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Santiago de Cali – Revisited

”First Impressions die-hard” is a combination of two expressions but it would seem there is now some scientific evidence to back that up.  I lived in Santiago de Cali – or simply just Cali in late 2004 and early 2005. It was a time when there was at least 2000 murders per year which was somewhat mind-boggling considering in a country like Canada there were only 650. Cali was chaotic, it had a dangerous edge, it was dirty and run down and less than an appealing place to spend more time than I already had.

Those experiences and memories lingered.  I did not have a great desire to return to the city.  For me, Colombia had many more interesting places to hang my hat. Eight years later, after only a few very brief stopovers, I found myself in the city for 5 days.  I expected they would be long and arduous but to my surprise after the 5th day, I found myself wanting to return sooner than later.

Cali is changing slowly but apparently for the better. I had forgotten the wide, tree-lined avenues. The ”new” public transit system  – MIO (Masivo Integrado de Occidente) has cut a swath through the city but left well-designed bus stops throughout. For me, at least not at peak times, travelling by bus was much easier and the integrated system made it much simpler. The south sector of the city is growing. It is modern with excellent hospitals, public services and shopping malls.   The Cali zoo has been recently revamped and is definitely worth an afternoon excursion for any age.

The downtown core is still stuck in a time warp. It is as dirty and chaotic as it was in 2004. In all fairness, the sector along the river by the church, La Ermita has been made into a walkway and is quite pleasant.

If you enjoy sports, Cali has often been called the ”Sports Capital of the Americas”. It has excellent sports facilities and just hosted the 9th version of the World Cup Games.

In 2013,  the city celebrated the 477th  anniversary of its founding. I see Cali having a much brighter future. It has an excellent mayor, Rodrigo Guerrero Velasco, who hopefully will repeat his success of 20 years ago, when he ran the city in its darkest days of the drug lords. This year the FDI Intelligence, division of the Financial Times placed Cali in their 2013/14  Top 10 Major American Cities of the Future for FDI along with cities like Toronto, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.  The hospital Fundacion Valle del Lilli, consistently ranks as one of the top two hospitals in the country and real estate, especially for a large city is very favourably priced.

If you want to know Colombia, then you need to know Cali – hot, home of the salsa and beautiful women.  Cali is one of the major industrial and agricultural centres of the country. Cali is definitely one of the cities you must visit in Colombia


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