Colombian hats and inventive use of the same weaving technique to create rugs as well). The Movich Hotel Cali was familiar without being cookie cutter.

Movich Hotel Cali, Colombia

The Movich Hotel Cali.

On the other end of the spectrum is the La Pinta Boogaloo hostal, part of the La Pinta group of hostels and apartments all over Colombia, offers a range of rooms, a big pool in a big garden, and plenty of lounging areas.

Now Hotel, Cali Colombia

A room at the Now Hotel, the hippest boutique hotel in Cali.

We stayed at the playfully hip NOW Hotel in the San Antonio neighborhood, close to many bars and restaurants. The NOW could hold its own in San Francisco or Buenos Aires, as you can see in our story about the NOW Hotel for AHotelLife.com.

Hotel Salsa Peñon Inn - Cali, Colombia

We got over our fear of theme hotels and loved out stay at the mid-range Hotel Salsa Peñon Inn.

Hotel Salsa Peñon Inn in the cool El Peñon neighborhood, was created by salsa-loving Ara Kazarians. We are usually suspicious of themed hotels, but this one is a charmer with vintage salsa posters and album covers everywhere you look. Plus, the location is fantastic and the mid-range prices are good.

So-called love motels are common in Latin America, providing an affordable escape for couples (even married couples) that may have no privacy at home. Yes, some are sleezy dives located next to strip clubs. But some are upscale. Take, for example the Geisha Love Motels around Cali. They offer great design, an amusingly random Japanese theme, and rooms (some of which “will accommodate 3”) that come with sex chairs, and medical assistance. How thoughtful.

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Photo Essay: Grand Tour of Oscar Niemeyer Modernist Architecture in Brasilia, Brazil

In 1956 the newly elected president of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek, spoke with the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer:  “I am going to build a new capital for this country and I want you to help me,” he said. With that, Oscar Niemeyer became the planner and chief architect of Brazil’s new capital. In April of 1960, Brasilia, the purpose-built modernist city in the middle of the highland jungles of Brazil, became the country’s capital. More than 25 of the monumental and government buildings in Brasilia were ultimately designed by Oscar Niemeyer. UNESCO made Brasilia a World Heritage Site in 1987 due to its modernist architecture and premeditated urban planning. Here’s our grand tour of Oscar Niemeyer modernist architecture in Brasilia.

Modernist Architecture of Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, Brazil

Oscar Niemeyer National Congress Brasilia, Brazil

The National Congress (Supremo Tribunal Federal) of Brazil, pictured above, is home to the national legislature and is the centerpiece of Brasilia’s “Monumental Axis” which is the grand avenue that the city of Brasilia was built around. This avenue is where most of the government buildings and monuments (including all but the last two buildings mentioned in this post) were built.

 

Monumental Axis Brasilia

In the middle of the Monumental Axis (Eixo Monumental), pictured above, stands the TV Tower (Torre de TV). From its observation deck you get a great overview of the Monumental Axis and Brasilia’s modernist design (pictured above).

 

Oscar Niemeyer Planalto Palace

Oscar Niemeyer Planalto Presidential Palace

The Planalto Palace (Palácio do Planalto) is the official office of the President. It stands on Three Powers Plaza (Praça dos Três Poderes) because the plaza represents the meeting of the three governmental branches of powers: the executive branch represented by the Planalto Palace, the legislative branch represented by the National Congress (pictured above), and the judiciary branch represented by the Supreme Federal Court (pictured below).

 

Oscar Niemeyer Supreme Federal Court Brasilia

The Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal) is the highest court in Brazil.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Cathedral of Brasilia

Oscar Niemeyer National cathedral Brasilia

The Cathedral of Brasilia, more formally known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Aparecida (Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida) is one of Brasilia’s signature buildings and an iconic Niemeyer design both inside (pictured above) and out (pictured above that).

 

Oscar Niemeyer Tancredo Neves Pantheon

Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom (Panteão da Pátria e da Liberdade Tancredo Neves) also sits on the Three Powers Plaza. Following the 1984 death of Tancredo Neves, the first civilian president elected to office after twenty years of military rule in Brazil, the Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom was built to honor national heroes.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of External relations is based out of the Itamaraty Palace (Palácio Itamaraty). The building is also known as the Palace of the Arches and is seen above with the National Congress towers in the background.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Ministry of Justice

The Palace of Justice (Palácio da Justiça) is home to the Ministry of Justice.

 

Oscar Niemeyer National museum

Part of the Cultural Complex of the Republic. along with the National Library, the National Museum of the Republic (Museu Nacional Honestino Guimarães), pictured above, hosts temporary art exhibits.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Memorial JK

Niemeyer’s JK Memorial, pictured above, is a museum and memorial dedicated to Juscelino Kubitschek who was President of Brazil between 1956 and 1961. Kubitscheck is viewed as the father of modern Brazil and he was responsible for the creation of Brasilia.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Brasilia Palace Hotel

The Brasilia Palace Hotel, pictured above, was one of the first buildings to be built in Brasilia. It was nearly destroyed by fire in 1978 and was abandoned for nearly a decade after that before Niemeyer was brought in to oversee a gorgeous restoration of his original design.

 

Oscar Niemeyer Brasilia Alvorada PalaceThe Palace of Dawn (Palácio da Alvorada), pictured above, is the official residence of the President of Brazil. Though recent reports in Brazilian newspapers say the current president no longer lives there because of ghosts in the building.

 

Below is a little dash-cam time-lapse video shot while driving around the Monumental Axis in Brasilia.

Read more about travel in Brazil

Support us on Patreon


5 Comments - Join the conversation »


Market Day – Silvia, Colombia

Tuesday is market day in the small town of Silvia which is about two hours from Popayán in southern Colombia. If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, look elsewhere. If you’re interested in seeing why markets remain a vital way of life for so many people in Colombia, check it out.

Sylvia Colombia market day

Women heading to the Tuesday market in Silvia, Colombia. You can see the two distinct types of hats that Guambiano women wear.

Exploring the traditional market in Silvia, Colombia

Every week, sleepy Silvia fills up with Guambiano indigenous people who come to “town” from their nearby villages to sell what they’ve grown or made and buy what they need in the very traditional market. Some tour companies bring travelers to Silvia to see the weekly market, but we only saw one or two other travelers during our exploration of the market.

Colorful Potatoes Sylvia Colombia market

Potatoes and tubers for sale included those hot pink stunners which are naturally that color.

What we did see was plenty of fruit and vegetables (including long, thin, impossibly hot pink tubers), meat, cheap clothes, hardware, medicinal plants, and all kinds of other everyday needs.

fortune parakeets Sylvia Colombia market

For a few pesos these birds will pick your fortune out of a drawer.

Perhaps not an every day need, but interesting nonetheless, were the parakeets that, for a fee, will choose a fortune for you. Also intriguing: the proliferation of glow-in-the-dark shoelaces on offer. We were looking for something much more mundane: a sheath for our machete. However, they are all too short, perhaps sized for the local population.

Guambiano indigenous Sylvia Colombia market

Traditional skirts are still commonly worn by Guambiano men in Colombia.

As usual, the shoppers were the most interesting part of the market in Silvia. Around the world it’s increasingly unusual to see men in traditional dress. Many have moved to jeans and t-shirts even in places where women and girls still wear traditional clothing. But in Silvia we saw many Guambiano men in traditional bright blue, heavy, sarong-like wrap-around skirts.

Woman Sylvia Colombia market

Traditional dress for Guambiano women in Colombia is pretty uniform: dark skirt, woven bag, hat, blue shawl. Many women personalize their look with glow-in-the-dark shoelaces.

Guambiano women wear flowing black skirts with thin bands of color. Many men and women also wore tiny, rigid, wool bowlers perched on their heads. Some women opted for pancake flat, woven reed hats that looked like flattened tortilla warmers. Most women also wore work boots, often with glow-in-the-dark shoelaces.

Sylvia Colombia market day

Socializing in the central square is a big part of market day in Silvia, Colombia.

Older Guambiano women, whose hands were perpetually busy spinning wool, also had unusual short haircuts that gave them poufy bobs. Many women also seemed to be in a contest to see who could wear the most white beaded necklaces.

Men Colombia market day

Many Guambiano men in Silvia, Colombia still wear traditional clothing including blue skirts, bowler hats, and scarves.

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Where We’ve Been: April 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Chile & Peru

We started the month of April 2017 in the coastal city of Iquique in Northern Chile. From there we headed north through the Andes and the Atacama desert before crossing into Peru where we ended the month in Ica. In total, our road trip traveled 2,203 miles (3,545 km) in April and you can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck via the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Sabancaya Volcano erupting Arequipa Colca Canyon Peru

Where we’ve been in April 2017 in Chile & Peru

From the coastal city of Iquique, Chile we headed inland into the Atacama desert and the Andes mountains where we visited some historic saltpeter mining towns, lakes with flamingos, salars (salt flats), hot springs, canyons, and geoglyphs including the Gigante de Atacama (Atacama Giant). It represents a deity that was important for the local inhabitants between 1000 and 1400 AD and, according to Wikipedia, it is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world with a height of 390 feet (119 meters).  Check it out at 8:35 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

Mars Valley Putre Chile

We continued to Putre, a tiny town high in the Andes in the northeast corner of Chile near the Peru and Bolivian borders. From there we explored Lauca National Park and drove to nearly 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) on the flanks of a volcano.Check out the unique scenery of  “Mars Valley” in Lauca National Park (pictured above) at 12:15 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

Next up was Arica, a city on the Pacific in Chile near the Peruvian border. From there we crossed back into Peru and headed to the country’s second largest city, Arequipa. From Arequipa we visited the spectacular Colca Canyon, along the way reaching the highest point we’ve hit so far on a paved highway: 16,109 feet (4,910 meters). We also got an eye-full of the erupting Sabancaya Volcano. Check out its ash plume at 22:08 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

After returning to Arequipa we continued north to Ica, the heart of Peru’s wine and pisco region where we ended the month.

Our complete road trip driving route map for March 2017 is below.

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Chile and Peru in April of 2017 via our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera.

 

Read more about travel in Chile

Read more about travel in Peru

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


One Night Stands – Popayán, Colombia

We had more one night stands in Popayán than in any other city or town in Colombia. That’s because when you’re traveling to or from the Ecuador border (which we did five times), Popayán is perfectly positioned as a break journey for the night. People rave about the city’s Colonial architecture and the cuisine, so here’s what you need to know about the travel basics in Popayán.

Iglesia San Francisco church - Popoyan, Colombia

Popayán’s San Francisco church.

What to do in Popayán

Some guidebooks gush about the Colonial architecture in Popayán which is primarily white washed, giving the town the horribly overused nickname “The White City.” Some even compare the architecture in Popayán, which dates back to 1537, to that in Cartagena, which is patently ridiculous. We could rattle off a half-dozen Colombian towns that offer more impressive Colonial architecture, but you be the judge.

The white city - Popoyan Colombia street scene

They don’t call Popayán “The White City” for nothing.

There are a number of museums in town, including the Museo Nacional Guillermo Valencia (free, closed Mondays) which is an 18th century building full of memorabilia about this Popayán-born poet. Visit the Casa Museo Guillermo León Valencia (free, closed Mondays) to learn about the life of the poet’s father who was President of Colombia.

The Casa Museo Negret museum of modern art was being refurbished when we were last in Popayán, but it looked promising. And there’s also a religious art museum and a number of churches in town.

Popoyan historic bridges Puente de la Custodia or Puente chiquita 1731

Puente de la Custodia, just one of the charming little bridges in Popayán.

If bridges are your thing you’ll love Popayán which has a few architecturally unique and historically important examples. Visiting them creates a pleasant walking tour.

The nearby Puracé Volcano is the only active volcano in Colombia that you can summit. Doable as a long day trip from Popayán, the volcano is 35 miles (55km) from Popayán and the hike up takes a few hours.

If you like festivals, plan to visit Popayán during Easter when the town puts on a massive Semana Santa celebration. There are annual food festivals as well during which you can sample the local delicacies which always eluded us.

Iglesia Santo Domingo church Popoyan Colombia

Iglesia Santo Domingo in Popayán, Colombia.

Eating in Popayán

In 2005 Popayán was named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO but we usually struggled to find much to eat, especially when we arrived late in the evening as we were hoofing it to or from the border. On our first late-night arrival in Popayán almost everything was closed except carts on the square selling anemic and suspiciously tepid “burgers.”

street food truck Popoyan Colombia

Yes, that food truck says “Pignick.”

Sadly, we came across the “Pignick” cart selling lechona after we’d already eaten at El Churrasco which is located a few blocks off the square. Popayán is not cheap by Colombian standards, but at least the portions of meat and salad at El Churrasco (around COP 16,000 or about US$6) were big and tasty. Tip: order the junior half portion if you’re not starving.

On a subsequent visit we ate at Restaurante Italiano y Pizzeria which has better-than-average pizzas (29,000 COP or about US$10) and a set lunch menu for 7,500 COP (about US$2.60). We really wanted to try the traditional pipian empanadas (stuffed with a peanut-based filling) which are famous at a place called La Fresa, but it was never open when we were in town.

Popoyan street scene colonial architecture white city

Some of the Colonial architecture in Popayán, Colombia dates back to 1537.

Sleeping in Popayan

We always stayed at Hotel Colonial (70,000 COP, or about US$24, for a private double room with bathroom, WiFi, breakfast and parking in a nearby secure lot). As we’ve already noted, Popayán is pricey and this hotel is the best value we found with a safe and roomy parking area. There are some recommended hostels in town, but they don’t have parking.

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


6 Comments - Join the conversation »


Where We’ve Been: March 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina & Chile

We started the month of March 2017 in the small village of Iruya in the very northern tip of Argentina. From there we crossed into Chile where we ended the month in San Pedro de Atacama. In between, our road trip traveled 1,420 miles (2,285 km) and you can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck via the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Jama Pass - Argentina Chile border

Where we’ve been in March 2017 in Argentina & Chile

From Iruya, Argentina we drove south through the Humahuaca Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to Purmamarca which is a town known for its Mountain of Seven Colors (which, honestly, was not as spectacular as southern Peru’s Mountain of Seven Colors).

Purmamarca was our last stop in Argentina, for now. From there we headed west, crossing the border into Chile over the Jama Pass (pictured above). At 14,173 feet (4,320 meters), we thought the Jama Pass would be the high-point on the drive into San Pedro de Atacama, but we were wrong. Very wrong. After the Jama Pass the highway continued to climb, reaching 15,916 feet (4,851 meters) before finally dropping into San Pedro de Atacama via a spectacularly steep and straight road with many runaway truck ramps.

After a week in San Pedro de Atacama, a small town at the foot of the Andes which is the base camp for adventures in the Atacama desert, we headed to the coastal city of Antofagasta to have some work done on our truck at the Salfa Chevrolet dealership there. While in Antofagasta we made a side trip to the Paranal Observatory which offers free weekend tours of its amazing sky watching installation. We also made a stop at the Mano del Desierto sculpture (pictured below).

Mano del desierto - Atacama Desert, Chile

After our truck had been properly pampered, we returned to San Pedro de Atacama to celebrate the 10th road-a-versary of our Trans-Americas Journey in style at explora Atacama. At the end of the month we left San Pedro de Atacama and headed further north up the Pan-American Highway on the Pacific coast to the city of Iquique.

Our complete road trip driving route map for March 2017 is below.

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Argentina and Chile in March of 2017 via our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

Read more about travel in Argentina

Read more about travel in Chile

Support us on Patreon


1 Comment - Join the conversation


Page 1 of 9612345255075Last»