today about Cali, the famous Salsa capital, home to the biggest celebration of Salsa, the Feria de Cali.
We arrived here in the late afternoon, at over 30 degrees temperature in a huge city which was already preparing for the event of the year: Feria de Cali. Our hostel El Viajero (recommended) was located in the touristic center San Antonio. It’s a colonial neighborhood with many restaurants, café’s, parks etc. We were very excited to take our first salsa lesson, so we joined the free group class offered in our hostel at 7pm. So far so good, we did quite good and followed all the steps.
Little did we know that the Salsa fever would take us, so we were looking for the best and most economic way to learn this latin dance. There’s schools like Sondeluz, which is a very renowned dance school or El Manicero, which is cheaper and mostly visited by colombians. We finally decided to take classes in our hostel el Viajero with Madeleyn and Diego and it was the best decision. From then on we took 2 hours per day, so our 7 day stay in Cali had kind of a rhythm and it felt a bit like a home to us.
But what else did we do? The first few days we spent quite some time in our hostel El Viajero. The vibe was great, we met some nice people and they had several acts in the evenings.
After staying here for like 3 days we changed our hostels, since we wanted a cozy home for christmas for example. So we stayed at Hotel Colina San Antonio where we had a little apartment but still got breakfast served in the room every morning. We also stayed at Pajara Pinta, but i wouldn’t really go back.
We joined the ‘Free Food Tour’, a really fun and different kind of tour that brings you to the Cali market where you taste tons of fruit and prepared food. But that’s not all: On the way there you’ll see a lot of street art, which has a lot of political history behind and you’ll see cute parks like the Loma de la Cruz, a souvenir market close to San Antonio.
Since it was christmas Cali had of course also a light show. In this case it was a huge boulevard next to the river with millions of light bulbs everywhere in different decorations. Families were going there to have food, take selfies and enjoy the pre-christmas vibe. Also the park Colina de San Antonio had beautiful light installations and a very romantic vibe when it got dark.
And then it was all about the party – salsa of course. I mean, we did not take salsa classes for fun, it was for the salsa clubs. 🙂 There’s plenty of clubs, but we enjoyed La Topa Tolondra and MalaMaña the most. The first is very famous, has the best dancers and is rather big. The second was way smaller, in a basement, hot and sweaty with basically only locals. The biggest party was of course the Feria de Cali, a 5 day festival starting the 25th of December. It starts off with a huge parade called the Salsadromo, a large piece of the highway running through the city which is blocked for the event and lined with tribunes for the spectators. We had heard via different friends’ salsa teachers of the final rehearsal 3 nights before the actual show. Since the tickets for the Salsadromo were already long sold out, we tried our luck when we took the taxi at 11.30pm to where we thought it would happen. We got lucky! We had not missed much yet, all the seats were now of course available and there were many people with agua ardiente (a local alcoholic drink) watching the dance schools practice their routine. Amongst the many dancers we also saw our own dance teachers!
On the first day of the big festival we tried again to find a good spot to watch the full show, this time it would be with costumes and all. Luckily we were just in time to get on a bridge from where we had a great view for free together with many other caleños (people from Cali).
Afterwards we walked around and found some street parties à la Fast&Furious with open cars blasting Salsa and Reggaeton tunes and people dancing around them.
After strolling around we ended up at the Poker Feria, which was a party at a sports arena sponsored by the colombian beer brand Poker. The entry was basically a six pack of beer per person and inside we found many colombians singing and dancing to apparently famous latin songs, which we did not really recognize because the sound system was super bad. After this we spent our final hours of the night dancing salsa at La Topa.
Tips for food: Number one is definitely el Pargo Rojo, a fish restaurant only open for lunch with 3 menus but delicious food. Pao Bakery in San Antonio was very nice too, with mainly sandwiches, pizzas and many more thing. Sucre which was our first stop in Cali, a french bakery with a small but tasty menu not far from San Antonio. Cadillac, a fairly new place that serves delicious finger food 50s style. Otherwise just have an arepa on the street or one of the many fried snacks they have.