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Cali

Introduction: Cali, Colombia's third largest city, is located in southwestern Colombia in the department of Valle del Cauca. It is known for its sugar industry, its hot climate, and its vibrant nightlife. Calenos (as residents of Cali are called) are known for their warmth and spirit, and more than anything for their love of salsa. You are sure to be drinking rum and dancing salsa all night long, even if you're a novice. It's still not a major tourist destination, but if you are spending any amount of time in Colombia, it's well worth a visit. It's also strategically located, so you can easily fit a weekend in Cali into your trip.

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Orientation and Location: Cali is halfway in between Bogota and the Ecuadorian border at Tulcan/Ipiales, making it a perfect stopping point for backpackers heading north or south on multi-country trips.  It's also just 9 hours from Medellin and 4 hours from Buenaventura. Cali also is very close to the Coffee Zone and it's three principal cities: Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia

Cali is located on the western edge of Valle de Cauca, and is divided in half by the Rio Cali. On its western edge, you'll find the mountainous Farallones de Cali, while the mighty Cauca River forms the eastern edge of the city. To the north and south are vast plains. The Rio Cali flows from the southwest to the northeast, roughly dividing the city into North-Western and South-Eastern sections. To the west of the river you'll find the "new" Cali with its trendy hotels, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Along the banks of the river on the eastern side, you'll find "old" Cali, with its downtown and the historic San Antonio neighborhood futher to the south.

How to Get There: Cali is very accessible, served by Alfonso Bonilla Aragon international Airport, and has highway connections to Medellin, Bogota, and heading south to Ecuador via Popayan and Pasto.

If you're looking for international flights to the United States, American Airlines offers direct flights between Cali and Miami, while Avianca offers direct flights to New York's JFK Airport. For domestic flights, Avianca, Copa, LAN, and new low-cost carrier Viva Colombia are your best bets. Domestic flights have become quite affordable recently, and you should be able to find one way flights from Cali to Cartagena, Medellin, or Bogota for anywhere from $60.000 to $120.000. 

Cali's Palmaseca Airport is located in Palmira, 16km from Cali's city center. You can take a taxi for around $50.000, or take a minibus for just $3.000.

If you're arriving in cali by bus, the terminal is located in northeast of the city. A taxi to the San Antonio/Granada area should cost around $5.000 or $6.000.

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What to See:

Centro/Downtown:

In downtown Cali, everything is centered around the Plaza de Caycedo. Here you'll find the stately white Palacio Nacional, which serves as an administrative and judiciary building for Cali and the department of Valle de Cauca. The Plaza de Caycedo is a great place to enjoy a coffee, read the newspaper, and soak up the local culture, and traditionally serves as the public square of the city.

Along the banks of the Rio Cali, a little to the north, you'll find Iglesia la Ermita, Cali's most spectacular church, right out of a Disney fairy tale. Further south, you'll find Iglesia de la Merced, Cali's oldest church, dating to the 16th century, and is the site of the founding of Cali by Sebastian de Belalcazar.

Further south, you'll find the old colonial San Antonio neighborhood, along the banks of the river.

And two kilometers south of the city center, head to the spectacular Zoologico de Cali, which is arguably the best zoo in Colombia.

Granada:

Located to west of the Rio Cali, you'll find the upscale Granada neighborhood wher travelers, backpackers, and tourists will typically stay. Granada is located along la Sexta (Sixth Avenue) a major commercial and entertainment thoroughfare in its own right. Here you'll find the city's best hostels and restaurants.

Menga:

Just ten minutes north of Granada, just outside the city limits, you'll find the manic Menga entertainment zone, where salsa is the order of the day. For a great experience, head to Cafe Mi Tierra.

Outside of Cali:

Head north to find Hacienda El Paraiso, the home of Jorge Isaacs, one of Colombia's most renowned writers. It was the setting for his famed novel, Maria. It's just 36km north of the city, and along the way, you'll encounter great views of Cali's ubiquitous sugar cane fields.

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Ambience: Cali is not yet a major tourism destination in Colombia, especially in comparison with its neighbors Bogota and Medellin, and the two jewels of the Caribbean, Santa Marta and Cartagena. That being said, in some sense Cali offers a more authentic tourism experience. If you go out for a night on the town, you're likely to be something of a curiosity...the same could not be said if you're out in Cartagena's Getsemani neighborhood, or Medellin's Parque Lleras.

There is little luxury tourism in Cali. Many backpackers stop here for a few days to experience the nightlife, and because it is such a logical stopping point for those who are headed north from Ecuador to Bogota or Medellin.

Be cautious in Cali: especially on the southern/eastern side of the river, in the downtown area. This advice should be even more heeded after dark, when Cali's downtown assumes a seedy nature. In the trendy neighborhoods northwest of the river, you can proceed with relative ease, but walk in groups, and take extra precautions at night. When in doubt, call a cab.

All in all, calenos (residents of Cali), are quite different from their paisa and rolo counterparts. Cali is a hot, hectic, working class city, which lives off the throbbing beat of salsa music. Taking in a live salsa orquestra is a must. Many hostels offer free salsa lessons to guests.

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