Cali – Colombia’s Fiesta Capital


Cali Panorama

Cali Panorama

Cali (caleños) is in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca and considered one of the major economic and industrial centers of the country. Known as Colombia’s capital of fiestas, dancing, and salsa, they say in Cali salsa dancing is more common than walking! The first day in Cali I noticed salsa music and dancing late into the night. The people here are friendly and happy.

Cali is surrounded by Farallones de Cali, a cluster of mountains in the West Andes. The craggy peaks give rise to seven rivers that flow down the surrounding hills and give Cali its water and electricity. I plan to take a walk upstream to popular Fundación Farallones Park.

In the evening, everyone’s attention turns to dancing. In Juanchito, Cali’s Salsa hotspot, “mulatto floorboards become dance-o-dromes,” where tourists and locals dance until dawn. There are many cultural activities and centers like the Instituto Departamental de Arte y Cultura, the Teatro Municipal, the Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, and the Escuela Departamental de Teatro. I’m considering a salsa lesson and maybe a few Spanish classes.

Lulo Fruit

Lulo Fruit

A friendly waiter at a café where I had lunch yesterday invited me to join a New Year’s Eve party. It’s at a small hotel nearby and begins late. He said most Colombians spend New Year’s Eve celebrating with their families and then go out to dance and party until dawn.

Cali is full of delicious food and has a huge variety of cozy, reasonably priced restaurants and cafes with just about any cuisine you could desire. The traditional food is a combination of the region’s Spanish, Quechua, and African heritage with the culinary secrets of Antioquia. Favorites are tortilla soup, aborrajado (ripe plantain with melted cheese), toasted green plantain with a hogao (vegetable stir-fry), and tamales. Sugarcane plantations inspire exotic desserts like manjar blanco (a sauce made of milk and sugar heated until it caramelizes), coconut sweets, and champús – a beverage made from corn, the pulp of the lulo fruit, pieces of pineapple, cinnamon, and brown sugar syrup.

Cali’s climate is tropical and hot. The west branch of the Andes blocks the cool, humid air coming from the Pacific Ocean and the average temperature is around 80º F. Dry seasons are from December to March and July to August but thunderstorms are common any time of the year and it’s always advisable to carry an umbrella. It isn’t nearly as humid as Cartagena on the coast of the Caribbean.

My body is wondering what’s going on with so many dramatic climate and altitude changes. In general I feel invigorated and at the same time challenged to keep learning new places where I know no one and haven’t visited before – exciting! Had a few bad headache days after arriving in Bogota but brought Diamox, which helped.

There are many interesting overland trips from Cali to Quito (next stop) and I’m weighing the options available and which would be the safest and most interesting. The overland trip is 20+ hours but along the way you can stop for a few days in fascinating places like Popayán and San Agustin.

Hasta mas tarde!

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