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Carolina Navas’s high contrast Cali
A world’s worth of recommended spots from our global community
words – carolina navas
location – colombia, south america
At boom saloon, we’re incredibly privileged to collaborate with a community of hundreds of talented creatives all around the world, stretching from Ecuador to Egypt, China to Canada, Austria to Angola. Our strong relations have afforded us a wealth of insider insights into the best places to visit, eat and stay, all around the world. Now, we want to share this information with you as we work with our community to map the world and share their best recommendations of how to enjoy destinations both near and far. Our version of a city guide, delivered interactively and in real time – curated for all to enjoy and presented as a savable Google Map for our members to save and bookmark a wealth of future adventures.
Cali is the third largest city in Colombia, after Bogotá and Medellín. Located in the Southwest of the country, in the Cauca River Valley, Cali is formed by the western mountain range and the central mountain range of the Andean Region. Its climate oscillates between 25°C and 30°C throughout the year. With a population of around 2,500,000, it is home to Latin America’s second largest Afro-descendant population after Salvador de Bahía in Brazil.
La Sultana del Valle, as it is also known, is a place of stark contrasts. It is recognised worldwide as the capital of salsa, but also holds a darker reputation for its high levels of violence linked to drug trafficking and social inequality. Yet Cali’s people are famously friendly and forever smiling; without a doubt, dance culture runs through the veins of the majority without socio demographic distinction. Despite being a “party” city, Cali surprised the entire country in 2021 when it became the main headquarters of the uprising that took place against the government, paralysing the country for several months. Many young people took to the streets to demand justice in a city, and in a country, that has forgotten them. This colourful, chaotic location hums with authentic cadence; the city’s high contrast ensures it should be near the top of your Latin America wanderlist, especially thanks to the following places I recommend to visit.
01_Bulevar del Río
Cali is a city crossed by seven rivers, including the Cali River. The Bulevard del Río is a pedestrian street that was built parallel to this river in the city centre in 2012. You can go any day of the week, but if you go on a Friday, you can attend the big street party that takes place in the surroundings – more precisely, in the well-known “Street of Sin.” Here, people bring typical salsa instruments, such as the bell and the bongo, to play along with the classics of this genre.
If you prefer to sit down and relax, you can go have a beer and eat empanadas [one of the small delicacies of Valle del Cauca gastronomy] at El Tomatero – a small bar on a corner where the Cali breeze feels wonderful. For those with less tropical tastes, go to Sónica to listen to New Wave or post punk while having a beer on the platform, while dark melodies mix with the tropical sounds of the street. Nearby is Sonido Central, if electronic music is your thing; and if you prefer to dance salsa and have a table in a closed place, go to Mala Maña. Everything is a few blocks apart.
02_Museo La Tertulia
This is practically the only moderately large museum that exists in the city. It is located next to the Cali River, in the West. The museum was built in 1956 and since then it has been a reference point for the history of art in the country. It currently houses more than 2,000 works of American art and has a strong focus on education and generating connection to all audiences. Its Cinemateca is probably the only place where you can see Colombian cinema in the city. In recent years, the museum has been carrying out many outdoor activities, such as radio shows and literary picnics.
In addition to the La Tertulia, make sure to visit the La Merced Archaeological Museum, or the alternative and self-managed museums of the city – such as the Museo Popular De Siloé (the Siloé Popular Museum), Museo De La Salsa (the Salsa Museum), and Caliwood, museum of caleño film.
03_La Galería Alameda
This market square was inaugurated in 1955 and is located in a sector famous for its salsa dancers and its park. Here you can learn about the great variety of flowers and fruits that exist in the country; you can find herbs to make botanical infusions, utensils and ingredients for exotic recipes or you can eat a Spanish tortilla, an Argentinian empanada, a Peruvian seviche or a Colombian blood sausage. Seafood is the forté in this market; it is here where the Pacific community that came to Cali when forcibly displaced by violence created a special space to showcase its gastronomy. The Basilia restaurant stands out as a particular highlight. Here, while you wait for a fish casserole or a clavado rice, you can enjoy a viche – a traditional craft drink from the Afro communities of the Colombian Pacific. From here, walk a little further and go to Viche Positivo, the restaurant and vichería of the highly respected Nidia Góngora: singer, businesswoman and cultural leader who, among others, has made music with the renowned English DJ and producer, Quantic.
04_Monumento a la Resistencia
In Eastern Cali, the area of the city with the highest rate of poverty, social and economic inequality, the community created a collective and self-managed sculpture to mark the social uprising that Cali experienced in 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This sculpture is a hand, approximately 10 metres high, that holds a sign reading “Resistance” – a word that was very important in the marches against the government during the National Strike. On this hand, the faces of several of the young people who were killed during the protests were drawn. Some of the powers that be in Cali have tried to delegitimise and tear down this structure, arguing that it was built without any legal regulation. However, they have not been able to knock it down and it remains as evidence of the union, strength and hope of a hurt community.
In the South of the city, close to one of the neighbourhoods whose square meterage is one of the most expensive in Latin America, is the Pance River. This begins in Pico Pance, the tallest peak of the Western Cordillera in the Los Farallones de Cali Natural Park. Here you can find families preparing sancocho [a typical dish of the region] on the river bank, people playing sports or drinking beer, pets, ice cream vendors, fruit vendors… in short, people from all parts of Cali who flee the heat of the city in search of cold water and shade. The river caters to all budgets, yet sadly this ecosystem is threatened by indiscriminate urbanisation and illegal mining in Los Farallones de Cali Natural Park.
The working class neighbourhood is a popular sector of Cali, in spite of its complex problems; it is also one of the places with the strongest roots in the Cali identity, because a good part of the predominant musical taste of the city has been forged here. Different influences, throughout the years, converged here – bars, cinemas, collectors, dancers and musicians. The neighbourhood recently turned 100 years old to the rhythm of Antillean music whilst conserving some of its most iconic places, such as El Chorrito Antillano, La Nellyteca and La Matraca, which is an Argentine-influenced space for tango fans.
In the park you can visit the sculpture of Piper Pimienta, the famous singer and dancer who grew up in this neighbourhood and who wrote the famous song, “Las caleñas son como las flores.” Years later, he was maurdered in the Eastern part of the city. You can also visit the Salsa Museum, a small place where you can see the locals sing and dance as they enjoy the great musicians of this genre who visited the city, and who were photographed by the owner of this particular space.
07_La Casa Latina
This space is in the traditional Alameda neighbourhood, an area known for its market square and for having a wide variety of nightclubs for salsa dancers. Gary Domínguez, a DJ, music producer and collector, was born in this house. His father was a soccer player and a music lover, and Gary is his heir. After living in New York and Puerto Rico, he decided to return to Cali a few years ago and create what he calls the Music Museum. At Casa Latina you can find a collection of more than 5,000 vinyls; it has a very calm atmosphere and is filled with music lovers who come to listen and learn. Expect to be given a list of the music that you will listen to with information about each piece. The Museum itself is very cheap, and you can grab a beer or choose a bottle of liquor you want and pay only a single corkage fee.
San Antonio is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Cali. Its large houses, some of colonial architecture, are still preserved. Despite the gentrification that tourism has brought, there are still many families that have lived there for a long time. This neighbourhood was declared an urban landmark, area of patrimonial interest and urban preservation in 2000. If you plan on walking through, do it ideally after 4pm, when the sun in Cali is friendly and the breeze begins to cool the city. Here you can find cafes, restaurants, theatres and grocery stores; artisans, neighbours, local people and tourists wander its streets. From the hill you can enjoy a great panoramic view of the city and spot the chapel of San Antonio – it is more than 270 years old and is of Baroque architecture. Don’t forget to visit La Linterna for some great Cali souvenirs, to have a beer with aborrajado [ripe plantain fried dough with cheese] and marranitas [green plantain fried dough with pork] at La Colina and buy some handicrafts at El Palomar.
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