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The salsa capital of the world: Cali has certainly earned the title it has given itself. No matter where you go in the city – restaurants, shops, or even at the dentist – the rhythmic sounds of salsa are everywhere. A visit to Cali is not complete without an evening of dancing in one of the ‘salsotecas’ or salsa bars.
With over 130 salsa bands, thousands of salsa students, a hundred or so salsotecas and even a few world champions, Cali lives and breathes salsa. The city has embraced this style of music that originated in Cuba and Puerto Rico and made it its very own. Whether it’s an ordinary Monday or busy Saturday night, people dance salsa every single day of the week and often until the early hours. The law that determines the closing hours of dance clubs is mockingly called ‘ley zanahoria’ or ‘carrot law’ - only those who are as boring as a carrot would go home at that time.
After importing salsa from Cuba and Puerto Rico in the 1950s, the Caleños added their own flavour. They combined dance steps from Afro-Colombian cumbia and merecumbé, Cuban mambo and American Charleston and Swing, forging something unique that is now known as ‘stilo caleño’. It is a type of salsa that encompasses lightning-fast rhythms and steps.
“Caleños have added their own style to salsa”
The district of Juanchito, southeast of Cali’s downtown, is the place to be for a great evening of salsa dancing. There are at least 30 salsa bars and new establishments open up all the time. The best known bars are concentrated around Via Casava. One of the most classic salsotecas is Changó, a smoky nightclub packed with people out on the dance floor. Another hotspot is Agapito. The party starts late so don’t even bother showing up before midnight.
The ‘chiva’ is a typical Cali attraction: a weekend bus that drives partygoers from club to club so nobody has to worry about being a designated driver. The colourful traditional bus drives by half a dozen clubs. You may also rent your own chiva with a group and choose which bars and clubs you would like to visit. For rentals, contact Chiva Rumbo de Lujo or Chivas Rumbahabana.
Every year, from 25-30 December, Cali goes wild during the Feria de Cali. The first of these festivals in 1957 was all about bullfighting, but over the years the event has grown into a spectacular swinging street carnival. Salsa bands, singers and dancers travel to Cali from every corner of the world and there are parades, concerts and dance performances on every street corner. The festival is also a culinary celebration: `tascas`, small temporary outdoor restaurants, pop up everywhere, serving a great selection of Colombian and international cuisine.