My next stop was Cali.
You may have noticed from my raving reviews of Colombia that my experience of the country had been almost entirely positive. Far from the dangerous, drug haven that many (ignorant) foreigners expect, Colombia is really just a beautiful country that is very much on the ‘up’ at the moment. I had kind of been expecting this after speaking to various friends/acquaintances who had visited Colombia before, but it’s always nice to prove a prejudice wrong yourself anyway, isn’t it? Obviously I’d been keeping my wits about me and not whipping my white iPhone out in public, but I felt a lot safer in Colombia than I did in Rio, for example. (Or even in Buenos Aires, where a group of 6 year old children tried to mug us on one of the safest streets in Palermo…)
Cali, however, felt slightly more dangerous. Although I was completely safe and certainly did not have any issues at all, it’s slightly disconcerting when your hostel tells you not to go out alone after 3pm or when a local advises you not to go on a walk up to one of the city’s major sites at 11am on a sunny morning!
It definitely didn’t help that my hostel was in one of the more dangerous areas of the city, an area which Lonely Planet advises you not to go alone…I spent one night at La Pinta Boogaloo, but decided that it would be a wise idea to move further into the centre for my next two nights in Cali, to avoid having to get taxis absolutely everywhere I went and to put my mind at rest. My second hostel, El Viajero, was completely perfect, and I was so happy I moved. The hostel had a lovely pool (Cali is unexpectedly tropical), multiple hammocks, an attractive Happy Hour cocktail menu and, most importantly, free Salsa and yoga classes.
Every hostel in Cali offers free salsa lessons on a nightly basis, because Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia. Completely malcoordinated, I was not particularly looking forward to embarassing myself in front of my new friends, but I actually really enjoyed my salsa classes and got quite in the swing of it! That didn’t stop me from sneaking out of the class on the second night when they tried to make us dance in pairs!
There isn’t that much to say about the city itself. All the main sights in the centre can be covered in a couple of hours. There are some lovely churches and beautiful parks, but I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by Cali on a cultural/architectural level…
I did go to the modern art museum though, which I really enjoyed.
We tried to go up to see Christo Rey, but when we arrived at the bottom of the hill we were told it would be a stupid idea for three English girls to go up alone (it’s a popular place for muggings), and so we decided to give it a miss. I’d already seen Cristo Redentor in Rio and wasn’t too bothered about skipping this sight for the sake of safety and a couple of extra hours by the hostel pool!
On the way back from the mountain, we stumbled across quite an entertaining exhibition of cat sculptures, which was a tribute to the famous Gato del Rio statue.
The most fun I had in Cali, however, was definitely when we went out to celebrate one Canadian girl’s birthday. After a salsa class, some good Greek food and a few delicious Happy Hour cocktails, we headed out to practise our new moves!
In the end, my experience of Cali was definitely a good one, and I would still recommend other travellers spend a few days there. Many people in my hostel seemed to be staying there for quite a while and taking the salsa lesson thing seriously, but it’s also a fun place to stop off at on your way somewhere else. I would have loved to go to San Cipriano if I had had more time in the area (read about it in the trusty Lonely Planet guide!), but other than that I feel like three days was a good amount of time to spend in the city.
Next stop, and final destination in Colombia: Bogota!