Cali is a beautiful city in the southwest of Colombia, full of a mixture of new and old-style buildings, beautiful examples of colonial architecture, impressive street art, fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) parks, and interesting museums. Top all that off with some really nice food options and Cali is definitely worth a visit. AJ and myself spent two days exploring the San Antonio area of Cali; in this article, I will go through the sights we explored and how we found them.
The San Antonio Area in General
- The river:
There is a really nice walkway along the riverside from La Ermita Church to the Parque de los Gatos; along this you can see various cat statues along the river and, if it’s around a big holiday, there may be decorations up along the bridges and paths. When we were there (January 2017) the Christmas decorations were still up; the theme that year had been ‘Sweet Christmas’ so there were a number of giant sweets and Christmas statues, it was really cute and colourful! The river itself is quite nice, although don’t be surprised if you see people washing themselves and/or their clothes in it; this is something we found to be quite common in the Colombian cities we visited where homelessness is a big issue.
- The Architecture:
The San Antonio area has some excellent examples of various architectural styles, from the gothic Iglesia La Ermita, to the colonial-style city theatre, to the modern, more abstract Museo de la Tertulia. These different styles are mixed in with regular modern office blocks and banks, making the San Antonio area a fun place to walk around in pursuit of spotting beautiful architectural gems hidden in the midst of the more mundane buildings.
- The Street Art:
Surprisingly enough to me, Cali was right up there with Lima, Cuenca, and Quito when it came to finding beautiful street art with every turn of a corner, from under bridges to the sides of buildings, to the park footpaths. There was also quite a lot of graffiti alongside it, but there was more than enough gorgeous pieces of art to make up for it. Even if you’re simply going out for a drink or a bite to eat, make sure to bring your camera with you – you never know what you’ll find.
- Parque de los Gatos:
This is one of my favourite parks in South America, bested only by the iguana park in Guayaquil. It sits along the river and its entrance is guarded by the large and impressive ‘Gato del Rio’ statue. When I was doing research on visiting Cali, this statue came up over and over again, but what anyone failed to mention was that behind this statue is an entire park FULL of cat statues, each one designed by an individual artist with its own theme. This park was an absolute pleasure to walk around; the cats are well spaced out, each of them look completely different from the others, and there is a lot of them so you can easily spend a good chunk of time admiring them from all angles. More of these cats can be found along the other side of the river, so make sure to check them out as well!
- Parque Higueron:
We stayed near this park during our time in Cali and, at first, it seemed like a nice park to chill out in, where you could find lots of green spaces to relax in, some nice installations to admire, and the Iglesia San Antonio at the top of a hill, which is a cute church to check out. However, the extra appeal of this park appears at night when a smattering of small lights illuminate the park, and the air is filled with bats. When we first walked through it one night on our way to get dinner, I thought that there was an unusual amount of birds flying around at night, until I looked up and realised that it was a bunch of cute tiny bats flitting between the trees. They’re very high up and don’t come down low enough to go near people, but it’s really fun to watch them fly around the tree tops hunting down insects.
- Parque Artesenal:
This is a park specifically for hosting a large handcraft market. There are a number of murals on the walls around, and a really cute footprint mural on the footpath, however outside of that it can seem a little shabby; some of the painting needs to be redone, the walls need to be replastered, and there’s quite a bit of litter in some areas. The market itself is a bit hit and miss depending on when you go; when we went it wasn’t very busy and a few of the stalls weren’t open. I would say that in the high season when it gets busy I can imagine the park would be a bustling, thriving marketplace, so I would say that while it’s worth checking out if you have an hour or so to kill, don’t get your hopes up as you could easily be disappointed by it.
- Museo de la Tertulia:
This is the modern art museum and is definitely worth checking out. The building itself screams the theme; it’s a mishmash of separate buildings, each united by the same outward appearance, but each with a different shape and aesthetic once inside. Luckily there are maps on the walls outside and you can get maps in each of the buildings as well to help you get around. It costs 10,000COL to enter, and you need to buy your entrance ticket at the ticket booth in the cinema building; that will cover your entry into the three exhibition halls. When we went there was an exhibition on photography, modern art using building supplies, and ‘La Forma del Futuro’, which had a range of pieces from videos to sculptures to drawings. All three exhibitions were really well done, interesting and though-provoking; I would definitely go back there if I was in the city again.
- Museo del Oro:
This turned out to be a little gem of a museum that can be found as part of the city bank. It’s free to go into, and is contained in one room on the second floor. In that room you can find artefacts from ancient civilisations that used to live in the area, both gold and other materials. The artefacts include pottery, jewellery, and statues, and there’s information about the traditions and cultures of these civilisations. It doesn’t take long to visit it, but it’s definitely worth checking out. There also another cultural museum across the road, but unfortunately it was closed the day we were there.
Food and Drink
- Pao Bakery & Café:
We went there for breakfast on our first morning, and naturally I went for the granola the second I saw it included actual greek-style yoghurt. AJ wasn’t too keen on it, but I absolutely loved it; the granola was really tasty, the yoghurt was thick and creamy, and the fruit was fresh, plus it came in a cute jar, and I’m a sucker for quirky and cute presentation. They also do delicious coffee that’s not too weak (I was warned about weak coffee in Cali because people drink it 24/7). I was also sorely tempted to buy a loaf of their homemade bread, but it would have gone to waste so I left it. We didn’t go there for lunch, but the menu looked really nice.
We ended up coming here twice, once for breakfast and once for lunch, and were really happy with the food both times. The pancakes for breakfast were really good, as were the eggs, but the highlight for me was their salads which we had for lunch. I had the chicken salad with a spicy chilli dressing, and AJ had the tuna and mango salad. Both were delicious – the vegetables were super fresh and crunchy, it was such a wonderfully refreshing lunch, all the better after weeks of heavy meat and rice dishes and fried foods.
- Sisa Atahualpa:
This is a restaurant sat on top of a handicraft shop at the edge of Parque Higueron. I really liked coming here at night and sitting out on the balcony area; there’s usually live music playing, the food is good (try the hamburgers!), and you get to enjoy a cold beer/drink of your choice while looking out over the park and the street and people watching as the locals and tourists go about their evening. There’s a nice atmosphere in the place, and the service is pretty decent too.
- Lengua de Mariposa – Heladaria Artesanal:
This is first and foremost an artisanal icecream café – you can get anything from a simple scoop of their homemade icecream, to a super fancy deluxe Sundae that will set you back a pretty penny or two. Along with that they also serve a variety of drinks and tasty snacks for those looking to take a break from the sun. We tried their mini deep-fried empanadas; they come with a delicious sauce and are super tasty! I also got to try a granizado for the first time, it’s sort of like a slushie made from fruit juice, semi-skimmed milk and ice chips; it’s surprisingly good given that I had no idea what to expect when I ordered it, I just liked the sound of it!
On The Wish List Should We Return
- Hike up to the Three Crosses:
The Three Crosses sit on top of a hill about a twenty-minute walk outside of town. On Sunday mornings a lot of people walk up to it so it’s a safe time for a hike. We had planned on doing the hike as our last day there was a Sunday; however, there was a really heavy rainstorm that started the night before and which was still going the next morning, so that scuppered our plans.
This was a club that I read about where they play only ‘Musica para Planchar’ which is ‘music to iron to.’ This type of music is basically all sad romantic songs about lost loves; it’s very dramatic and over the top so naturally I love it. I had really meant to go, really I did…but then I got tired, and it started raining and so…I got lazy and instead spent my evening playing ‘musica para planchar’ playlists on my laptop, much to AJ’s dismay. So if I ever end up back in Cali, I will definitely be making sure to head to this club!
- Salsa Show:
Cali is known as the salsa capital of the world, and AJ and I really wanted to try and see a salsa show while we were there. Unfortunately, there weren’t any on at the time. If salsa is one of the big things that you want to visit Cali for, make sure to check in advance when the shows are on, or else there are a lot of salsa bars where you can try out dancing for yourself!
While Cali is known primarily for salsa, this city has so much more to offer travellers who pass through; art, architecture, scenic parks and river walks, and a variety of museums. There are a whole host of gems to be found by exploring this city; hopefully this guide on the sights of Cali will inspire you to visit this beautiful part of Colombia.