The 3 best places to hang out in Downtown Cali
Cali, a city located in the Colombian mid-west, is known by everyone as the “Sucursal del Cielo” which roughly translates as “heaven’s branch”. Founded in 1536, is one of the oldest cities in America. It’s been an economic powerhouse for the country since colonial times, mainly because of its location, near the Pacific Ocean. The history of Cali is the tale of two cities: a traditional, religious and conservative town as well as a modern, cosmopolitan and liberal metropolis. Find out with us which are the three best places to hang out in downtown Cali!
San Antonio: the bohemian neighbourhood in Cali
Originally, the town of San Antonio, which quickly became a neighborhood in Cali, was built around the eponymous church. Built in 1746, it was dedicated to San Antonio de Padua, the Portuguese saint. It’s a very modest and beautiful chapel, with white walls made of lime and stone flanked by palms and lampposts. During holidays the church is covered with lights, enlightening the cobblestone square under its steps.
Rapidly, the neighborhood became one of the colonial hidden treasures in Cali. Its large Spanish houses with white walls and ceramic roof tiles are immediate architectonic referents for Cali’s Bohemia. This colonial heritage can be seen in its iconic landmarks. The water piles of Crespo (now La Merced museum) and Jaime are old ponds previous to the city’s aqueduct. Los Cristales outdoor theater completes the artistic and bohemian urban design. In this place, musical groups, theater companies and folklore associations compete continuously for the public’s attention.
Caliwood, San Antonio’s filmic and literary movement
However, the most famous heritage of San Antonio is the artistic movement known as Caliwood. Born in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it grouped some of the most brilliant artists in Cali: Andres Caicedo, Luis Ospina, Carlos Mayolo and Fernell Franco. Caicedo is considered as one of the best writers in Cali’s history with many short stories and one novel called “¡Que viva la musica!” (Long Live Music!).
Sex, drugs and salsa are the main elements in the novel. Its protagonist, a rich young woman from Cali, loves the Rolling Stones but lives to dance salsa. Caicedo killed himself at 28, the day the novel was published, which contributed to its fame as a cursed poet. For many, San Antonio will always be the place where Maria Carmen, the main character, lived and danced.
Ospina and Mayolo also lived in San Antonio, but they were more interested in pictures than in books. Even though Caicedo founded a cinema club with them, he didn’t direct any movie as they did. They outlived him by decades and went to direct some of the best films in Colombia’s history.
Fernell, on the other hand, was a photographer whose exhibition “Prostitutes” (1972) was financed by the Caliwood group. Today, its photos are part of the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. His widow, Marta Izquierdo, is the head chef in Azul, one of the best restaurants of Cali. The place is located, of course, in San Antonio, and you can experience the best fusion of Colombian an international cuisine in its tables. Come to San Antonio, downtown Cali, and you will live the shinning times of Caliwood.
Beyond the salsa parties and the bohemian environment, Cali has amazing natural places to get lost and relax. The National Park Los Farallones, the Orquideorama and the Cali river are some perfect spots for such activities. Nevertheless, for those who want to learn and appreciate the local and international fauna, Cali’s Zoo is the place to go. It is located in the west, near the Cali river, where the mountains and the valley meet. The surroundings are very touristic, as there are many hotels, restaurants, museums and bars.
The Zoo was founded in 1971, and it is considered one of the best zoos in Latin America. It has over 2.500 animals, from 230 different species: 160 are native and the rest are exotic. Birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibious, fish and insects (there’s and aquarium and a butterfly garden) live together in their carefully designed environments.
Preservation and ecotourism
Cali’s Zoo is considered as one of the best due to the high quality standards in animal caretaking. It has been credited in animal conservation process, care and preservation by the American Zoo Association. Also, Cali’s Zoo has a research facility, the CIDZOO, which works with universities, and a Wild Life Attention Centre. The Zoo has rescued many wild animals that the police seized from people who took them illegally, giving them a second chance.
For example, the Andean condor reproduction has been promoted by the zoo since 1992, being the only one in the country to successfully breed the species. The five condors born in the zoo were released into the wild in protected areas of National Parks. The effort for the conservation of the species has given the zoo national and international recognition.
La Tertulia Museum
When dictatorship arose in the 50’s in Colombia, many artistic and cultural places were forced to close in Cali. However, many artists and Maecenas managed to open some spaces to talk and debate art. They were held indoors in some private houses. One of the most important was La Tertulia (roughly translated as a mix between “the social gathering” and “the talk”). Some of the best Colombian artists, as Alejandro Obregon, for example, exhibited their art in the house. When the dictator was overthrown, the space became a full-time museum.
As the site grew in popularity, it was obvious it needed more space. Therefore, the museum was relocated from San Antonio to the margins of the Cali river. The museum was built from scratch and completely redesigned. It has a cinematheque, some exhibition rooms, the underground hall and a main building. The last one was inspired by the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, with exterior open arcs surrounding the main space. It also has a pond and a little forest.
Art and cinema
La Tertulia may be the most important place for art and cinema, besides Caliwood, in the entire city. Sculptures, paintings, photographs, drawings and videos are constantly exhibited here. The entire collection has over 1500 works, donated by privates or acquired by the administration. The museum has also some space for performances, with guest artists coming to Cali to show their work.
The cinema, nevertheless, has the main place here. The cinematheque was inaugurated with the projection of Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig, and it frequently exhibits classic and contemporary art house films. It actually served as an inspiration for the Caliwood cinema club, even if the young artists considered it to be very traditional. If you want to see good movies and learn from Cali’s artistic history, you definitively have to come to La Tertulia.
Cali has many plans to offer. If you want familiar, artistic or adventurous plans, the city has always something for you. Come to the “Sucursal del Cielo” and live the experience of salsa, art, cinema and nature. Cali is waiting for you!
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