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Located in western Colombia, between the Pacific and the Andes, Cali is the city of salsa. Salseros such as Óscar d'León, Richie Ray, Ray Barreto and orchestras such as Guayacán, La Mamba Negra or Fruko y sus Tesos have been inspired by places like Calle Quinta, Parque de los Poetas or even just its fresh climate.
Such is the influence of salsa in Cali that the band Grupo Niche dedicated several songs to the city. Their best-known hit, Cali Pachanguero, composed by Jairo Varela in 1984, is played in all 249 neighborhoods of the city, by its 2,445,281 citizens, in bars and dance halls. Every December, the song is the main anthem at an event that brings together 30 professional dance schools and about 600 thousand attendees: the Cali Fair.
Yet, Cali is not only the land of Salsa, nor its streets are only for dancing: Olympic medallists like María Isabel Urrutia, Óscar Figueroa and Jackeline Rentería were born here, and world-class sporting events, such as the VI Pan-American Games in 1971 or the IX World Games in 2013, are held.
Cali is also a city fit for the big screen, as it has given rise to hundreds of movies since 1922, as well as renowned directors such as Luis Ospina or Carlos Mayolo. As writer Andrés Caicedo said in one of his letters to Ospina, his friend and brother: "I have not been able to watch movies with the same intensity as I do inCali." For Caicedo, this was Cali’s essence: cinema, salsa, freedom.
To visit the city of Salsa is to find dance, color and great food. Therefore, before taking a thematic route, here are five plans for those who visit the capital of Valle del Cauca for the first time:
A frenzied dance of never-ending rhythm and intensity, Delirio is one of the most recognized salsa shows in Colombia. The numbers back it up: during its first ten years, they made 350 performances in 19 countries for a total of 400,000 spectators.
Founded in 1983 by John Martyn Smith, a Welsh tequila lover who has taught several generations of 'Caleños' the importance of the Beatles and the RollingStones, the place preserves the aesthetics of a British pub. It has never gone unnoticed: in 1992, David Gilmour, the guitarist of the British band Pink Floyd, visited the place after a concert at the Pascual Guerrero stadium.
This museum was created to honor one of the great figures of salsa, founder and director of Grupo Niche, who is remembered for songs like Sin sentimiento, Busca por dentro, Gotas de lluvia, Una aventura or Cali pachanguero. Here, dozens of treasures of the world's leading salsa exponents, such as Celia Cruz and Oscar D'León, are displayed.
This avenue is 780 square meters (8,390 square feet) wide and was inaugurated in 2013. It welcomes about 6,000 people every day. In 2014, during the XXIV Colombian Architecture Biennial, Bulevar del Río received an award from the Colombian Architect Association (Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectos) for the best urban design in the country.
Mexican writer Elmer Mendoza once wrote: "Parks are the eyes with which big cities look at the world." If this is true, Cali, a city with 2,450,998 square meters (little under one square mile) of public parks is a great sentinel.
A small square that pays tribute to great figures of Valle del Cauca’s literature, including Jorge Isaacs, Carlos Villafañe, Octavio Gamboa, Ricardo Nieto and Antonio Llanos: writers who marked the history of the region. Nearby you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a pandebono (a cheese-stuffed bun made with cornmeal and yuca starch) or a muffin at Panaletto Bakery.
On the banks of Cali River we can find the sculptures of a Cat and his girlfriends. Around 20 cats of intense colors and set in different positions have turned the place into an open-air museum. The cat is the work of Hernando Tejada, and his girlfriends were made by various sculptors such as Ómar Rayo, Diego Pombo, Ángela Villegas and Lorena Espitia.
In the center of the park we can see the statue of Teddy, a dog that was poisoned. According to the locals, their owners built the monument out of the love they felt for him. In its surroundings you can eat typical dishes from Cali at La Comitiva or try the Asian menu from Sushi Green.
Also known as Parque de las Banderas, it is one of the best-known parks in Cali. On Sundays you can visit the fruit stalls and try a lulada (a drink made with lulo pulp, crushed ice and sugar), a cholado (fruit salad with shaved ice and condensed milk) or a champús (a corn-based drink with panela and fruits such as pineapple or lulo).
This eco-park is located in the south of Cali, in an environmental corridor known as Bajo Pance. While walking or cycling, you can see birds such as kingfishers, woodpeckers, ducks and herons, which give the park its name. Bring bug repellent.
The love story between Cali and salsa music started five decades ago when Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz played there for the first time. Though before it was shyly played in popular neighborhoods, after 1968 the salsa spirit took over the city.
Today, the mandatory pilgrimage sites for its fans are Sexta Avenida and Calle Quinta. Yet, they are not the only ones:
This club was a pioneer of its kind. People have been enjoying salsa and tango here for over 54 years. Its oldest clients go there every weekend with sequin dresses and dance shoes.
What started as an abandoned basement, today is a nightclub. MalaMaña’s bet is simple: to make people dance 'salsa brava', that is, the one that is not played on the radio and whose tempo seems to 'break' the speed of sound. It is also an effort to revive the party scene in downtown Cali.
It started as a small house and today is one of the biggest nightclubs on Calle Quinta. Its dance floor is never empty, and couples go there to show their best moves. On Wednesdays the party is preceded by a cinema forum, and on Thursdays there are live music shows.
This club is special for its live shows and its Big Band, which makes people dance their shoes off. The band is led by musician Jaime Henao, who has collaborated with artists such as Grupo Niche. The best day to visit is on Wednesday, when the biggest party of the week is held.
Its decoration, tables and essence are all inspired in Cali during the 70s. Its walls are filled with portraits of salsa legends such as Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano and Celia Cruz; however, this club is also famous for its dancing, as some salsa schools frequently visit it to show their acrobatic dance steps.
The first film that was ever made in Colombia, called María, was rolled in Cali in 1922. Since then, the city has witnessed the evolution of cinema in the country. Because of the experimentation of cinematographic genres and the large number of directors born here, the city was named “Caliwood”. These are some of its most representative stops:
This complex was built in 1971 for the VI Pan American Games. Directors Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo filmed Oiga vea!, a documentary about Cali seen through the framework of this event. Today the film is a classic of national cinema.
This museum is a monument to Cali’s cinematic myth and to Colombia’s cinematographic production. There you can find 200 old projectors, 100 vintage video cameras, 220 original movie posters and other relics of the industry. Its guided tours can be taken in Spanish or English.
Located in front of a church with the same name, the house was the stage of the first part of the film Carne de tu carne (1983) by Cali director Carlos Mayolo. The film’s topics make it a rarity of national cinema and one of the clearest examples of what was called “tropical gothic”.
Built 86 years ago, here is where the first color film made in Colombia was premiered. After being abandoned in the 1960s, in 1984 the theater was restored and declared a national monument for its French- inspired neoclassical architecture, its historical legacy and its 33-meter tall acoustic box, the second highest in Latin America, after the one at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
The first color film produced in Colombia was La gran obsesión: a psychological thriller about a woman who seeks to make her way in society. The train and this place (an old railway station) play an important role in the film, since those are the first things the protagonist sees when she arrives in the city and they represent both her great dream and the beginning of her misfortunes. The station became a national monument in 1994.
Specialty: Sea food / traditional Colombian food
A house built in the early twentieth century on the typical San Fernando Viejo neighborhood where you can find local flavors and ingredients of small producers from the Colombian Pacific region. As Juan Carlos Quintero, its executive chef, explains: "Our fish, squid and shellfish come from the town of Charambirá, in the department of Chocó, and they are caught with fishing hooks, not using aggressive methods that harm the environment."
Among the dishes you can find in the menu, the seafood casserole with Pacific stir-fry sauce (made with onion, tomatoes, peppers and coconut milk) and the atollado rice are highly recommended. "Despite serving traditional dishes, we see the Pacific as a global region, so we learn about the spices of Vietnam or Thailand and use them in our recipes," Quintero adds.
Specialty: Healthy food
According to chef Catalina Valencia, the menu at Domingo does not only respond to the taste of its clients but also to the cycles imposed by nature. Her cuisine seeks to be environmentally responsible and uses every part of its ingredients. As a result, her dishes vary throughout the year: "If the earth is not providing something, then we do not use it and we adapt. There are farmers who bring us beans or sesame seeds every three, four months and we use them in our recipes," says Catalina.
One of the few yearlong dishes is the slow-cooked lamb, served in its juice in a raw lemon sauce fermented for one year with roasted sweet potato. The restaurant seeks to promote the figure of the culinary artisan: the one who sows, cares for, cultivates and sells his products with his hands, from the seed.
Dough made with corn flour, yuca starch, cheese and egg. It can be easily found in the vast majority of bakeries in the city. In some cases, it is filled with bocadillo (guava paste).
Traditional soup from the Valle area, with plantain and a combination of chicken, beef or pork. In the south of the city, free-range chicken and herbs such as long coriander are preferred. You can also include potato.
Cornmeal dough stuffed with potato and shredded meat.
Recognized in many occasions as the best chef in Cali (Platillos Voladores restaurant), Vicky Acosta is one of the people responsible for the consolidation of the gastronomic scene in 'Sultana del Valle' (one of the names with which people refer to Cali). Its culinary offer delves into the flavors of the Valle del Cauca region, but reinterprets them based on her experience as a chef and on a more global perspective on cooking.
The sweetness of the ripe plantain, combined with the cheese and bocadillo (guava paste), makes it a local delicacy. This iconic dish from Valle del Cauca is about a century old.
For 4 servings
When it comes to music and good rhythm there is no destination that can compare with Cali. In the Salsa Capital, you can enjoy gastronomic delights and cultural dances, full of colour and flavour. For this reason, the Fourteenth World Salsa Festival invites all visitors to this beautiful city to know the history behind this musical genre and live a unique experience.
Date: september 25-29, 2019.
Meeting place: Coliseo El Pueblo.
Get to know the agenda of this great event on the Salsa World page.
Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (15 kilometers from the city center).
Service hours: from 5:00 to 23:00. * Upon arrival in Cali, check the schedules, which may vary according to the day. Price: 2,000 COP (0.62 USD) per ticket.
3-star hotel: 120,000 COP (37.52 USD) per person. 5-star hotel: 300,000 COP (93.80 USD) per person.