Cali, officially named Santiago de Cali, has a historic city center that can easily be seen in just a few hours. Most of the sites lie within a fairly straight path and are accessible on foot.
Colina de San Antonio
A good place to start is the Colina de San Antonio. This park on a hill above the historic part of town is a popular gathering place at night, especially on weekends. We went on a Friday night and the park was full of people of all ages sitting on the grass. Vendors were selling jewelry, ice cream, snacks, and other goods. There are a few restaurants along the park as well.
At the top of the hill is the Capilla de San Antonio, built in 1747. We were told it’s usually closed except for special occasions.
There is also a nice view of the city from the top of the hill.
As you walk down the hill and down Calle 2, there are several interesting looking restaurants and bars serving a variety of different foods. Most of them open at night, but when we walked by a few during the day the smell was incredible.
Iglesia de la Merced
The next stop, about a ten minute walk, is Iglesia de la Merced. Built in 1545, it is the oldest church in Cali. The church wasn’t open, but the archaeological museum next to the church is a popular stop.
Across the street from La Merced is the old Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace).
A block away sits the Teatro Municipal. This beautiful building was built in 1918.
Capilla de la Inmaculada
The most interesting building for me in Cali is the Capilla de la Inmaculada. It is a chapel built in 1764 with a Mudéjar bell tower and other Moorish features. It is considered the finest example of a Mudéjar tower in Latin America.
The chapel is part of the much bigger complex of the Iglesia de San Francisco, built in 1751. Both the church and chapel were closed at the time of visit.
The church complex sits on a large open plaza called Plazoleta de San Francisco. The government offices for the department of Valle del Cauca are opposite the church.
Plaza de Caicedo
A few blocks away is the main plaza in Cali, Plaza de Caicedo. This plaza, the nicest in the city, features tall palm trees and beautifully manicured grass with a monument in the center.
Iglesia de la Ermita
Not too far away down a pedestrian street full of street vendors is Iglesia de la Ermita. It is the most beautiful church in Cali, built in 1948 on the site of a ruined 17th century church. It is inspired by the Ulm Minster in Germany.
Parque de las Poetas
The park behind the church is called Parque de las Poetas. There is a small fountain in the middle, and on one side there are benches with statues of poets. It’s surrounded by a few interesting buildings, including the orange and white Teatro Jorge Isaacs (left) built in 1931, and the Compañía Colombiana de Tabaco (right).
Parque Simón Bolívar
There’s a riverwalk that runs through the city along the Río Cali, but crossing the bridge over the river will take you to Parque Simón Bolívar, a nice park with shady trees. It’s a great place to try a cholado or lulada.
During the holidays, the park is lit up with thousands of colorful lights (alumbrados navideños). The lights are on from the second week of December through the first week of January.