Are you wondering what are the best areas to stay in Cali, Colombia? The best neighborhoods to stay in Cali are: Centro, el Peñón, San Antonio and San Cayetano, San Fernando – Parque del Perro, and Granada, Versalles and Juanambú.
In terms of vacationing in Latin America, Colombia rarely tops the list of hot spots, and Cali doesn’t even top the list in terms of Colombia. But for the savvy traveler, that can be a strength rather than a weakness.
Making a trip to Cali allows you to largely circumvent the crowded tourist districts you’d find in more popular cities like Medellin and enjoy a more immersive and authentic chance to get to know how the people of Colombia really live.
And while this isn’t a city bursting at the seams with five star luxury hotels, there’s an abundance of different hotels and hostels spread across a distinct variety of cool neighborhoods. Whatever your reason for visiting the city, you can find lodgings that are comfortably close to the areas in Cali that interest you.
But anyone looking to make a trip to Cali needs to consider the elephant in the room. This is a city that has a reputation for being dangerous, but that reputation is largely overstated. Changes in the recent years have transformed the state of affairs in Cali for the best, and as long as you exercise a reasonable amount of caution, you should be perfectly safe walking most of the neighborhoods in Cali.
Dressing overly flashy or making it apparent that you’re a tourist can make you an easier target, and you’ll want to stick to the more densely populated streets at night if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable. But for the most part, this is a modern city like any other: vibrant in its mix of cultures, rich with commerce and history, and filled with generous and welcoming people.
Cali is known as both the Capital of Salsa Dancing and a Branch of Heaven, and it’s a major heart art, culture, and nightlife. But its privileged location in the Cauca Valley, it’s also a prime location for ecotourism. That said, finding the right neighborhood in Cali can make a world of difference if you want easy access to the surrounding natural highlights.
Where to stay in Cali: Best areas to stay in Cali
The somewhat limited options for public transit means that what areas in Cali you decide to make your home are particularly important, at least for more spendthrift travelers. The public bus system known as the Mio is generally an effective way to navigate the city streets, but it can quickly become a real hassle if you’re using it as your primary mode of transportation.
Ride share services are very practical in terms of pricing. Even if you’re trying to travel from areas in Cali at opposite sides of the city, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than about $5 for the privilege.
That sort of pricing is endemic to practically anything in the city regardless of where. This is a cheap place to visit. Backpackers operating on a shoestring budget can go a surprisingly long way, and even vacationers working within a modest budget can live the high life in Cali.
The cheapest hostels can be booked for around seven U.S. dollars, and even mid-range hotels tend to top out at just over $30. That means that you have a lot of flexibility about where you stay in Cali, and even economical visitors can live comfortably for a fraction of the costs elsewhere.
Here are some of the best neighborhoods in Cali for visitors from abroad.
1. Centro- Caicedo Square
The Centro district is so named because of its location at the heart of Cali, but it’s also the center of historical importance for the Colombian city. While many central historical neighborhoods in Latin American countries have worked diligently to preserve the aging architecture of the area, Cali’s Centro district is significantly more modernized.
As a result, the Centro district of today is largely populated by mixed used developments, and it serves as one of the most important commercial hubs in town. If you’re looking for areas in Cali where you can do your daily shopping and dining in one place, this is the neighborhood for you. Just keep in mind that while it’s a bustling hub of activity during the day, there’s not a whole lot to do in the Centro district at night.
And while the Centro district has been significantly developed over the years, there’s still plenty of stunning colonial architecture intact, and it’s potentially the densest neighborhood in Cali in terms of historical landmarks.
The physical center of the Centro district is the Templo de la Merced, but the city’s history radiates out of many of the city squares. Highlights include Ortíz Bridge, National Palace, and the Enrique Buenaventura Municipal Theater, but the real standout in this district is Caicedo Square. Named after a hero of Colombia’s battle for independence, it’s a lush and floral park that’s covered with palm trees.
Environmentally important areas like the Madrevieja Videles Wetland are also comfortably close to this district. The sheer accessibility of this neighborhood and breadth of things to do makes it one of the best places to stay in Cali.
The commercial prominence of this area means that there isn’t a whole lot in the way of cheap hostels in this area, and the opportunities are instead dominated by mid- to high-range hotels. Clean rooms with decent amenities can be found for less than $20 a night, but even the most sumptuous hotels top out at not much more than a hundred.
2. El Peñón
El Peñón isn’t as centralized as the Centro district, nor is it as rife with historical landmarks. But it’s one of the best places to stay in Cali if you want to live lavishly during your time in the city. Far more compact than many of the city’s other barrios, El Peñón is a bastion for richer guests and upper class locals.
That also means that the neighborhood is one of the safest in the city. Hired watchmen are a consistent and reliable presence throughout El Peñón, and they’re available in all the streets of this neighborhood.
That’s a good thing, because El Peñón offers some of the most vibrant nightlife in the city. Located just southwest of the river, the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants tend to be significantly classier than many other neighborhoods in Cali, and that offers plenty of chances to rub shoulders with some of the city’s most prominent and trendy movers and shakers.
El Peñón is known for being home to some of the best restaurants in town, but there’s also plenty to do if you want to get out and enjoy the day. Parque El Peñon is significantly smaller than Caicedo Square, but it’s also one of the densest and hippest outdoor areas in Cali.
It boasts dozens of hip restaurants in a three block radius and is absolutely bursting with art galleries and boutique shops. While not in El Peñon proper, the Museo La Tertulia and Parque del El Gato del Río are an easy walk away. Those looking for something more athletic may want to explore the city’s Three Crosses a decent hike away.
As one of the most luxurious neighborhoods in Cali, you can expect to pay a premium to stay in El Peñón. Fortunately, that’s still largely a pittance by American standards. A huge variety of luxury hotels sit right alongside El Peñón’s main strips, but if you’re willing to hunt around a little, you can find a few cute bohemian hostels for less than $20 a night.
3. Sant Antonio and San Cayetano
If El Peñón is the height of luxury in Cali, San Antonio and San Cayetano express the height of culture. If you want to see how the outsiders and creatives of Cali live without feeling like your safety is at risk, these two neighborhoods in Cali are the place to stay.
Traditional colonial buildings are prevalent in this neighborhood, and there’s a delightful juxtaposition between their charming but stately design and the creative murals and graffiti that dominate many of the streets in these neighborhoods. Home to much of the city’s middle class, this is an artsy district but not necessarily a party district.
Cool restaurants, nightclubs, and bars are accessible by foot to anyone staying in the neighborhood, but it’s generally a quieter neighborhood, so there isn’t a riot of noise every night. If you’re looking for authentic indigenous food from the Valley and personable servers, you’ll find it here.
The arts have a rich presence in San Antonio, perhaps more than anywhere else in the city. San Cayetano is a little more stately and a little less bohemian, but it’s a great place to settle in if you want a quiet place to come home that will still provide you with access to the city’s more crowded districts and exciting activities.
The river cuts right by San Antonio, providing a perfect opportunity for a pleasant jog or a chance to meditate over the flowing waters. It’s also a short ride from Cali’s exceptional zoo. Historical landmarks aren’t as prevalent as they are elsewhere, but the aging and well preserved San Antonio Church is well worth a visit.
San Antonio and San Cayetano are also significantly less polluted place to stay in Cali than many of the more commercial neighborhoods.
As one might expect from neighborhoods known for their bohemian atmospheres, cheap places to stay in Cali are highly concentrated in the neighborhoods of San Cayetano and San Antonio, but they aren’t the only option around. Both international and and boutique chains of hotels have set their flag in these neighborhoods, and the variety of pricing options for lodgings in these neighborhoods cover the whole gamut.
4. San Fernando – Parque del Perro
If you’re looking to get wild, San Fernando and el Parque del Perro are consistently the hottest nightspot areas in Cali. Whether you’re looking to sit back at a busy bar and enjoy a cold drink or get adventurous and learn a bit of salsa dancing (practically a necessity in a city that’s synonymous with it), these twin neighborhoods have you covered.
Located a bit south of San Cayetano, those two neighborhoods offer some of the best and most innovative restaurants in the city. It’s here that the hottest young chefs come to make a name for themselves, and the options here are truly international. You’ll find everything from modern spins on local valley cuisine to ramen that can stand toe to toe with its forebears in Japan.
Even if you don’t choose to stay in Cali in one of these neighborhoods, you owe it to yourself to make a visit to el Parque del Perro. Translated in English simply as “Park of the Dog”. It was named after a neighborhood dog named Teddy that a local group of kids played with in the 1950s. While Teddy was later poisoned, he would later be commemorated with a statue that adorns the pretty park.
It’s still a popular gathering place for neighborhood youth, and it’s one of the most pleasant parks in Cali to spend a lazy afternoon (particularly after you’ve spent all night exhausting yourself at one of San Fernando’s vibrant bars). Street Five in this district is home to one of the most central public bus lines for the larger city.
Despite being the beating pulse of nightlife in Cali, San Fernando is one of the most affordable options for visitors. Major international hotel chains are nearly absent, but boutique hotels and cute little hostels breed prodigiously. Even the most frugal vacationer can live cheaply and eat well in San Fernando.
5. Versalles, Granada and Juanambú
The neighborhoods of Versalles, Granada and Juanambú may not be twins, but they’re certainly siblings. While they’re close in proximity to one another – located in the northern end of Cali – what really unifies these three neighborhoods is that they’re largely overlooked by visitors from outside the country.
Easily the most immediately entertaining of these neighborhoods is Granada. It’s easily one of the more popular neighborhoods for both locals and travelers due to the high concentration of luxury hotels, bars, and restaurants.
You can expect an experience here more sedate than what you’d find in the lively San Fernando. Eminently safe and friendly to pedestrians, it’s a nightlife district for more discerning tastes. Elegant high-end restaurants dominate, and the bars and clubs tend to be more laidback and picturesque.
It’s a district ringed with stately mansions that’s coming up as a destination for the city’s young and well-heeled residents. It’s also home to boutiques from some of Colombia’s most innovative young fashion designers. Oddly enough, residential development seems to be slow in the neighborhood, so many of those stately old buildings remain unoccupied.
The connected neighborhoods of Juanambú and Versalles are largely bereft of activities for travelers, but if you’re looking to get a bit of distance from Cali’s more vibrant and occupied neighborhoods, they can be good places to lay low.
Versalles is home to some bars and nightclubs, but there are few standouts in the pack. Instead, the neighborhood is dominated by nondescript apartments and tall office buildings. Juanambú is one of the calmest and most pleasant residential neighborhoods in the city, but visitors won’t find a lot to do in its streets.
Granada tends towards the more expensive end of the spectrum in terms of hotels, understandable given what a hot commodity it is in terms of nightlife and culture. And while Versalles and Juanambú are a little more sedate, their prime location makes them a great place to set up camp if you want to experience Granada but don’t need to be in the heart of it. It just may take a little more research on your part.
Neither of these neighborhoods are particularly rich with lodgings, but they’re both great places to snag a privately rented Airbnb.