I returned to Cali for almost a week to take salsa classes and go out to the famous salsa bars. I had a fantastic time!
First things first – Salsa and a Place to Stay
I stayed at Hostal El Viajero, which isn’t cheap but it’s a great hostel with a nice atmosphere, plenty of hammocks and a pool. The price is around $33.000COP (£8.50) per night including breakfast.
I booked a package of 5 salsa classes for $175.000COP (£45) which is a little saving on the per hour price of $40.000COP. My teacher was Alex and I had a great time practicing with him.
The salsa in Colombia has its own style and has lots of different steps to other salsa, which added its own extra fun and challenges! The hostel has a couple of rooms where you can have salsa lessons and there is also a free group lesson each day either by the pool or in one of the dance studios.
There are cheaper salsa schools very nearby (and they are also great quality) so if you’re wanting to get the cheapest prices make sure you check round before booking at the hostel. I was totally happy with my choice though!
Nightlife in Cali is a lot of fun. On Friday night most of us went to a club called La Purga and had a great night. We’re pretty sure it’s a gay bar. As we walked in at about 11pm there were three guys dancing an awesome routine on the balcony and then they came down into the crowd and did a routine straight out of Magic Mike with three girls. So much fun! And there was an amazing drag queen dancing too. The music was a mix of reggeaton and a few English language tracks. A few of us were dancing with two gay guys, one was the campest person I’ve ever met and he was such a phenomenal dancer, it made my night!!
It’s easy to stay out until dawn in Cali any night of the week, just don’t take anything valuable with you as it’s pretty likely you’ll get mugged. I didn’t take a phone or wallet with me any night, just a bit of money stuffed in my bra.
The other nights out in Cali I went to a salsa bar La Topa (actually called La Topa Tolondra), which is near the hostel but you still need to take a taxi (as the area isn’t safe to walk in at night), this costs about $6.000 and the bar costs $5.000 to enter.
Monday night is the best night for La Topa, when all the best dancers go out, but it’s still great any night.
The atmosphere is electric, so fun and light-hearted. The bar is T-shaped with a big bar at the end and seats all around the edge of the room. As a woman you just sit down watching the dancing and soon a man will walk over and take your hand for a dance. It’s really nice to dance with lots of different people as you get to practice all sorts of steps and styles. When you first dance with a new person they assess how good you are for the first little bit and then off you go. It’s quite funny. And if you screw up in that first bit you know you’re in for a boring dance! But mainly you get a great chance to practice and also learn new steps. Some of the guys are really good at teaching and others love showing off, it’s such a different experience to going out elsewhere. And the men are in general incredibly polite and courteous, with each dance being exactly that, nothing further implied, no matter how sensual it looks from a distance.
People-watching has never been so fun either. Even if you aren’t in the mood to dance, can’t dance, or just need a break, you can sit and watch some of the best salsa dancing you’ll ever see (definitely the case on a Monday night).
On the other nights the salsa music is sometimes interspersed with other types including bachata and a couple of other slower styles which are good to watch too.
All Important Food
The area around El Viajero is lovely! The streets are full of boutique shops and cute restaurants. The bars on all the windows and doors can be a little off-putting but it doesn’t feel unsafe.
My favourite places to eat were:
Café Macondo. Great burgers, salads, coffees and brownies. Not cheap, but felt healthy and good value in a lovely ambience. Prices between $17.000-22.000 for a main.
Pita Majita. Arabian pita restaurant with delicious food day and night. Pitas are around $8.000-10.000, main dishes cost more. Daily lunch menu is $10.000 including soup, main course (always fabulous) and juice. The Jugo de la Casa (pineapple, lulu and mint) is delicious!
Yala Comida Arabe. Another Arabian restaurant but this one does a fantastic shwarma for around $17.000 or a mixed special for the same price. They also have a daily lunch menu for $12.000 which was great and came with a choice of salad or sautéed vegetables (the veg was excellent).
There are a few things you can visit in Cali, there are walking tours and bike tours. I was more interested in learning Salsa and doing some yoga so I didn’t go for the tours.
I spent a morning exploring the artisanal markets full of beautiful handmade products from sandals to handbags and gorgeous beaded necklaces. Imagine total magpie for colourful things and it was so difficult not to buy everything!!!
I spent most of a day at Cali Zoo though. It’s a pleasant half-hour walk along the river from the hostel. Entrance costs $20.900COP (£5) and you get a helpful map.
The zoo is amazing! The animals look healthy (except the ostriches) and most of them are from this region so you can see the animals that need conservation due to deforestation. I got to see the Amazonian animals up close and could see some of the rarer ones which would have been impossible to see in the jungle. There were groups of schoolchildren learning about the animals too which was great to see.
I wanted to go to the zoo to learn the Spanish names for animals and to practice my Spanish generally. The signs were very interesting and informative and were all in Spanish so that was very helpful to practice. It was like being back at school, I was walking around with a notebook and pen, noting down animal names and also a few words I needed to find a translation for later. I also met one of the zoo staff, Kevin, and we had a nice discussion about the animals.
I particularly loved the aquarium and being able to see all the creatures that I had been swimming with in the murky waters of the Amazon! My favourite animal was a River Ray, with a beautifully patterned back.
There was a fabulous aviary too and I got to see the strikingly bizarre Cock of the Rock (gallito del roca) up close.
There was a pair of Andean Condors too, and they looked magnificent. The biggest (by weight) flying birds in the world today.
I met a curious giant otter, some huge tapirs, a giant ant eater, and most of the species of monkey I had seen from afar in the jungle.
I know zoos are controversial but I believe in their ability to support conservation work. I’ve asked if I can volunteer at the zoo to develop better knowledge of all the animals, one day I would love to be a naturalist guide and I figure this experience might come in handy for that as well as Spanish practice. We shall see.
For now I am heading North…