What I love about Cali, Colombia

30 May

As the lyrics to Cali Pachanguero go, “Que Cali es Cali, Señoras, Señores, Lo demás es loma”

I’ve been living here in Cali, Colombia for almost 9 months now and I can happily say that although it hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, at ALL times it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

I feel I’ve developed as good a feel for the place as one can in the amount of time I’ve been here and I’ve wanted to write about the things I like for a while, both to share with my readers and to help me appreciate my experiences here a little more definitively (I try to be thankful for all I have as much as possible).

So, here we go, what I love about my new home

They’re friendly, easy going, love to joke around, extroverted and on top of that they love dancing. They’re a really welcoming people who know how to have a good time.

There’s a lot to be said for living in the tropics. Here in Cali, the temperature hovers around 29C most days at mid-day which is a little hot for my Irish blood but it’s not too humid and the early mornings and late afternoons are deliciously cool. Apart from 2 short rainy seasons I don’t have to worry about carrying an umbrella too much either.

Free, Live Music
I have really been spoiled here in Cali with the amount of live music events that one just finds randomly on the street or at larger events around the city, many of them completely free. I’ve so far had the pleasure of seeing La 33, currently one of Colombia’s most popular salsa groups, Choquib Town, a hugely popular group playing a mix of hip-hop and pacifico music) and Habana con Kola (of “Vente Negra” fame) all without spending a penny.

When I learned that Cali was famed in South America for it’s beautiful women I can honestly say that it didn’t put me off coming here. With mixes of European, African and indigenous South American blood, Cali produces some of the most beautiful and diverse women I have ever seen.

With more varieties than I can remember (including plenty of fruits I’ve never even seen before) along with the universal availability of cheap, fresh and delicious fruit salads and smoothies, Cali’s tropical environment keeps me supplied with all the vitamins and antioxidants I could ever need.

This really is the world capital of salsa. With virtually every radio in every home, store and taxi spouting out Latin beats, it’s no surprise that virtually everyone here dances salsa (or bachata or merengue or reggaeton or pacifico) on a night out.

Pacifico culture
The pacifico culture is the culture of the African-descended people who populate the pacific coast and make up a large proportion of Cali. Discovering their music, dance and food was one of my most pleasant surprises here in Colombia. Have a look a my favourite song by one of my favourite groups, Herencia de Timbiqui

Respect for the elderly
Whenever riding on public transport, if an elderly person gets on board and there are no seats available, someone will always offer them their seat. The way it should be.

Friendly advice on safety
If I ever have my phone out on the street or even at a streetside table in a café, someone will always tell me to be careful with it or let me know if I should put it away completely. Also, because I stand out so much if I ever wander into a dodgy neighbourhood, the locals will warn me about it pretty quickly.

For the record, I hate coffee (true to my Irish roots I’m a tea drinker). However, I have discovered the godsend that is coffee’s energizing properties (essential for early mornings after a late night salsa session) and the coffee they serve here is cheap, plentiful and a lot smoother than the stuff I’ve had back home which I would consider reminiscent of what Satan’s blood might taste like.

Here in Colombia they use diminutive forms of words like it’s gong out of fashion. You never order “un cafe” it’s “un cafecito”, nothing ever happens “ahora” it’s “ahorita”. I really just love being able to call girls “mamacita” and hearing them call me “papacito”. Makes my day.

Never needing to know someone’s name
Don’t know someone’s name but want to talk to them anyway? Take your pick; mami (mommy), papi (daddy), nena (girl), chico (boy), niño (kid), joven (youth), linda (cutey), hermosa (beautiful), flaca (skinny), gordo (fatty), the list goes on. In my case, everywhere I go I’m known as mono (blondie)!

Street food everywhere
While I am not a fan of Colombian food in general, I’ll never have difficulty finding something quick and cheap on the street. I just wish the menu was a little more varied than arepas, empanadas and chorizos.

Relaxed political correctness
Excessive political correctness is a pain in the ass an has made people (at least in the English speaking world) way too sensitive. Here you say things as they are and people don’t get offended. I call my black friends negrito and they call me blanquito, I call my skinny friends flaco and they call me mono. We are what we are and have to realize there’s no need to be upset by it.

Mornings in my barrio
The sun shines, people sit in the local panaderias (bakeries) drinking café and eating pandebono, things are relaxed and it never seems like anyone is in a rush to start the day. I am getting really used to this.

Champús, looks like vomit but thankfully doesn’t taste like it.

A “drink” I had never heard of before made of a fermented mixture of fruits and corn and seasoned with cloves and cinamon. This is sold by the glass from huge vats carted around the street on special bicycles. It may look a little like vomit (just like salpicon and mazamora) but it is delicious.

I have loved haggling since I first tried my hand at it in Ethiopia 12 years ago and (when I have the energy) I feel I’m pretty good at it. Like when the asking price for a pair of knock-off Nikes was COL$190,000 (this was most certainly the “Gringo” price) and I managed to get them for $35,000, I have to admit I felt pretty pleased with myself.

Feria de Cali
Starting on Christmas day, begins a week long party in Cali that you simply cannot escape. With parades, concerts, food, music and of course salsa dancing every night it certainly is a different way to spend the Christmas holidays.

Hugs and Kisses for everyone
I love the affectionate culture and different perspective on physical contact that people have here. You greet and say goodbye to women with a kiss on the cheek and to men with a hug or at least a good handshake (if you run into a big group of people this can take quite a while to get through). People aren’t uneasy about touching each other (which took a little getting used to) which is something I feel we really lack in Northern Europe and North America.

There’s much more that I could mention but I’ll probably add to the list as time goes by and I remember other things that I love about this place.

I’ll leave you with a nice, little song by Orquestra Guayacán called “Oiga, Mire, Vea” all about this great little city. I hope it gives you the incentive to come and visit.

If you’ve been to Cali before or want to come visit, let me know in the comments

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53 Responses to “What I love about Cali, Colombia”

  1. Tiffany Allan June 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Hello! I just read your entire blog, I love it! It’s fascinating to see how a hobby can end up changing your entire life. My boyfriend wants to teach me salsa and is thinking of moving somewhere in South America in the future. We will definitely be following your blog! 🙂

    • The Dancing Irishman June 6, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      Glad to hear you like it Tiffany. Your boyfriend dances salsa eh? He’ll have a great time here.

      • Tiffany Allan June 7, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

        Thanks! Sorry to clog up your blog but you’re the only person I know of in Colombia! You mentioned being told by the locals when you’re in an unsafe area – do you ever feel unsafe there? He’s kindof unsure about the location as compared to somewhere like Spain or Chile, especially if I was to go there too. Also are you working there or living on savings?

      • The Dancing Irishman June 8, 2012 at 10:22 am #

        No worries Tiffany. Actaully I’m releasing a post next week on safety here which should answer your questions. I work here, translating Japanese online and teaching English

      • Alejandra Gomez September 30, 2015 at 9:47 am #

        Gracias por escribir sobre mi ciudad. Esta muy bonito!

      • The Dancing Irishman September 30, 2015 at 10:37 am #

        Me alegra mucho que te guste. Me encanta Cali. Gracias por el comentario Alejandra.

      • Alejandra Gomez February 14, 2016 at 6:43 am #

        Curioso unos se quedan y otros llegan.

      • Michael June 12, 2016 at 8:36 pm #

        Hi, Dancing Irishman 🙂

        Planning to visit Cali in a few weeks. This will be my first time there

        You still around?

      • The Dancing Irishman June 13, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

        I’m afraid not. I live in Barcelona now. Have a great time in Cali. It’s an awesome city.

  2. Natalia Betancourt June 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Me divertí mucho leyendo este primer post como la Introducción a la cultura caleña Vol.1…. pienso que es un buen abrebocas para tu blog.

    • The Dancing Irishman June 6, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Muchismas gracias Natalia. Espero que pueda escribir mucho más sobre mi vida en Cali.

  3. Karen Otero June 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Loved it, Richie! The entire blog is amazing… keep it up, big boy. x

  4. Eddie June 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Conseguiste unas Nike de $190,000 en $35,000? Debes ser muy pero muy bueno en el regateo!! He vivido toda mi vida en Cali y jamás había visto algo parecido!. Me parece excelente que te haya gustado tanta esta ciudad! Ojalá te sigás sintiendo así siempre!

    Ps. Por cierto, Mami y papi no tienen acento, de otro modo sonarían muy extraño para nosotros. 😉

    • The Dancing Irishman June 7, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Muchisimas gracias Eddie. Sí soy muy contento acá en Cali. Y gracias tambien para lo de los acentos en “mami” y “papi”. Lo arreglaré.

    • Natalia June 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

      Jajaj sii, es cierto! Demasiada rebaja!!! bueh…espero que sí sean originales…si son PUMA tienen que tener 7 Pumas sino son “chiviadas” (falsificadas) JAJAJA

  5. Paola Arce October 2, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Oh my… I just read this blog and I really liked what you said about Cali and about us! This is also why I love my city and seriously, I’m honoured to meet you boy! Loads of love for you my friend! By the way: what happened with Cristo Rey and Km. 18? Our mountains and winds… maybe you could add a bit about it!

    • The Dancing Irishman October 3, 2012 at 7:09 am #

      Thanks Paola. It’s a work in progress so there will be plenty of revisions in the future!

  6. DAO October 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    extraño el champus y creo que te faltó la lulada, o por lo menos para mi hehehe

    • The Dancing Irishman October 3, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Tomé un champus tan rico el Domingo. En serio, no lo puedes conseguir en Bogota?

  7. Karen Rubio October 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    ¡¡¡¡¡Richie¡¡¡¡ que lindo blog, se nota como quieres y haz apreciado cada cosa que te brinda nuestra ciudad. desde la distancia, te envidio por recibir todas las tardes la rica brisa caleña y en la noches por bailar salsa hasta que el cuerpo aguante, obvio en las mañana el café no lo olvides nunca, faltó un paseito por mi casa, te lo quedo debiendo, de allí te saldría mucha inspiración para escribir, mi gente, sus costumbres, mi familia y sus historias. un beso y un abrazo muy grande para vos.

    • The Dancing Irishman October 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Gracias hermosa. Tan lindo tu comentario! Sabes bien que me encanta esta ciudad y su gente linda. He tenido mucho suerte con mis experiencias acá y con la gente que encontrado! Un besito y espero que nos veamos pronto. Acá ó allá!

  8. Nohra-Cecilia February 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Hola monito! Thank you so much for the beautiful article you wrote about my hometown Cali! I hope you continue updating us (who live out of Colombia) about Cali. Excellent article, I’m going to share it with everyone in my Facebook page! Saludos chico!

    • The Dancing Irishman February 3, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Thanks Nohra, I’m so glad you like the post. It wasn’t difficult thinking of the things I like about Cali at all. I hope to get some more comments from you in the future!

  9. Selfish Android February 14, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    Not everybody here dance salsa, most of my friends actually hate it, you should hang out in different places like granada there is a bar called Bourbon street it is very cool for people who like rock music, and by the way is free of “traquetos” or narco culture influenced people.

    • The Dancing Irishman February 14, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Yeah, it’s true, I’ve met plenty of people here who don’t dance or don’t even like salsa. It’s also a really interesting point you make about there not being any “traquetos” in non-salsa places. I’ve been to Bourbon Street and a few places like it and it’s very true. I’ve personally never seen them there. Good comment!

  10. Steph | DiscoveringIce.com March 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Jajaja ‘mami’ and ‘papi’ are such knacker words! 😛

  11. Andrea May 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Wooowww, qué bacanería de blog. Eres muy genuino para describirnos. I hope u’ll be back 🙂

  12. Javier Robayo en Tintindeo June 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Excelente trabajo! Quiero felicitarte no solo por tu trabajo periodístico sino por tus avances en baile. Cuando un extranjero lleva tanto tiempo en nuestra ciudad y lo vemos muy a menudo empezamos a analizar su avance en el baile y he visto que has avanzado muchísimo y tu “tumbao” se asemeja mucho a lo latino. Gracias por escribir sobre nuestra ciudad y en lo que te pueda colaborar estoy a tus servicios. Facebook: Javier Robayo en Tintindeo.

    • The Dancing Irishman June 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Señor Robayo, muchisimas gracias por su comentario. Es por tanto tiempo bailando en Tin Tin Deo que he mejorado entonces les agradezco mucho a ustedes por “La Cultura de la RRRRRRumba!!!
      La proxima vez que usted me vea en Tin Tin Deo por favor saludeme para que yo le conoce 🙂

  13. Emily June 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Hey! I’ve just come across your blog because I’m moving to Cali at the end of July to teach English and wanted to get excited and enthused about my new home to be. Well I certainly am now :). Are you still living there? You’re blog’s great, I’ve read so many of your posts, sharing them with my family in my not so subtle attempt to convince them I’m not jumping into the lions den…. and it seems to have gone down very well, so cheers. I’d definitely be interested in some expat advice! I’ve been to Colombia before, travelling 2 years ago for 5 weeks, but never been to Cali! Can’t wait now!

    • The Dancing Irishman June 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

      Glad to hear you like the blog Emily. I’ll be here in July so definitely get in contact when you arrive. I look forward to seeing you!

      • Maria Isabel Zamora Yusti July 11, 2013 at 12:58 am #

        Hi! everything I’ve read so far in the blog reveals honesty, it`s natural ans that is really precious for me, as I’ve been wanting to know about some of the things you`re talking about, from an “outsider”, for a while… I also love dancing! would you recommend me salsa dancing places in Cali?

      • The Dancing Irishman July 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

        Hi Maria,
        I’m glad you like the blog. I try to be as honest as I can when I talk about Colombia, be it either good or bad.
        As for places to go dancing you can try Tin Tin Deo, Zaperoco, El Rincon de Don Heberth, Constelacion (Av. Sexta), Jala Jala, Cafe Mi Tierra and the list goes on hahaha!

  14. Craig Gibson July 22, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Very well done. I too am a resident of Cali. I have been in love with Cali and Colombia since I arrived here. I have tried to inform the outside world about Colombia thru a website that I made http://www.colombialivinggood.com

  15. Imantas November 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Hey, awesome blog, love all the insights about Colombia.

    I’m coming to Cali this January, and probs gonna stay here, unless I find a job somewhere else. I lived in Bucaramanga for a year before so I’m quite familiar with Colombian culture, although once I tell my Colombian friends that I’m moving to Cali they all tell me how dangerous it is so it’s defos my biggest concern. Still wanna move there though since it seems like a proper good place to live in.

    Would be fantastic to chat with you and probably meet once I’m in Cali!

    • The Dancing Irishman November 6, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

      Hey Imantas,
      Yeah it would be nice to meet up but I live in Barcelona now. Cali’s fine as long as you take care of yourself and don’t do anything irresponsable. You’ll have a great time there.

  16. James January 17, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

    Hello! I just read your articles, one commenting on the positive qualities of Cali and the other the negatives. I’m moving to Cali in February to teach english for SENA. I have a 10 month contract. Some people think it’s great, others, including family members, are terrified by Colombia and Cali in particular. I recall reading that you were mugged twice? How dangerous is it and what precautions can a person take to avoid dangerous situations. I’ve been to Bogota and Cartagena, but I was curious how dangerous it really is? I see that you’ve been there for a while, so I assume that you don’t feel your life is in constant danger. Let me know what you think. By the way, how often do you run into other foreigners there (americans in particular)? Any info you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


    • The Dancing Irishman January 18, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

      Hey James
      Cali is a great city with great people and a great atmosphere… but it also has some dangers that you need to be aware of so you don’t fall into a false sense of security.
      As for places to go, I’ve been to a lot of the “bad” neighborhoods in Cali but always with other people who are from there, never alone.
      In general, if you’re with some locals, you’ll be ok but being alone on the streets at night is not a safe idea. Some neighborhoods that have a bad rep are Agua Blanca, Siloé and the neighborhoods around El Centro (Don’t go wandering).
      Just stick with taking taxis or the bus to get around and you’ll be fine unless someone tells you that you’ll have no problems walking in a certain are.
      If you use your own judgement you’ll be fine
      As for taxis, you can call the companies to order a cab (you can ask for the numbers from anyone once you arrive). I also used to take cabs on the street all the time which a lot of people consider a no-no but I was ok. Make it obvious to the driver that you’re taking a photo of the registration number on the front and side of the cab (he’ll assume you’re sending it to a friend and so have a way of identifying him, this stops anyone with bad intentions).
      The most important thing about safety in Cali is to use common sense and to ask locals for advice.
      You’ll meet foreigners relatively regularly if you’re socially active and go dancing a lot or if you hang out in San Antonio. I don’t live in Cali anymore, now I live in Barcelona.
      Enjoy your time in Cali and in Colombia, it’s a great place.

      • James January 18, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

        Awesome! Thanks for the info. Barcelona is a great city too!

  17. ana maria escobar September 29, 2015 at 2:17 am #

    Hey, this is a very cool and honest article of my city. I hope u had an incredible time there!

    • The Dancing Irishman September 29, 2015 at 3:59 am #

      Thanks Ana Maria. I did have a great time, so much so that I can’t wait to get back.

  18. Alejandra Gomez September 30, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    Reblogged this on Mamihood and commented:
    Cali, Colombia (my hometown) by an Irish Man. This is beautiful!

  19. Antuan January 24, 2018 at 4:26 am #

    My Spanish isn’t very good but I always thought that mono means “monkey”. I call my kids monkeys as a term of endearment 🙂

    • The Dancing Irishman January 24, 2018 at 5:33 pm #

      You’re right Antuan but in Cali it’s also used to refer to fair haired people too.

  20. meiness87 March 30, 2019 at 11:53 am #

    I don’t normally like reading lists actually especially when they are very ‘touristic oriented’ but I really enjoyed yours because it had a touch of your personal experience from actually living in the place so it gives a much nicer and more realistic perspective.

    I am in Colombia at the moment and am sitting on the fence as to whether I should come to Cali only because I am really running out of time to explore Peru and Bolivia. If a person is very time restrained (I have 3.5 weeks to explore Peru, Bolivia and Cali), would you recommend that I skip Cali and visit another time when I actually have more time?

    Thank you!!!

    • The Dancing Irishman April 1, 2019 at 6:22 am #

      Hi, So glad to hear you liked the post 🙂
      Here’s what I’d say about Cali, if you like to dance or would like to learn and try it in a place with a great dance culture, go on a Wednesday or Thursday morning and stay in a hostel like El Viajero where you can meet other people, do a dance class and all go out dancing together.
      If that’s not your thing, you won’t miss out on anything majorly cultural in Cali.


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