Journey to the world capital of Salsa!
26.12.2015 - 18.01.2016
The Capital of Salsa
To get you started, here is a video I put together of snippets I recorded at concerts, conventions and Salsatecas in Cali:
Cali, Colombia is widely (and aptly) known as the capital of Salsa.
Salsa is more than a pastime and interest for Caleños, it is an obsession, transcending many generations since the 1960's.
Many famous and popular Salsa artists from Puerto Rico and Cuba ended up moving to Cali, to be amongst it.
It's in the air and everywhere....in supermarkets, taxis, hotel foyers, air lounges, bars, discotecques, hospitals, family lounge rooms.
My Salsa teacher in Cali told me that over 40 percent of Caleños are involved in the music/dance industry, and it's hardly surprising.
J Lo often calls upon dance troupes from Cali for her performances, and the bloke who invented Zumba is a Caleño.
Salsa dancing flows throughout Cali.
I even saw homeless folks dancing salsa caleña in the streets without music!
I had the good fortune of arriving in Cali for the city's fair - Feria de Cali - the biggest Salsa festival on Earth... and it was amazing!!
This article sums up Cali's Salsa culture perfectly:
How Cali’s DIY dance clubs keep the spirit of salsa alive
Some friends and I attended 'Superconcierto' at Pascual Guerrero Stadium, featuring the biggest Salsa, Salsa Choke and Bachata artists; Romeo Santos, Chocquibtown, Grupo Niche, Guayacan, Willie Colon, Oscar D'Leon, Binomio Golden and Daniel Calderó!
I haven't seen such a huge and emphatic music crowd since Glastonbury in the UK.
All the bands and artists were on serious fire and blew the crowd away.
The Lebrón Brothers celebrated their illustrious 50th year of creating music magic with an amazing show!
Even in posh theatres, Colombians bring their own cowbells and beat perfectly in time!!
This concert was a highlight of my trip!
Cali's central park converts to the wonderful Tascas for the fair.
A huge expanse of food vendors, tables, stages and of course spaces for dancing which were constantly packed!!
Canchas Panamericanas played host to the biggest celebration of Salsa music for the fair.
It featured talks from collectors, venue artists, central figures and artists alike.
There were many stalls and shops selling records, and artefacts from Salsa's rich history.
It was like Comic-Con for Salsa!
There are more salsa venues here than any other city, including Havana.
You are spoilt for choice! The most gringo friendly is probably Tintindeo... and it's excellent!
Unpretentious, with both beginners and local veterans dancing together. I had many a great night here and met new friends.
La Topa Tolondra is another cools place, but it is very narrow, and not really conducive to busting your new moves.
In the north east of town are the bigger clubs, some dedicated to Salsa and others play a mix of latin styles.
Take your travel buds with you to these places, and grab a table as the majority do; and dance between them or on the myriad of dance floors scattered around these vast joints!
Cali's downtown/market area has to be seen/heard to be believed.
Bustling, crowded and musical. Music blasts from every shop and stall with a view to attracting customers.
I stayed at three places in Cali:
- Hostel Encuentro is a fantastic, tranquil family run place where you will be also welcomed and treated like family.
- Hotel Granada Real is ideally located close to all of the action of Avenida 9, and super cheap.
- Every city in Colombia now has Hampton by Hilton franchises... and they are excellent!
For approximately $60 per night, with 5* facilities and service you can't go wrong. Cali's is outstanding!
Cali doesn't have much in the way of tourist friendly public transport.
Uber is definitely the way to go. It's reliable, cheap, and all of the drivers I had in Cali (over 30 trips) had wonderfully immaculate cars and were amazingly professional.
Cali, The City
In comparison to the other big cities in Colombia, Cali is a gritty town.
Once ruled by the ruthless Cali Cartel, it seems to be in the throes of recovery.
Though it's difficult to tell if they are keen to progress or fine as they are.
Medellin, by comparison, was hit even harder back in the day, but has now shaken it's torrid past off, and taken enormous strides to become arguably Colombia's premier and most friendly city, attracting the most foreign and local migrating workers in Colombia.
Cali certainly doesn't market itself as a tourist centre; Caleños get on fine without tourists.
I read a quote in that famous travel guide... you need Cali more than it needs you... and it's so true.
Any visitors who arrive with a lofty entitled, tourist pedestal will be very quickly ignored... or worse.
Don't expect to come to Cali and find tourist maps, museums, etc.
The attraction here is the very rich culture of music and everything that surrounds it.
Cali is just one example of Colombia's vast and varied musical tapestry; which is just one of the many marvellous factors that distinguishes Colombia from the rest of the region.
I had a great time in Cali, made many new friends, learnt some new dance moves and got a wonderful insight into Colombia's musical jewel.
I went to the capital next... boundless Bogotá!!