Things to Do in Cali
Looking down over the city from its hilltop perch, the Sebastian de Belalcázar Statueand Viewpointis one of Cali’s most iconic landmarks, erected in honor of the Spanish conquistador who founded the city in 1536. Built in celebration of the city’s 400th birthday, the statue depicts Belalcázar leaning on his sword and pointing towards the ocean as he looks out over the city below.
As well as being an important monument, the Sebastian de Belalcázar Statue also marks one of Cali’s most popular lookout points, with views stretching out over the city below. For the most atmospheric experience, visit in the evening hours when locals gather to watch the sunset and food vendors and street entertainers work their way through the crowds.
A charming mix of old and new,Plaza de Caicedo (Plaza de Cayzedo)is a fitting showcase of modern Cali and as the central hub and main navigational landmark, most visitors will start their tour of the city from here.
Once the epicenter of the colonial city,Plaza de Caicedo (Plaza de Cayzedo’s) stately architecture lends the square an air of grandeur, with the snow-white facades of the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral looming over the south and east corners. But the square is also full of life, teeming with street artists, food carts and shoeshine boys, and making a popular picnic spot for locals, with its central gardens shaded by towering palm trees and linked by star-shaped walkways.
The brainchild of local painter and sculptor Hernando Tejada, the aptly named Cat Park (Parque del Gatode Tejada) started life in 1996, when a giant bronze sculpture, El Gato Rio (The River Cat) was erected along the banks of the Cali River. The impressive sculpture was created in Bogota and transported to Cali—no easy feat as the huge cat measures around 3.5 meters in height and weighs about three tons—and became the centerpiece of the newly renovated parklands stretching along the riverfront.
The River Cat was so popular, it was soon joined by more feline friends and today a series of 15 smaller cats can be found in the park, including a fiberglass cat model and colorful sculptures by local artists like Alejandro Valencia Tejada, Mario Gordillo, Nadin Ospina, Omar Rayo and Maripaz Jaramillo.
A short walk from the central Plaza Caicedo, Barrio San Antonio is the historic heart of Cali, a lively neighborhood lined with elegant colonial houses and overlooked by the hilltop San Antonio Church. This is not only Cali’s oldest district, but its most bohemian and the streets of San Antonio are a jumble of cosy cafes and gourmet restaurants, art galleries and street art installations, local designer boutiques and market stalls, and dance clubs blasting out salsa until the early hours.
19th-century Colombian writer Jorge Isaacs was San Antonio’s most famous former resident and today the neighborhood remains a creative hub, home to many of the city’s artists, writers, photographers and designers. Once you’ve strolled around the colorful shops and galleries, watched the musicians and cuenteros (story tellers) in the hillside park, and learnt a few steps of Colombian salsa, be sure to stick around for dinner – San Antonio is also the gastronomic center of Cali and boasts the city’s best selection of restaurants and traditional cuisine.
With its fragrant rose gardens and water features, Hacienda el Paraíso (Paradise House) lives up to its name. Originally built in 1816 as a base for supervision of the region’s sugarcane plantations, the hacienda became famous in the 19th century when it was used as the setting forMaría, a novel by iconic Colombian writer Jorge Isaacs.
With its white adobe façade, single, squat tower made of red brick and an entryway fronted by a set of crumbling stone steps, the simple yet elegant San Antonio Church stands in stark contrast to the fanciful Metropolitan Cathedral just a few blocks east. Perched on a small hill in Cali’s historic old town, the church boasts an atmospheric location, surrounded by tree-lined gardens and looking out over the lively bohemian district of San Antonio.
This is Cali’s oldest church, having opened its doors back in 1747 and today housing a museum of art and artifacts, most notably a collection of tallas quiteñas, 17th-century wooden statues of the saints, carved by artists of the Quito School.
Cali has no shortage of impressive churches, but the grand Metropolitan Cathedral (or Cathedral of San Pedro) stands out from the crowd, with its powder-white façade and trio of domes looming over the busy central square of Plaza de Caicedo.
Although construction originally started in 1772, the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1841 and was extensively restored in 1930 after being damaged by a series of earthquakes. Today, the Metropolitan Cathedral is most memorable for its ornate, neoclassical design, exquisite stained glass windows and hammered silver altar, as well as housing an important collection of Quito school paintings and a European Walcker Organ.
The former regional capital of Popayán is best known for an abundance of whitewashed buildings, earning it the nicknameCiudad Blanca (White City). Popayán is among Colombia’s best preserved colonial cities, and is home to one of the country’s oldest, most prestigious universities, which counts 16 Colombian presidents among its alumni.
As Cali’s oldest church, Iglesia de la Merced was established in the 16th century. Built in the typical whitewashed Spanish colonial style, it features wood and stucco construction and a long, narrow nave. Adjacent to the church is the La Merced Church Museum, housed in the oldest building in the city, the former La Merced convent. It features centuries old artifacts, including an impressive collection of pre-Columbian pottery left behind by different cultures from central and southern parts of Colombia. The church and museum can be visited as part of a Cali city sightseeing tour, which includes a visit to the city’s other major attractions, including Plaza Caicedo, San Antonio hill, and El Gato del Rio park.
Founded by Sebastian de Belalcázar in 1555, Buga (or Guadalajara de Buga) was among Colombia’s first colonial cities and the historic town is now both a National Monument and one of the top attractions of Valle del Cauca. The undisputed star attraction of Buga is the magnificent Basilica del Señor de los Milagros (Basilica of the Lord of Miracles), which draws more than 3 million annual pilgrims and is famous for its cast iron statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Visiting the sacred site isn’t the only thing to do in Buga, though. Visitors can also admire the architecture of the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Santo Domingo; take in the views from the hilltop Mirador Al Derumbado; or escape the city for the surrounding countryside – canoeing and bird watching in the Laguna de Sonso Natural Park, swimming beneath the Los Pailones waterfalls and hiking or biking in the El Vínculo forest all make popular side trips.
More Things to Do in Cali
A National Monument and among the city’s most impressive buildings, the National Palace is one of Cali’s most photographed attractions, demanding attention from its perch at the head of the central Plaza de Caicedo. Built in 1928, the Palace’s French-influenced Neoclassical design was the work of Belgian architect Joseph Martens and the four-story building is unmissable, with its ornate chalk-white façade capped with a slate-grey roof and dome.
Today, the National Palace serves as the Administrative Court of the Valle del Cauca and Cali High Court, as well as housing a small museum dedicated to the regional production of sugarcane.
Located near Santiago de Cali, the Phoenix Air Museum (Museo Aereo Fenix) is the only civil aviation and railroad museum in Colombia. In addition to more than 25 full-sized aircraft, several locomotives, engines, and vintage cars, the museum also houses a large collection of scale models, including aircrafts, airports, and railways.