The Nirvana nature reserve is about an hour outside of Cali, on the other side of Palmira and costs $10.000 per person for entry. It is a 2-3 hour signposted hike up the mountain over streams and under bamboo and low-hanging trees to reach the viewpoint over the valley (above). The trek isn't particularly easy and is muddy at times so be sure to wear adequate shoes and take plenty of water. On our hike, we saw a variety of spiders and flowers I had never seen before. There is also a nice restaurant to have lunch at as a reward for all your hard work and, although prices for individual dishes such as trout or chicken are very high for the portion size ($25-32.000), the 4 or 6 person picada is actually a very good deal at $55.000 for 4, and is the best picada I've had in Colombia! There is also a butterfly farm right by the restaurant with so many butterflies that they often land on you and I found it much better than the one on Cerro de los Cristales in Cali.
Cerro de los Cristales is a mountain to the west of Cali that you can get to by car or taxi. The primary attraction on Cerro de los Cristales is the Cristo Rey statue that is a point of reference when navigating through the busy streets of the city. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the car park near the statue, driving up winding roads through very poor neighbourhoods. The view is impressive, spanning across the whole of Cali and beyond. You can also walk down behind the statue to other viewpoints looking over the road up to KM18 (pictured above). There are numerous stalls selling food and drinks and the statue itself is surrounded by flags from around the world and is quite beautiful. A must for tourists to Cali! However, visiting the mountain or the statue is not recommended late at night for safety reasons.
Another reason I like this mountain is because it has numerous pizza places dotted up the main road overlooking the city. These are much lower down than Cristo Rey so take far less time to get to by car/taxi. Our favourite restaurant is called 'La Curva' and is open-plan with two floors overlooking the city which is particularly beautiful at sunset. Although they are nothing particularly special, the quality-price ratio on the food is very good so it is worth a visit.
Finally, the last attraction on this mountain is the Adoke butterfly farm which is at KM 6 of the main road up the mountain. The roads are not the best to get to it so make sure you have a good car. It costs $12.000 per person and you can spend as long as you like there. The guide (pictured below) was very knowledgeable about the butterflies and the various plants that sustain them. I saw some of the biggest butterflies I had ever seen at Andoke, so big I thought they were bats! They also have a hummingbird viewing/feeding area which, if you have the patience, will give you some great shots of these beautiful birds. The last part of the tour involves an interactive map of Colombia that they built into the hillside with different coloured rocks depicting rivers and mountains, sculptures of various native animals and emblems for the main cities. It's a refreshing little day visit away from the hustle and bustle of Cali and would be great for kids.
Now, if there is one part of Cali that doesn't feel like a chaotic city, it's San Antonio. San Antonio is the colourful colonial old town part of Cali which has a lot of character and surrounds a park and church on a hill with a lovely view of city on one side and the Tres Cuces (three crosses) mountain opposite. Although it is not popular with the upper classes here, in spite of it's colours and relaxed feel, expats love it and this has both encouraged restoration in the past decade but it has also driven up prices of some restaurants to be, in my opinion, extortionate.
I lived here in 2011 and it had a lot going on with little cafes and restaurants, live music and storytelling in a sort of mini amphitheater by the church. And in the windiest month of August, you can spot hoards of people flying kites in the park. Most expats who live in Cali live in or around San Antonio as it really is the most attractive part of the city. At the moment, I mostly go there to sit in the park and look out over Cali, watching the planes fly in and out of the airport or grabbing a drink at la Colina bar. I also love eating empanadas on the terrace of a restaurant called 'Sisa Atahualpa' and watching lightning storms over the city. There are a plethora of cute little restaurants dotted about the narrow streets and I recently discovered a vegetarian one called 'El Buen Alimento' which was very reasonably priced and had a very varied menu. Otherwise, there are great Colombian places that sell an almuerzo (soup, meat, rice, salad and a drink) for around $8.000 (£2) and, surprisingly, lots of Arabic places where you can find falafel and hummous!
Whether you are just passing through Cali or live nearby, San Antonio is a must!
Here are some photos:
Pance is a small village on the outskirts of Cali and it has a beautiful shallow river where locals go to swim and the tradition is to bring pots and pans and make a fire to cook sancocho, a chicken and vegetable soup. There are also various restaurants and snack shops to buy food from. You can also camp there overnight and go on walks into the forest. It is around a 30-50 minute drive from Cali, depending on where you live, and is a really nice way to get out of the city for a day, but beware of the mosquitos there, they are lethal!
Cali is located in a valley in the Andes so you can easily get out of the city to the famous Kilómetro 18 to the north of the city. On the way up, you will see spectacular views of Cali and the mountain ranges that surround it. You also drive through extremely poor slums and can see where people live who take those semi-open 4x4 trucks that take them in and out of the city for work. Once up to the 18th kilometer through the steep and winding roads, you can stop at various restaurants that serve hot meals, with the specialty being hot chocolate with cheese. When we went recently, we ordered a picada with various meats, fried intestines (which were really good!), plantain, corn, potato and ají. It was delicious but prices can be quite high there so we bought a Groupon voucher for half price. It is quite an upper class outing but it is definitely worth going to see the scenery. There are often playgrounds for adults as well as children and some restaurants have parrots in the gardens. Just don't forget your coat as it is very cold compared to Cali, normally around 15 degrees.
Clothes shopping in Colombia can be a real nuisance, apart from if you have a huge budget and love overpriced and/or designer clothes. I have found it really tricky to find clothes for work that, due to this heat, need to be lightweight, preferably cotton and obviously not revealing as so much of the women's clothing here is. Here is a summary of where I found affordable and/or suitable clothing that wasn't all synthetic and diamantéd.