So do we all know that Cali is the salsa capital of the world?
Maybe some of you do, but I sure as hell didn’t. And rather than partake in our hostels free daily lessons – something almost every decent hostel offers – we were more interested in seeing some other things that this town offers.
Lost opportunity on a little fun? Maybe. But I can live with that. Instead, let’s skip over to Cali’s downtown precinct and see what’s going down there.
Downtown Cali resembles just about any largish latino city. It’s busy with traffic and humans, it’s a little unattractive with it’s tired concrete buildings, although it has a welcomed smattering of historic ones.
It’s very commercial in the centre of town, with many retail and drug stores, eateries and vendors selling electronics and plenty of fresh fruit.
For some lunchtime people watching, find a seat beneath the towering wax palms in Plaza de Caicedo – a green space that’s always been the centre of commercial, public and political life in the city.
One building worth checking out is La Ermita, a small gothic church built in 1942 which was modelled after the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. This iconic, intricate baby blue and white structure stands out from everything else around it, and there’s no doubt it’s one of the most photographed spots in the city.
Cali has a bad rap on safety, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the city entirely. There’s some fab stuff to see and experience in this town, so if you keep your street smarts on, you’ll leave as pleasantly surprised as we did.
Home for us was Barrio Granada – a leafy and slightly high-brow residential area that’s also filled with hotels, hostels, fashion boutiques, galleries and plenty of places to eat, drink and hang out.
Be sure to stop into Los Laureles, a corner grocer-cum-bakery-cum-cafe that’s heaving with locals in the morning hours. Come here for a cheap local breakfast or one of their sweet local specialties – peras. Two halves of firm sponge cake sandwiched with some kind of sweet paste, dipped in syrup and shredded coconut.
Los Laureles, corner Avenida 9N & Calle 16N
For some of the best espresso in the barrio, head to none other than the ubiquitous Juan Valdez Cafe for all your caffeinated needs. They’ve got the traditional brewing methods on offer, a few of the more hipster varieties, plus some good and strong wifi.
Juan Valdez Cafe, Avenida 9N, 17-11
They roast their own coffee, they have a handful of Colombian single origins on offer and their menu is loaded with espresso-based drinks and cocktails. Bendito is a bit of a mecca for caffeine-fuelled fun.
Don’t come here in the morning, however, as the doors don’t open earlier than 1pm most days of the week. A little strange for folk like us that need caffeine in the a.m. hours. Still, it’s a cosy little place to hang out and get chatting with your mates.
Bendito Coffee Shop, Avenida 9N, 12-05
Homemade pasta, friendly service and some quirky surroundings to get comfy in – this is one restaurant to come if you need a rest from the traditional South American offerings as well as a fix on good Italian.
Let’s not forget that all the pasta is made in-house.
Maccarroni’s, Calle 17N, and 9-56
It’s difficult to fathom, whist wandering the quaint streets of San Antonio, that you’re in the world’s 4th most dangerous city. Well, that was in 2014.
San Antonio is a predominantly residential area filled with colonial buildings that are home to galleries, boutiques, bakeries and cafes. It’s an easy barrio to walk around, despite being hilly, but anyone visiting still needs to keep their street smarts on. It may be gentrified, but robberies are still known to happen.
When the sun’s blaring down on the city and you need a quick cooling down, I’d say take a load off for a bit at this corner cafe and order one of these – Limonada de cafe.
Yes the espresso here is top notch, but I was totally smitten with their limonada de cafe, a brain freeze-inducing frappé of, you guessed it – lemon, coffee and ice. Sounds incredibly wrong, but I can assure you, it’s far from that. Loved it.
Cafe Macondo, Carrera 6,3-03
For one of the most divine chocolate croissants you’ve torn into since hitting South America, make a bee line for Panadaría La Baguette.
Inside and out it doesn’t look like much, but once your nose fills with the heavenly aroma of breads and flakey pastries lined up on baker’s trays, you’ll be wondering where to begin, as we did.
Panadaría La Baguette, corner Carrera 10 & Calle 3
Coffee excellence can be found in a little doorway that opens into a very smartly dressed cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in any major western city.
Plenty of seating downstairs, but head up to the next level and you can take in the breeze whilst chomping into a house-made bagel or donut or one of their fab gravlax salads with avocado, mango and arugula.
Corinne, Calle 3, 10-18
Trans Puerto Tejada runs buses to Cali every 1-1½ hrs for 24,000 pesos per person, and it takes 2½ hours. There are many other companies that do the same trip.
The bus leaves the main station in Popayán.