Cali, Colombia: Costeña Without the Coast

The Basics
We flew direct to Cali from Medellín via Avianca airlines. It was a simple, brief flight that cost around 168,000 COP per person round trip. It is also possible to take a 9-hour bus ride from Medellín (or connecting from various cities).

Upon arrival, we found there were two options for getting into the city center. We hopped on a public bus that took us to the bus terminal for 6,500 COP each. From there, we grabbed a taxi directly to our hotel for about 7,000 COP. Since we had a morning flight and didn’t know how long the bus could take to bring us back, we opted to get a taxi directly to the airport when we left. Taxis charge a flat rate of 55,000 COP to/from the airport. Depending on the size of your group, I could see the taxi being a better deal for door to door service. However, the bus ride was super simple and easy to find.

There are numerous hostels, hotels, and Air Bnb locations around Cali. I had planned on running the half marathon in Cali that weekend, so we stayed in the neighbor called Cambulos. We chose an Air Bnb, which ended up being a hotel, that was near to the race’s starting/finish line. It was also a short cab ride from the downtown neighborhoods, like San Antonio.

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Get Your Adventure On
San Antonio: This neighborhood has the charm of a pueblo in Colombia, yet is sprinkled with the restaurants of trendy streets in Bogotá. In the evenings, the park in front of the church is filled with locals enjoying picnics and drinks, overlooking the city.

Media Maratón Cali: This was my first half marathon in Colombia, and I loved getting to experience the culture and city from this perspective. Running has recently become more popular here and it was a good turnout for participation. They start races by warming up all together, which is something I haven’t seen in the U.S. If you enjoy races, I highly recommend signing up for one as a part of your travels.

Swimming: Cali is known for its heat, but lack of a refreshing beach. We didn’t have a hotel that included a pool, but we found one anyway. At the nearby sports center (Unidad Recreativa Olimpico), we paid 6,000 COP to spend the day relaxing by the pool.

Salsa: Cali is also known for being the capital of salsa. Although we didn’t make it to a club in our brief weekend visit, they are plenty of spots to see live bands, experienced dancers, or learn some steps yourself. In December, they host the biggest salsa festival in Colombia!

Eats & Drinks 
El Zaguan: While I wasn’t impressed with the menu selection (typical Colombian dishes that I’ve had my fair share of), I loved the view from their rooftop. Perfect for an evening to watch the sunset. They serve Cali’s famous drink, the lulada, made with lulo fruit and vodka.

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Luladas on the roof

Nikkei 232: This tiny joint is located next to the park in San Antonio. It serves a combination of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. We had traditional ceviche and a Peruvian-styled sushi roll. The ingredients were fresh, the rice cooked perfectly, and the ceviche had the right blend of lime and crisp flavor.

Thai Ice Cream: In the neighborhood Juanambú, we strolled down Avenida 9 Norte to check out restaurants, cafes, and more. We happened upon this creative ice cream shop that follows Thai style. They pour liquid cream on a frozen surface to mix and freeze the ice cream. Then, they roll it into beautiful works of art! We loved chatting with the owner about his travels through Southeast Asia. I love seeing one culture brought into another country like this!

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Ice cream that’s also an art form

What’s Next?
We are planning to return to Cali, since we enjoyed it’s vibe and there is more to experience. For our next trip, we plan on arriving for a Friday or Saturday night of salsa dancing. In addition, we want to explore the river Ponce and various waterfall hikes that are available around it. This river sits not far from the city, so is easily accessible for a day escape.

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