In Cali, there are many ways you can get a taste of (and very likely get hooked on) salsa.
A good way to observe the incredibly intricate and fast footwork of Caleño salsa dancers is to go to a performance of one of the big salsa shows in town. In this cabaret-style environment, you’ll be amazed at the talent and exhausted by the high energy of these dancers, often ranging in age from 4 to 40.
The most famous show of them all is Delirio (Parque del Amor, Cl. 69 No. 4N-88, tel. 2/893-7610, COP$120,00), a sort of Cirque du Soleil—à la Cali. This group, combining dance, music, and circus, has delighted audiences all over the world. Performances go from about 8pm to well after midnight. The group is constantly updating their shows, creating segments on different themes that inspire them, such as La María and even Michael Jackson tributes. During intermission, spectators are invited to dance on the stage, but there’s no pressure. Performances are usually held the last Friday of every month, and at other times during the Feria de Cali. Minors under the age of 18 are not allowed inside the big tent.
Other popular ongoing shows include Ensálsate (cell tel. 316/480-7822, COP$90,000) which takes place the second week of each month and during the Feria de Cali at the Salón Ritz of the Hotel Dann Carlton (Cra. 2 No. 1-60, tel. 2/893-3000). It’s a three-act show with a mix of music and dance with salsa, music from the Caribbean, tango, and even some hip-hop added to the mix. Tickets can be obtained at Tu Boleta.
Salsa al Parque
On the last Saturday night of the month, go to Salsa al Parque (Parque de los Estudiantes), also called the Parque de Santa Librada or, most commonly, the Parque de Jovita (Cl. 5 at Cra. 22, 4pm-midnight, free). This friendly and open-air freebie is known as an audición, which is a chance for salsa enthusiasts called coleccionistas, who collect salsa albums, to play their favorites for the crowd. Young and old alike, from all walks of life, gather at the park for these events, with the common denominator being a love of salsa. The event is organized by the Fundación Cultural Nuestra Cosa Latina. They usually sell CDs to defray their costs. There’s nothing like it!
No matter where you go on a Saturday night, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear some salsa. But there are some places—salsatecas—where it’s all about salsa and nothing more. Most are open from Wednesday until Sunday, closing at around 2am. Big salsatecas, like Tin Tin Deo, will have a cover.
Surrounding the Parque de la Alameda are a handful of salsatecas, many of them quite old-school. These are excellent places to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the music, nurse your drink, and watch the locals dance. El Habanero Club (Cl. 7A No. 23A-01, tel. 2/557-5829, hours vary Wed.-Sat.) is one such place. At this fabulous small club specializing in musica Antillana (music from the Caribbean), you may feel like you’ve stepped into 1940s Cuba when you open the door. International visitors are welcome here, but plan on staying awhile: the owners don’t like it when gringos nurse one beer and leave.
Libaniel (Cl. 7A No. 23-68, tel. 2/557-5157), on the opposite corner from El Habanero, is one of those established clubs where the “new” waiters have only been working there for 10 years. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s “Salsa y más,” and a good time to check it out. They even serve tamales to satisfy your midnight cravings. A third club on the park is another famous name, the Portón Caldense (Cra. 23B No. 7-32, tel. 2/557-7616). It’s larger than the other places previously mentioned, and similarly full of atmosphere. On Thursdays they switch gears with a tango night.
The Casa Latina (Cl. 7 No. 27-38, tel. 2/556-6549, no cover) is a welcoming bar with tons of personality that draws in the salsa aficionados of Cali. Owner Gary Domínguez has theme nights, usually on Saturdays, celebrating a star salsa performer. Salsa memorabilia cover the walls, and the DJ booth that Gary mans while drinking a beer is jam-packed with records. How he knows what is where is a mystery—he must have a system. You may want to contact the bar in advance to see if they have any special events coming up.
In the San Fernando neighborhood along Calle 5 are some of the best-known big salsa clubs in Cali. Tin Tin Deo (Cl. 5 No. 38-71B, tel. 2/514-1537, 7:30pm-1am Thurs., 7:30pm-3am Fri.-Sat., cover COP$10,000-COP$15,000) is a requirement on a Thursday night. At Tin Tin Deo they also dance chichoky, which is a new style of Cali salsa that incorporates African rhythms. Saturday night is also big here, when the music is pachanguero, which is sort of “party music,” Cali style. Tin Tin Deo is the new chico on the block—it’s only been around since 1985, started by some friends from the Universidad del Valle. It’s always a good bet.
Conga (Cl. 5 No. 30-17, tel. 2/556-5608, 9pm-3am Thurs.-Sat., cover COP$15,000) is more of an insider’s place. Fridays and Saturdays are viejoteca nights, which are oldies nights, with Sundays geared more toward younger folk. Finally Zaperoco Bar (Av. 5N No. 16-46, tel. 2/661-2040, 8pm-3am Thurs.-Sat., cover COP$20,000) confidently calls itself the best rumba in Cali. It regularly hosts live acts featuring salsa, music from the Pacific, and Cuban son music. The long lineup of orquestas (bands), is planned far in advance. The service isn’t as friendly as at other bars.