Colombia’s Pacific coastline moves to a rhythm all its own, driven by the heavy African influences from decades of a slave trade as intense as anywhere in Brazil. In fact, Cali, the country’s third-largest city and the only real metropolis in the Pacific area, is the second blackest city in South America, next to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. That means it’s got some serious soul going on. Many people skip Cali, as visually it’s just another urban landscape, but dive into the music, try out some local bud, and you’ll understand why Cali is known to locals as the surcusal de nuevo cielo (“a new branch of heaven on earth”).
Word to the wise: The rainforest-carpeted crags of the Farallon Mountains, which provide an exotic backdrop to Cali’s otherwise drab appearance, are a hot narco-trafficking zone, so don’t go wandering around in the mountains alone. There’s no reason to: Some of the best-quality cannabis in the country is readily available, including a local strain called Corinto, which is sweet, smooth, and named for a nearby town where much of the herb is processed. Corinto is sold abundantly all over Cali, including in pre-rolled joints right in San Antonio Park, a leafy vista point that looks out over the city skyline and fills with couples and families most nights of the week. This colonial area is also a good place to find a bed and breakfast or inexpensive hostel in historic digs.
With an elevated mind, Cali-style salsa is quite simply out of this world.
Cali is known throughout Latin America as the capital of salsa, and you won’t enter a taxi, restaurant, or even a bank in this tropical city without hearing its syncopated beat vibrating through the air. Like jazz in the US or reggae in Jamaica, the salsa in Cali is driven in part by the city’s strong cannabis culture, and some of the best dancers I know always puff on a pre-roll before tearing up the floor.
With an elevated mind (or without), Cali-style salsa is quite simply out of this world. To see this pure joy in motion for yourself, head outside of the city limits to Juanchito, where salsatecas that have been grooving since the 60s, including the mighty Chango, stay packed until the sun comes up.
Additional image credits:
Bogotá: Courtesy of Ocean Malandra
San Agustín: DC_Colombia/iStock