La Jessica: Cali Colombia – Valle del Cauca

By Jessica Gerland

Cristo Rey, Santiago de Cali

I never would have imagined myself living in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, but I  fell in love with a caleño two weeks after moving to Cartagena de Indias. I met Andrés during a sunset stroll on the wall that surrounds the historic center of Cartagena. Three years later, we haven’t left each other’s sides, but that’s another story.

Castillo San Felipe, Cartagena

After a series of events completely out of our control, I was given the boot out of Colombia. “Pay a fine and don’t come back ’til next year” left me and my newly found love scrambling to make some decisions. Get married for a visa? Or leave the country? Seeing as how we had only known each other a few months, we chose the latter. 

As luck would have it, a fellow traveler told us about a site called workaway.info so we found some work and headed to Ecuador. I’ll save our Ecuador adventure for another post, because here we are talking about Cali, baby! 

Sebastián de Belalcázar monument, Santiago de Cali

When Andrés told me he was from Cali, I have to admit that I was a little intimidated. We had just finished watching Narcos, and I wasn’t trying to get involved in the cartel, or get kidnapped and held for ransom.  I realize now how very naive I was, but Colombia doesn’t have the greatest reputation, and even my Colombian friends back home warned me of the dangers.

I had been solo traveling South America for three months before I decided I was moving to Colombia, and I had only spent two weeks traveling the Colombia with my girls before deciding I was moving to Cartagena. Little did I know I would end up leaving Cartagena, and spending two years in what was once the most dangerous city in the world.

It’s funny to think about it now, how much my perspective has changed since arriving in Bogota in 2017. Once scared of the cartel, or getting robbed, now my biggest concerns are poverty, corruption, and the crisis in Venezuela. Again, that’s a whole other story! 

San Antonio church

Colombia is full of surprises, and each city has its own charm. Santiago de Cali, commonly referred to as Cali, is tucked into the Western chain of the Andes mountains, taking up a small part of the 8,550 square mile Valle del Cauca. On one Andean peak stands Cristo Rey, a 75 foot statue of Jesus. On another peak, the Cerro de los Tres Cruces, overlooking the city are three giant crosses which as legend has it were put there to keep the devil Buziraco away. 

Cali is famous for its multicultural history, colorful markets, cool evening breezes, and late night fiestas. The caleños and caleñas are the world’s best Salsa dancers, and some of the hottest salsa hits are straight outta Cali. In December during the ferias, you’ll find Salsa on every street corner, nightly concerts and events including a parade of Salsa dancers. Take sneak peek below! 

Salsa is a common thread that ties the expat community together in Cali. The majority of the people I met when helping form the Cali Collaborative had either fallen in love with a caleño/a, or with salsa dancing. There are top-notch shows including Delirio, Ensalsate, and the Mulatto Cabaret where you can dance with the pros after the show. There are countless schools and world-champion dancers ready and willing to teach you to dance.

I recommend Salsa Classes Colombia.

Lucia Chacon won Best Bachata Dancer at the 2019 World Latin Dance Cup!

If salsa isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to do in Cali. Take a stroll through the charming San Antonio neighborhood, cruise through the chaotic centro, and then get some fresh air as you visit the Ermita Church on the Bulevar along the Río Cali. You can visit the famous bronze Gatos del Rio, similar to the Tahoe Bears, and grab a drink in one of the upscale neighborhoods of Granada or El Peñon. Craft beer and cuisine is aplenty in this caliente Latin American city. 

Alameda market

There is also an abundance of Afro-American culture in Cali, as the Pacific port of Buenaventura is just three hours away. The fusion of culture, art, music, and cuisine you find in Cali is a testament to its rich multicultural roots. If you can plan a trip in August, you’ll want to catch Petronio Alvarez, the most important afro-culture event in Latin America!

For those thrill and adventure seekers, you can find hiking, swimming, kite surfing, sky diving, mountain biking and more. In fact, La Leyenda del Dorado is Colombia’s most prestigious multi-stage mountain bike race, where professional and amateur cyclists from around the world race side by side. This year’s event starts and ends in Cali!

As you can see, there is more than meets the eye in the city of Santiago de Cali in the heart of the  Valle del Cauca. BBC wrote an article about Cali, calling it “Colombia’s Buzzing Comeback City”. You can read it here

If you are planning a trip to Colombia, love to party and dance the night away, Cali should definitely be on your list.


Jessica is a proud bilingual California girl with a lifelong passion for travel and Latin culture. She’s a teacher, a marketer, an entrepreneur and a lifelong learner. This blog post was republished with her permission from https://lajessica.com/