The industrial city of Cali, Colombia, is best-known in foreign minds as the country's capital of salsa dancing and cocaine, although the notorious Cali cartel was destroyed by the government a decade ago.
Also the center of sugar production and the country's third largest city, Cali is rich in attractions, and most of the city is now safe to visit. Late December is fiesta time, highlighted by bullfights and parades.
Cali was founded in 1536, although the core is now consumed by a thriving modern city. Cali's main attractions are its colonial churches and concentrated downtown: more than 70-year-old Gothic La Ermita, neoclassical San Francisco Church (built in 1757 and filled with carvings and paintings) and Spanish Colonial La Merced (the city's oldest; its attached convent houses excellent museums of archaeology and religious art). Also worth seeing is the Modern Art Museum, as is the nearby Parque de los Gatos.
Cali's downtown area is usually tranquil during the day—the Plaza de Caycedo is quite attractive, shaded by spindly palmas de cera (palm trees) and shaded to its north side by the handsome French-style town hall.
Cali is the Colombian salsa capital, and the Calenos love to go out and party. Along Avenida Sexta, with the big Chipichape Mall, there's a string of hot salsa clubs, and they are quite safe to visit. Book the Chiva Rumbera on Friday and Saturday evening: This party bus takes clubbers to a variety of discos.
Juanchito, on the other side of the Rio Cauca, is a different affair. The rumba is blacker, wilder and hotter and can be a lot of fun for the intrepid. Don't go there alone, though, and go only by taxi. The small dance clubs called "grills" are quite safe inside (pickpockets excepted), but the dark streets can turn violent and dangerous in no time.
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