Cali: Life, Heart & Salsa
Cali, Colombia. A little off the beaten trail & with a reputation that doesn't do it justice, the city is one that originally never was on my agenda. But, when I did spend time there, I was completely blown away. Cali has RHYTHM. Cali has HEART. Cali has LIFE. And a lot of it. You'd be wise to give Cali a fair shot.
My friend Lotte & I passed several carefree days in complete vacation mode as residents of El Viajero hostel in Cali. The barrio where El Viajero is located, San Antonio, is intriguing, to say the least. You can tell San Antonio has a somewhat rough history, but it's now sprinkled with vibrant bars & eateries that make you feel you're part of something up-and-coming. It's this mix that lends itself to the undeniable charm of the area. It's hip but not too hip, if you know what I mean.
Within walking distance of the hostel, San Antonio Park overlooks a good portion of Cali & gives you a good sense of your surroundings. The park seemed to be a main gathering place for residents of San Antonio & was frequently crowded by teens & families in the evenings- a great place to take in your surroundings & enjoy an ice cream (or a beer). If you're in good company, I'd recommend spending a bit of time exploring San Antonio by foot- it's a place that boasts unexpected gems in tucked-away nooks & crannies. You'd hardly discover everything San Antonio has to offer just by Googling.
Our hostel itself was the perfect landing place in Cali- welcoming, relaxing & conducive to meeting your fellow traveler. Considering the heat in Cali, you'll certainly indulge in the hostel's pool & bar area. When I think "dream vacation," this is where my mind takes me back to- the vibe of El Viajero would certainly be hard to top. Of course, no trip to Cali would be complete without salsa & that's another thing El Viajero does & does well- its free evening salsa classes. I clearly remember the evening Lot & I spent with WAY too many other travelers in a tiny room- learning new steps, laughing, running into each other & dancing our bums off in general.
Another Cali highlight was the city walking tour we lucked into because another mutual friend, Roxanne, happened to be in town. Our tour guide, Nils, was Dutch himself but had lived in Cali for 7+ years & therefore was the perfect link to help foreigners understand the city. He took us ALL over Cali for nearly half a day, showed us its hidden gems, gave us nuggets of history that helped to explain Cali today & introduced us to many things we otherwise never would have seen.
My favorite part of the experience was going to the Cali's main produce market, which was exotic to say the least. We probably tried 10 different fruits I had never even seen before in my life. On top of that, we interacted a lot with the locals there because they weren't overly used to seeing foreigners (especially not at market). This made the experience all-the-more charming. South American markets, in general, are something you must take the time to explore. Sometimes your senses are completely shocked, but you'll never see anything like them in the U.S.A. or probably many other places for that matter. I cannot recommend doing this tour enough- if you want to find Nils for a similar tour, the name of his company is Callejeros Cali (https://m.facebook.com/callejerostourscali/).
Last but not least, you cannot leave Cali without going out on the town for a night of salsa. Our salsa bar of choice was La Topa Tolondra, which was excellent. Be prepared to dance with everyone (friends & strangers alike) all evening long AND to barely have enough space to move. This place gets wild & will not leave you disappointed.
I'm sure I would have loved Cali even more if I'd been able to stay more than a few days. It left a big impression even in the short time I was there. Cali is definitely deserving of destination status while in Colombia & certainly shouldn't be skipped over without a second thought.