Highlights of Colombia

Cali

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Located in the south west of Colombia, Cali is nestled at the base of the western Andes range close to Farallones National Park in the immense Cauca Valley, an area dominated by sugar cane crops which stretch some 50km to the south and 200km northwards.

Founded by Sebastian Belalcázar in 1536 (one of Pizarro’s lieutenants during the Spanish conquest) Cali remained a small city for centuries until a population explosion during the 1950s. Cali is tropical with two distinct dry seasons, yet its 1,000m altitude gives rise to fresh temperatures and nightly winds that descend from the surrounding mountains, giving Cali the perfect climate for an evening of excellent music and dining.

To the west, Cerro Cristo Rey with its eponymous Christ is King statute affords panoramic views over Cali, Colombia’s third largest city with 3,000,000 inhabitants. Cali is probably best known for being the world’s capital of salsa or Latin jazz, with typically trendy bars play thumping, hip-swinging rhythms until the early hours. Cali is one of Colombia’s only cities where its river (of the same name) runs along its original path. The Boulevard del Rio is the perfect promenade for riverside rambles and for sampling some typical pasty-type empanadas and other refreshments.

Cali is the stronghold of the Valluno culture, revealing strong African influences in its music, culture and gastronomy. It derives from the nearby Pacific Choco region which lies just over the western Andes towards the port city of Buenaventura. Fresh seafood and stew specials like arroz atollado – a mixture of stewed rice, beans, meats and other delicacies – are all part of the Cali diet and have to be sampled to appreciate fully the many flavours.

Cali is a fantastic place to go birding: with over 500 species recorded in the city municipality alone, the birding in and around Cali is unrivalled. An hour away lies the excellent San Antonio cloud forest where ornithologists frequently see over 100 species typical of the Andes in a day. Less than two hours away lies one of the most famous birding locations in the Neotropics – the Anchicaya road to Buenaventura, which runs parallel to Farallones National Park and is simply a marvellous location for birdwatching.

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