Things to Do in Cali
The brainchild of local painter and sculptor Hernando Tejada, the aptly named Cat Park (Parque del Gato) started life in 1996, when a giant bronze sculpture, El Gato Rio (The River Cat) was erected along the banks of the Cali River. The impressive sculpture was created in Bogota and transported to Cali—no easy feat as the huge cat measures around 3.5 meters in height and weighs about three tons—and became the centerpiece of the newly renovated parklands stretching along the riverfront. The River Cat was so popular, it was soon joined by more feline friends and today a series of 15 smaller cats can be found in the park, including a fiberglass cat model and colorful sculptures by local artists like Alejandro Valencia Tejada, Mario Gordillo, Nadin Ospina, Omar Rayo and Maripaz Jaramillo.
A short walk from the central Plaza Caicedo, Barrio San Antonio is the historic heart of Cali, a lively neighborhood lined with elegant colonial houses and overlooked by the hilltop San Antonio Church. This is not only Cali’s oldest district, but its most bohemian and the streets of San Antonio are a jumble of cosy cafes and gourmet restaurants, art galleries and street art installations, local designer boutiques and market stalls, and dance clubs blasting out salsa until the early hours.
19th-century Colombian writer Jorge Isaacs was San Antonio’s most famous former resident and today the neighborhood remains a creative hub, home to many of the city’s artists, writers, photographers and designers. Once you’ve strolled around the colorful shops and galleries, watched the musicians and cuenteros (story tellers) in the hillside park, and learnt a few steps of Colombian salsa, be sure to stick around for dinner – San Antonio is also the gastronomic center of Cali.
Founded by Sebastian de Belalcázar in 1555, Buga (or Guadalajara de Buga) was among Colombia’s first colonial cities and the historic town is now both a National Monument and one of the top attractions of Valle del Cauca. The undisputed star attraction of Buga is the magnificent Basilica del Señor de los Milagros (Basilica of the Lord of Miracles), which draws more than 3 million annual pilgrims and is famous for its cast iron statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Visiting the sacred site isn’t the only thing to do in Buga, though. Visitors can also admire the architecture of the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Santo Domingo; take in the views from the hilltop Mirador Al Derumbado; or escape the city for the surrounding countryside – canoeing and bird watching in the Laguna de Sonso Natural Park, swimming beneath the Los Pailones waterfalls and hiking or biking in the El Vínculo forest all make popular side trips.
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