Visiting Santiago de Cali, Colombia’s sunny salsa capital? Here are six safe, trendy, and popular neighborhoods to stay.
The sun-soaked city of Cali, Colombia (formally “Santiago de Cali”) buzzes with the hum of an up-and-coming metropolis and the sound of salsa beats. Once passed over by tourists on their way to Medellín or Bogotá, modern-day Cali is winning over international travelers with its blossoming food and drink scene, historic architecture, improved safety, and—of course—it’s salsa dancing. The salsa capital of Colombia (if not the world) comes alive when the sun sets. That’s when cool mountain air disperses the daytime heat, and the magic of the city unfolds in its swinging salsa clubs, buzzing restaurants, and glittery live shows.
Colombia’s third-largest city, Cali is a jigsaw puzzle of more than 200 barrios, or neighborhoods. An extensive selection of hip hostels and modern hotels is speckled across a number of safe, trendy, and close-to-the-action neighborhoods. If you’re thinking of visiting this dynamic, up-and-coming city, here are the six best areas to stay: (please note not all locations are currently open due to COVID-19 health restrictions)
Southwest of the Cali River and west of downtown, El Peñón is one of the city’s safest, densest, and swankiest barrios. The little neighborhood is packed with some of the city’s finest restaurants, cocktail lounges, art galleries, and boutiques—all within a three-block radius. When nighttime falls, the barrio draws well-heeled caleños with classy nightclubs and hipster bars.
As one of the city’s more upscale areas, El Peñón is safeguarded by additional security personnel on every street. For visitors, the neighborhood offers luxury hotels, lively hostels, and contemporary aparthotels.
San Antonio and San Cayetano
A quick stroll south from El Peñón will take you to the historic barrios of San Antonio and San Cayetano. This charming neighborhood duo abounds with traditional colonial buildings decorated by striking, colorful murals. Compared to the poshness of El Peñón, the area has a decidedly more bohemian feel. Although San Antonio and San Cayetano are a little quieter than El Peñón, the neighborhood is home to some of the city’s best cafés—including Corinne Café and the Zahavi Repostería.
The neighborhood is centered around Iglesia de San Antonio, a hilltop, 18th-century church surrounded by a park with panoramic views of the city. For the weary sightseer, San Antonio and San Cayetano offer boutique hotels and backpacker hostels.
For a buzzy, local vibe, head south from San Cayetano to barrio San Fernando. The main attraction in this student-loved neighborhood is Parque del Perro. This park has a statue of a dog named Teddy, a beloved neighborhood pet in the ‘50s until he was, as the story goes, poisoned. A popular gathering place for young caleños, the park is surrounded by local watering holes. At these teeny dives, bartenders sling frosty Aguila beers, and students perch on plastic stools. It’s one of Cali’s most happening Zona Rosas, or nightlife zones.
Without staying more than a couple of blocks from the park, you’ll find a wide selection of juice bars, coffee spots, and restaurants. San Fernando is one of the most budget-friendly hotspots in Cali and houses hostels and boutique hotels.
Travelers seeking respite from city living should consider Pance, a little town about 25 minutes south of Cali. A popular vacation spot for caleños, Pance is a good home base for treks to the peak of the Pico De Loro mountain. In the area around the Pance River, locals crowd the riverfront beach on weekends, and vendors sell snacks from stalls. There’s also the Cascade Topacio, a waterfall in a rainforest of colorful bird species.
Pance is home to several rustic hostels and guest houses offering guided tours. The pueblo is a good place to sample traditional snacks and fresh trout.
Foodies may want to cross the Rio Cali and make a beeline to the northwestern neighborhood of Granada, arguably the city’s finest gastronomic district. Standout spots include Maccarroni’s for handmade pasta and the Urban Wok for good curries and noodle dishes. For Valle del Cauca regional cuisine, Restaurante Ringlete is legendary among locals.
Beyond eating, Granada offers excellent boutique shopping and a number of upmarket nightclubs and gay bars. The district also houses a range of mid- to upper-tier hotels, including the soaring Torre de Cali Plaza Hotel.
Directly southwest of Granada lies Centenario, one of the city’s premium residential and hotel districts. Secure and quiet, the neighborhood attracts travelers, digital nomads, and expats alike with its central location. Located a short walk away from El Peñón and Granada, Centenario’s appeal is its proximity to the action without being directly in the thick of it.
In this palm tree-shaded barrio, you’ll find the Centenario Mall, a modern shopping mall with a multiplex movie theater. The area offers many luxury accommodation options, including Lifeafar’s brand new Cali River Suites Hotel, a luxury aparthotel with fully-equipped, modern suites within walking distance of cocktail bars, ice cream shops, and more.
Planning a trip to the salsa capital of the world? We look forward to seeing you there! For more information about Cali neighborhoods or booking an apartment with Lifeafar, book online today.