[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


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


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 »


Travel Guide to the Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

During our time in Colombia we made a point of traveling to as many of the colonial towns on the country’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio as we could. In the end, we explored 13 of the 17 towns currently on the list. Here’s why you should too.

The Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

The Colombian government operates a program called Pueblos Patrimonio which recognizes towns in the country which retain a remarkable amount of Colonial architecture, living history, and thriving traditions. Here’s a travel snapshot of the 13 Pueblos Patrimonio in Colombia that we visited.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Layva Colombia Pueblo Patrimonio

Close to Bogotá, this extremely popular pueblo deserves more than just a day trip.

 

Santa Cruz de Mompox

Iglesia de la Concepcion - Mompox, Colombia

Time stands still, history is alive and an important part of the essence of Colombia is at hand in Mompox (sometimes called Mompos). This riverside stunner is getting easier and easier to reach, so no more excuses.

 

Barrichara

Barichara Colombia

Our choice for most beautiful Colonial town in Colombia. Hands down.

 

Honda

street Honda, Colombia

Honda did not make a good first impression, but we warmed up (a lot) to a great boutique hotel and meaty alfresco dining in this steamy town.

 

Aguadas

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

We spent  just a few hours in Aguadas, but that was enough to get an impressive look at the town’s hat-making heritage and get some video of the artists at work (below).

 

Santa fe de Antioquia

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

A creative vibe and a legit place in Colombian history make Santa fe de Antioquia a top day trip choice from Medellin.

 

Salamina

Salamina Colombia

The weirdest breakfast and tallest palms in Colombia can be enjoyed in and around Salamina.

 

Jardin

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Outdoor adventure and one of the most charming plazas in Colombia await in Jardin.

 

Guadalajara de Buga

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Buga, as it’s usually called, is home of a miracle which pilgrims still come to celebrate. It’s also home to Colombia’s only Bed & Beer hostel with it’s own microbrewery.

 

San Juan Girón

Colonial Giron Colombia

Called the “white city” because of the amount of whitewashed Colonial buildings, Girón offers good food and a charming little hotel as well.

 

Jerico

Jerico, Colombia

Colombia’s first saint and its beloved traditional man bag are both from Jerico. And that’s not all.

 

Guaduas

Guadas, Colom,bia Peublo Patrimonial

We did not spend the night in Guaduas, but we did tour through long enough to appreciate the town’s picturesque church and time-worn cobblestone square.

 

Monguí

Mongui Colombia Pueblo Patrimonial

Altitude, Andes, and a whole lot of soccer balls–all in little Monguí.

 

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


3 Comments - Join the conversation »


Come for the Crucifix, Stay for the Craft Beer – Buga, Colombia

There are two miraculous reasons to travel to Guadalajara de Buga. One involves a crucifix. The other involves craft beer.

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Mmmmm…..craft beer.

The miraculous crucifix of Buga

Guadalajara de Buga (usually simply called Buga) is just 45 miles (70 km) from Cali, but the tranquility of this colonial town, whose architecture and living tradition earned it a place on Colombia’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio, makes Buga feel a world away from the big city.

Founded in 1555, Buga is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and its main claim to fame is a story that’s nearly as old. As the legend goes, an indigenous washer woman was trying to save money to buy a crucifix. She finally washed enough clothes in the local river to save the money needed to buy a simple crucifix. However, as she was on her way to make the purchase she saw a neighbor being hauled off to jail because of unpaid debts.

Instead of buying the crucifix, the woman paid off her neighbor’s debts. When she returned to work in the river she noticed something shiny in the water and discovered  a small crucifix floating by. She grabbed it and brought it home where the crucifix continued to grow and grow.

Today, the legend of the indigenous washer woman and her miraculously growing crucifix is marked by The Lord of the Miracles, a distinct dark-skinned Christ on the cross, which is housed in the Basilica del Senor de los Milagros in Buga. Every year millions of pilgrims visit the pink church.

The miraculous craft beer of Buga

If you worship at the house of hops, you’re in luck as well.

Stefan Schnur Buga microbrewery & hostal

Brew master Stefan Schnur with some of his Holy Water Ale beers made in Buga, Colombia.

When German Stefan Schnur arrived in Buga he did not intend to create the only bed & beer hostel in Colombia, but that’s what he did when he opened the Buga Hostel in 2011.

The hostel is affordable with standard hostel accommodation. The Holy Water Ale brew pub and cafe attached to the hostel, however, is a craft beer miracle with nine different beers brewed by Stefan at a small, nearby brewery. There’s also an inventive menu including homemade bread and legit pizzas with locally made sausage and other great toppings on homemade crust. Don’t miss happy hour.

Holy Water Ale brew pub - Buga, Colombia

The Holy Water brew pub, part of the Buga Hostel in Colombia.

 

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


1 Comment - Join the conversation


Hats in a Hurry – Aguadas, Colombia

The town of Aguadas is an official Pueblo Patrimonio for all of the usual reasons: historic importance, living culture, and surviving architecture and ambiance. But Aguadas is also famous as the source of some of the best hand-woven hats in Colombia and that’s why we traveled there on our way from Salamina to Medellin.

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

A traditional hat weaver at work in Aguadas, Colombia.

Finding the hat makers of Aguadas

We’d been assured that practically every household in Aguadas had at least one hat-maker in the family. We imagined blocks full of houses fronted by talented hat makers working their craft in comfy chairs on stoops. So we were surprised when a first pass through town turned up precious little evidence of any hat making.

We asked around and the town’s tourist info office directed us to the home/workshop of Don Jorge Villanova but he only sells hats so there was no hat making to be seen. Then we were directed across town to Doña Rosa’s house, but she was busy dying fairly garish hats out of reeds that had been dyed hot pink, green or yellow as if the Easter bunny had possessed her. Though Doña Rosa can barely walk, we’re here to tell you her hands still move like lightning.

Weaving Sombrero Aguadeño in Aguadas, Colombia

Almost everyone in Aguadas makes hats. We found this woman working on a beauty in her tienda.

We left Doña Rosa’s unsatisfied, still in search of more traditional, less day-glo artistry. That’s when we noticed a woman working on a hat as she tended her tienda. Check out her amazing handiwork (see what we did there?) in our Aguadas hat making video, below.

 

Read more about travel in Colombia

 

Support us on Patreon


3 Comments - Join the conversation »


Page 1 of 1412345Last»