Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan salsa capital with a visit to nearby lakes, rivers, and picturesque towns.
The hot summer sun beats down on the colorful streets of Cali, where the air hums with the buzz of salsa music , shops bustle with customers, and vendors hawk sweet ice raspados along the Rio Cali.
You could spend weeks exploring the world’s capital city of salsa, dining in international restaurants, exploring museums, shopping antique and craft shops, and dancing the night away at one of the city’s numerous salsa clubs.
But even the proudest caleño or enchanted tourist occasionally needs a break from the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan city.
Luckily, there is a wide range of excursions in and around Cali, situated among the diverse natural beauty, rivers, forests, and wildlife of Colombia’s southwest region of Valle del Cauca.
Ready for a break from the crowds, skyscrapers, and infectious salsa music? Adventure beyond the city limits with these six top excursions around Cali, Colombia:
A quick 100 kilometers trip from Cali, this expansive, man-made reservoir draws kayakers, kite surfers, and windsurfers from Colombia and around the world.
Blessed with cooler weather and year-round steady winds of up to 43 knots, this popular tourist spot is considered one of the best places in Colombia to practice water sports.
Most visitors set-up base in the nearest town, Darien, where you can find a wide variety of accommodations, restaurants, and private villas equipped with pools and hot tubs. Surrounding the reservoir is a lush landscape that blends jungle and mountains.
Transportation to Calima Lake from Cali is limited, so we recommend spending at least a day or two—particularly on the weekends, when visiting caleños make for a festive and lively atmosphere.
Located within Parque National Natural Farallones de Cali, Pico Loro—or “Parrot Peak”—lies just beyond the city’s center.
It’s well worth the four-hour hike through misty tropical forests to reach the mountain’s stone summit, where you’ll find yourself above the clouds looking down on awe-inspiring landscapes. From the peak, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Cauca River, one of Colombia’s largest.
Bird-watching enthusiasts can keep an eye out for more than 540 species of birds that reside in the park. Note that the park limits the number of hikers per day to 50, and it’s recommended to go with a guide.
Hop on a bus from Cali and head one hour north to Guadalajara de Buga (or simply “Buga,” as locals call it). Founded in the 16th century, the quiet town is one of the oldest cities in Colombia.
It’s perhaps best known for its Basilica del Señor de los Milagros, a renowned pilgrimage site that draws millions each year to pray for its iconic crucifix. The basilica’s charred wooden crucifix was discovered more than five centuries ago and is believed to hold healing powers.
Beyond the church, Buga features a historic center visited twice by Liberator Simón Bolivar. The town is also home to diverse architecture that dates back to colonial times.
After a day of exploring, find a shaded bench in Parque Cabal and look for the massive iguanas hidden among the branches.
Finish off your journey with a pint or two at the Holy Water Ale Café at the Buga Hostel, which brews inspired flavors like mango and pumpkin using holy water.
Lying just over two hours outside of Cali, the tiny mountain town of San Cipriano is well worth the journey.
San Cipriano, with its 500 inhabitants, is located in a humid subtropical forest that sees balmy temperatures and teems with toucans and other tropical birds, monkeys, and all kinds of wildlife.
The Afro-Colombian town sits on the rarely used Cali-Buenaventura railway around 15 kilometers from the closest road.
Locals have turned to creative ways to get into town, including homemade trolleys (Brujitas) pulled by motorcycles that soar through verdant jungles at high speeds as passengers cling desperately to wooden benches.
Once there, you can recover from your breakneck adventure with a dip in the cool San Cipriano river, where you can rent innertubes or sunbathe on the rocky shore.
Alternatively, follow a dirt track out of town to find the ecological trail called regugio del amor, which leads to gushing cascades and clear-blue swimming holes.
The Pance (pronounced “Pan-say”) River is located along the southern side of the city. As one of the few local rivers clean enough to swim in, the chilly waterway remains a popular spot for camping and barbecuing.
Beneath a backdrop of surrounding mountains, you can hike along the river before plunging into the refreshing waters to cool off.
You’ll also have a chance to admire the countless species of birds in the area and take advantage of the many vendors selling local treats like crunchy, sweet buñuelos, corn arepas, and fried bread hojaldras.
Bring cash for parking as well as 500 pesos (about 20 cents) to use the bathroom.
Reserva Natural Bosque de Yotoco
A little over 50 kilometers north of Cali sits Yotoco, or “King of the Wind,” once inhabited by the indigenous people of the Gorrones and Calimas.
As master goldsmiths, the tribes unwittingly turned Yotoco into a hub for looters after the gold and other precious materials in the indigenous tombs for many years.
Among other natural sites sits the Reserva Natural Bosque de Yotoco—558 hectares of forest teeming with flora and fauna.
Don’t miss the view over the Calima reservoir and Sonso lagoon, both of which offer breathtaking views of the area’s incredible landscapes.
The town itself is peaceful and friendly with a park where people gather to chat among the cool wind breezes.
For information about Cali adventures and accommodation, we encourage you to get in touch with Lifeafar.