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The Salsa Music Capital of the World

"Cali is pure passion and fire like its local music and blistering climate, it is colorful and flamboyant like the street art that covers the city's buildings, and it is welcoming and captivating like its beautiful inhabitants."

Bomarzo hallway with painting on each wall and a window at the end

by Sylvia Marie

27 de sept de 2023

We arrived in Cali after a long bus ride from the North of the country: tired, grumpy, and with pre-cold symptoms thanks to the AC on steroids in Colombia’s inter-city buses. Even so, the hot Cali sun and the brouhaha of the city brought our spirits up, at least for a little while. At the bus terminal we hopped into a taxi and gave the driver the address to our rental apartment. Thirty minutes later, we stood in front of a large modern building, far from the center, with our bags and enthusiasm at hand. Through a small window we gave the clerk our apartment number and the name of the owner who we had been in contact with via Whatsapp for the past week.

“There’s no one by that name in our system, maybe you want that building across the street?” he said with regret.

“Are you sure? This is the address we were given,” we desperetaly pried.

We called the guy’s number and he wouldn’t answer the phone. We waited and waited but I had already understood it: we got scammed.

Welcome to Cali!

Hostel Encuentro

We ended up catching a ride back to the more central area and found a little hipster pizzaria with internet. With all our stuff and hours of trip still with us, we had a couple of beers and a delicious pizza as we searched for where to sleep that night. By the serendipitous magic of travel odds, we met a guy who knew a guy who had a place for rent nearby. We ended up at the coolest spot on the top floor of an empty hostel with a massive private terasse overlooking this bustling city.

The hostel was temporarily closed due to the pandemic but the owner rented out some rooms for long stays so there were two other residents in the building with us. This place was huge, ideally located in the alternative barrio El Peñón, and had all the perks of a hostel but void of people. Jackpot!

Cali has it all

To me, a city is a grand city when it is vibrant with beautiful grafitti, abundant in vegetation, rich in multi-cultural gastronomy, exuberant in its music scene, and warm in its people and climate. Cali has got it all and man, I fell in love with this place, with all the good and all the bad of it.

Outside Bomarzo in Jerico, Colombia

Cali Photo by Emmanuel Flores

Barrio El Peñón

Our temporary home was located in the alternative and progressive neighborhood called El Peñón. It’s the kind of place where you have artisanal gelato shops and international cuisines fusioned with authentic Colombian eateries and knick-knack shops. In the late afternoons, you can enjoy a nice walk or sit people-watching in the adorable central square where you might get a free impromptu concert by some guy and his guitar.

In Peñón, if you are having a stroll around, be sure to walk through the Cat Park along the river. They have a collection of large cat sculptures all uniquely decorated and themed with signs explaining the inspiration behind each one. Another cool spot along the river is the Museo la Tertulia, a museum featuring collections of modern art, an auditorium, an outdoor theater & a garden area.

Punto Baré Salsa place

Colombians call Cali the capital of Salsa so as you can imagine, there are plenty of places to dance or even catch a live Salsa concert in the city. A local recommended we go to Punto Baré to watch a live band and have some drinks. We had to reserve in advance the same day as this place is small and spots are limited. The band played beautifully and the locals dancing and singing really gives you a sense of just how deeply rooted in their culture Salsa music really is. I have yet to meet a Caleño that can’t dance or any Colombian for that matter.

Shops with art, pottery, books and a chess game set up

Punto Baré Photo by Punto Baré

With so much beauty, some ugliness

As is the way of the world, you can’t have all that beauty without some kind of ugliness: you can’t have yin without yang.

As we walked aimlessly across the city, we stopped to ask a policeman for directions to the local market. We got the directions but were told not to walk the way there because of a “no man’s land” neighborhood on the way. This man whose job is to serve and protect told us that no one walks through there, not even his kind.

That area is referred to as “la olla” and it’s where drugs, violence and extreme poverty are the main way of life. Obviously, make sure to avoid this sketchier part of Cali as you’re wandering through the streets.


We lived in Cali for over a month on our first visit and have been back a couple of times since. Regardless of the trouble we experienced (we managed to get our money back), and the darker side of the city, Cali is my favorite city in Colombia. It is pure passion and fire like its local music and blistering climate, it is colorful and flamboyant like the street art that covers the city's buildings, and it is welcoming and captivating like its beautiful inhabitants.

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