Cali is the third-largest city in Colombia, and while it might get a bad reputation for crime, it’s actually a lively, fun city where you should be able to stay relatively safe if you know where to go. There’s not much in the way of tourist attractions, but there’s plenty to do, see, and experience in the way of culture, food, neighborhoods, and nightlife.
You can stay active and get moving in several different ways, from salsa dancing in the city where it was born, to hiking up to the best viewpoints in town, to visiting the Río Pance in the nearby national park. Along with a riverside walk right through its downtown, Cali has its share of palm tree-lined plazas, great cuisine, and bustling markets where you can while away the day.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Cali:
1. Go Salsa Dancing
Cali is the birthplace of salsa, so while you’re here it’s pretty much mandatory that you either learn to dance or go out and wing it.
You’ll hear the upbeat music all over the city and there’s plenty of places to take salsa dancing lessons, like El Manicero, Son de Luz, and Swing Latino.
For a real salsa experience with the old pros dancing alongside the tourists, you’ll be spoiled for choice, but check out Zaperoco, Tin Tin Deo, and La Topa Tolondra.
If you’re here between Christmas and New Year’s when the city’s La Feria de Cali takes place, get ready for salsa parades, dancing in the streets and musical performances by famous artists.
If you can’t get enough of salsa (and when it’s good, trust me, you can’t), book ahead to see Cali’s famous salsa circus, Delirio.
These dancers have traveled the world performing, and they only hold shows here on the last weeked of each month, so plan your trip around one! Shows feel like a combination of music, dancing, and Cirque de Soleil with a touch of cabaret.
The salsa dancers are phenomenal, having grown up in Cali’s salsa schools – we’re talking kids and adults performing at the highest level.
Shows are held in a circus-like tent that seats 1,000 and in between acts you’re allowed to get up and dance.
3. Walk Along the Río Cali and Visit the Cat Park
The Río Cali is located in the north of of the city, and along its banks you’ll find pedestrian areas, bike lanes, statues, and shady areas where you can relax.
You’ll also stumble upon Cali’s famous Cat Park, or El Parque del Gato de Tejada, a city improvement project that’s home to a three-ton giant bronze cat donated by Colombian artist, Hernando Tejada.
Today you’ll see an additional 15 smaller cat statues in the park, all painted by local artists.
Parque del Peñon is nearby as well, and all around the area are plenty of places to sit outside with vendors selling ice cream, raspados (sweet, flavored shaved ices), and cold drinks.
4. Capilla La Ermita
This is the church everybody visits in Cali because, architecturally speaking, it’s truly beautiful.
Built in an ornate neo-Gothic style and located in the center of town, construction on the opulent chapel began in 1930 and finished in 1948. The design incorporates Dutch windows, French church bells, Italian marble, and inspiration from a cathedral in Germany.
It’s impossible to miss the bright white exterior and you can venture inside, though it is quite small.
Keep strolling this area for a look at some well-preserved colonial architecture and check out Plaza de los Poetas with its statues of famous writers.
5. Barrio San Antonio
The bohemian neighborhood of Cali, San Antonio is the oldest part of the city and it’s great for a meandering walk through narrow streets.
This is where you’ll find much of the town’s history, with plenty of intricately designed buildings, theaters, and artsy cafes where you can stop for a bite and some people watching.
Previously, lots of Colombian artists and writers lived in this area, but now it’s a hip spot for drinking coffee.
If you head up the hill to the Iglesia San Antonio, you can see the church and get some great views of Cali and the valley below.
6. Eat Local Cali Cuisine
You might’ve tried quite a bit of Colombian food already, but Cali is known for a few of dishes in particular.
You’ll want grab a cholado, those cups of mixed fruit covered in a sweet syrup of condensed milk.
Drink a lulado, a refreshing drink of lulo fruit juice mixed with ice and water.
There’s also pandebono, a simple roll of bread filled with cheese that’s typically eaten for breakfast.
Arroz atollado is a rice dish with pork, chicken, potatoes, and other vegetables.
Champus are the weirdest of them all, a soupy snack made of corn mixed with fruits that you eat with a spoon.
For a food tour that’ll take you out for a taste of Cali cuisine, try Callejeros Tours.
7. Walk up to El Cristo Rey
While it’s not quite as famous as Christ the Redeemer in Rio, this particular statue of Christ stands 26 meters high and it’s well worth a visit for the scenery and the exercise.
You’ll have the best panoramic view of Cali from here, so bring your camera.
It can be a little cooler up on Cerro de los Cristales, so grab a sweater (and some mosquito repellant) while you’re at it.
You’ll find a few vendors who set up shop along the route if you find you need a snack or a fresh juice.
This trip is also great to combine with a visit to the Andoke Mariposario, a beautiful butterfly garden up the road from El Cristo Rey.
8. Zoológico de Cali
The Cali Zoo is one of the most beautiful in South America, and almost everyone recommends a visit here.
With healthy animals, organized exhibits, and clean pathways that make you feel like you’re in the middle of a jungle, it’s a great day out for the whole family.
They have a large collection of animals that are native to Colombia, lots from all over South America, and even lions, tigers, and kangaroos.
The Cali River runs right through it, plus there are fish ponds, native flora, and freely roaming iguanas and peacocks all about.
You’ll probably be here for a while, so they’ve also got places where you can grab a snack or a drink.
9. Parque Artesanal Loma de la Cruz
This is the place to get a taste of the local Cali vibe, but you can also shop a little while you’re here.
Within the park you can purchase handicrafts from artisans who might even be making stuff right in front of you – prices are reasonable.
You’ll also find lots of cheap bars and restaurants all around where you can get something to eat or drink while you shop or walk around.
There’s usually a little entertainment going on here in the evenings, especially from Thursday onwards, and you could see anything from salsa dancing to live music to storytelling to guinea pig gambling.
10. Río Pance and Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali
This is where locals go to cool off on the weekends.
Head out to Río Pance to enjoy the clear waters, the lush hiking trails, and the excellent birdwatching and wildlife spotting.
If you’re not driving, you can take the public bus for the day.
Pack a picnic and do some swimming or walk along the trails in the national park for great views.
At the bottom is Pance EcoPark, the most popular area with restrooms, food vendors, and a manmade lake.
Further up in La Voragine, the crowds thin out and you’ll have even more dramatic views, a rushing river, and restaurants serving sancocho (a Colombian soup). There are waterfalls, places to spend the night, and more difficult hikes like Pico de Loro if you venture further up the river and into the park.
11. Experience Cali Nightlife
Cali just might have some of the best nightlife in Colombia.
The city has several “Zona Rosas” or areas with a high concentration of buzzing restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Barrio Granada is a popular neighborhood that’s great for dining and partying but it’s a little further out.
La Sexta and the area around it are filled with bars, nightclubs, and salsa dancing (at Zaperoco). Many tourists will stick to the bars around San Antonio, but be sure to head to Parque del Perro at least one night to see where locals and students congregate.
In the center is a park with a statue of a dog (thus the name) where you can occasionally find musicians, artists, and festivals.
But the real attractions here are the surrounding bars, clubs, restaurants with outdoor patios, and people spilling out onto the sidewalks to drink and socialize.
12. Galería Alameda
Go explore a vibrant, authentic, somewhat chaotic market in Cali where you can shop, take photos, and taste test lots of foods! Galería Alameda takes up nearly a whole block and sells exotic fruits, vegetables, herbs, strange cuts of meat, and flowers.
You’ll even see indigenous women selling love potions and alternative medicines.
There are lots of food stalls here where you can try Cali specialties like champus and lulado.
Many restaurants around the market specialize in seafood so be sure to have some Colombian ceviche (the secret ingredient is ketchup!) after you finish browsing.
13. Cerro de las Tres Cruces
This hike is a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth it because the views are incredible from the top.
You can see the Hill of the Three Crosses from almost anywhere in the city, and on Sundays you’ll find lots of locals climbing it for exercise.
Go on weekend mornings and you’ll have plenty of company (don’t do it alone). It should take you about an hour to get to the top, and if you’re feeling super active, there’s an outdoor gym up there too.
The path is well-marked, though it can be a little steep in places.
Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and your camera.
14. Plaza de Cayzedo
The main square in Cali, this palm tree-filled plaza is the heart of the city and a great place to people watch.
Admire the government buildings and national monuments and try some street food amidst the crowds.
You’ll see the Palacio Nacional, San Pedro Cathedral, and Edificio Otero, and you can enjoy a coffee or tinto as you admire the neoclassical architecture.
You’ll be surrounded by a range of characters that includes locals, tourists, lottery ticket salesmen, shoe shiners, dodgy characters, suited up professionals, and street vendors.
15. Hit the Museums
While Cali doesn’t have many touristic sites, it does have its fair share of museums.
Museo La Tertulia is the city’s modern art museum with a small but refreshing collection of artwork and a film library that shows movies regularly.
If you’ve got an automobile or aircraft lover among your crew, check out the Museo Aereo Felix with its transportation exhibits that include full-size planes, trains, tractors, cars, helicopters, and gas pumps.
Finally, you can visit a museum dedicated to the most important crop in the Valle de Cauca, sugarcane.
The Museo de la Caña de Azúcar is located on a beautiful, historic, garden-filled site in the countryside, and it offers tours of the old equipment used to process cane sugar.