Nature-lovers, historians, and salsa-music fans love this Latin American city with the motto “A City for All.” Colombia’s third-largest metropolis, Cali is ideal for anyone who equally appreciates both trees and paved roads, during and summer and beyond.
Not many people know that Santiago de Cali — or Cali for short — is the world capital of salsa-dancing, and its citizens take it very, very seriously. Every summer, the city hosts the annual World Salsa Festival, which attracts professional salsa-dancers from around the globe. Not only that, but there’s also the Baila Cali festival in mid-October, which is tailored specifically to amateur salsa dancers and salsa fans alike.
Valle del Cauca, the county in which Cali resides, is also famous for producing and refining sugar. Hacienda Piedechinche and Museo de la Caña de Azucar in Palmira is a wonderland of dense trees, exotic plants, lily ponds, and of course, lots of sugarcane, which you can actually sample as a juice on site, straight from the source.
Winding inside the Andes mountain range, the verdant Via Cristo Rey leads to the Fundación Andoke, which offers a climbable map of Colombia where visitors have the opportunity to understand the country’s unique topography before heading to the adjacent butterfly house, otherwise known as the Mariposaria. There’s a holistic spa right next door that serves up tea from Coca leaves, along with outdoor bathtubs and even more spectacular vistas of the rich, dense Colombian landscape.
The neoclassical Iglesia de San Franciso from the late 1700s features a museum of religious art and anchors the romantic Plaza de San Francisco, where visitors can browse the bazaar for rare-book finds, ethnic Colombian clothing, and handmade artisan jewelry. Another great destination for deal-seekers is La loma de la Cruz, a network of vendors perched alongside a hill on the west side of the city.
Not far from Iglesia de San Francisco, the historic core and cultural center of Cali is Plaza de Caicedo. Here’s where you’ll find the municipal theater, the National Palace, and a statue of the square’s namesake, 18th-century patriot Joaquin Caicedo y Cuero, who liberated Cali from the Spanish.
Adjacent to the city square is La Iglesia de la Ermita del Rio, originally a simple thatched construction dating back to the early 1600s and demolished after Cali’s earthquake of 1787. The baby-blue, fairy-tale-like structure that’s there today was rebuilt in the gothic-revival style in 1942.
Parque de los Poetas was built in the mid-nineties as a place for open public gatherings, and as its name suggests, it’s an homage to famous poets from this particular district of Colombia. Jose Antonio Moreno designed the life-sized sculptures of Jorge Isaacs, Ricardo Nieto, Carlos Villafane, Antonio Llanos and Octavio Gamboa.
Colombia officially has four main river basins: the Amazon, Orinoco, Lake Maracaibo, and the Caribbean Sea. But there are dozens of smaller rivers and streams that move through the country, including Valle del Cauca. Río Cali flows through the middle of the eponymous city, with decorative structures bridging the land between the city center and the pastoral, pigeon-friendly Parque Jorge Isaacs, named after the Colombian author of the Spanish romantic novel, María, written in the 1860s.
The patron saint of Cali is the Virgin of Mercy, a popular image in Catholic art dating back to the 13th century. Construction on Cali’s Iglesia de la Merced began around 1545, and its facade is still intact. Just as beautiful as the church, however, is its vast and stunning view of the city of Cali.
But in the end, views in Cali aren’t particularly hard to come across. In fact, this one is from my hotel room.
Not bad, huh?