Cali, Colombia Nightlife | The 14 Best Bars and Clubs
I felt like I was in a dream. Like I was living through something you only see in the movies. I was brand new to the city and didn’t know anything about Cali, Colombia nightlife.
My buddy had been taking Spanish classes and got invited to a party. He asked me if I wanted to roll with him. Hell yeah, I did!
The taxi dropped us off in front of some random huge house in the southern part of the city. I knew nothing about the area at the time and there didn’t seem to be much going on from the outside. I gave my quick buddy a sideways glance.
The party looked piss-weak, but we'd just spent 20 minutes in a taxi so we were definitely going to check it out. We walked around the side of the house and saw security standing there lookin' all mean.
Two security dudes with guns guarding the entrance.
A little odd.
It was $12 USD to enter, which included an open bar for the whole night. After a bit of chit chat, we asked if there were any people there. We couldn't hear or see anything, after all. The host told us it was popping, so we paid up.
She slapped a wristband on and escorted us inside. We walked down a long, dark corridor for what seemed like an entire minute before she opened a door.
And that's when I laid eyes on the best party of my life. My expectations were low. Hell, they were pretty much non-existent. I certainly wasn't expecting this…
The open door led to the backyard of an old mansion once owned by a card-carrying member of the Cali Cartel. A luxurious backyard filled with an enormous swimming pool, a slide, a hot tub, a sauna, a bopping dance floor, and more.
Reggaeton blared from a tricked out sound system as dozens of Caleñas in skimpy swimsuits darted around the place. The eye candy was enough to keep me around all night, and it just kept getting better and better.
My buddy and I were drooling when a smoking hot waitress walked up and asked if we wanted a drink. Yes, Ma'am. Something strong, please. We followed her to the bar picking our jaws up off the floor as we went. This was gonna be a good time.
And one hell of a night it was!
We drank way more than our $12 USD entry fee, flirted with sexy Calenas in bikinis, danced some sensual salsa steps, abused certain substances well-known around Cali, and acted like abject degenerates until the wee hours of the morning. I distinctly remember one point in the evening. In the midst of all the madness, time slowed down to a trickle and I thought to myself…
“Is this really my life?”
I helped myself to a few complimentary party favors with my buddy, headed straight to the dance floor to learn a little salsa, and then jumped into an 18-person hot tub before making out with a gorgeous Caleña who spoke zero English.
Life was great.
Dancing Salsa in Cali, Colombia?
First and foremost, you need to know one thing about Cali nightlife:
Cali, Colombia is the salsa dancing capital of the world!
If you don't like dancing salsa or aren't willing to learn, you won't like the party scene here. It's damn near impossible to enjoy a night out in the city without doing a few shimmies at some point.
Why? Because the vast majority of clubs in Cali are either salsa bars or crossover clubs. And while crossover clubs claim to play a variety of music, they do, in fact, play salsa music for the vast majority of the time.
That's just the way things go here. Love it or leave it. Simple as that.
Luckily, there's nowhere better to learn salsa than Cali. There are over 200 schools in Cali, Colombia (Source). You'll find classes to fit every budget, including reasonably priced private lessons if that's something you're interested in.
If you're looking to learn through lessons, I've heard a lot of good things about Sabor Manicero.
How Important is Speaking Spanish in Cali?
I've said it before and I'll say it again:
Cali, Colombia doesn't see nearly as many tourists as Bogota or Medellin. As such, English isn't all that widely spoken in the city.
You'll want to speak at least a little Spanish before you arrive in Cali. It'll make your experience so much better, especially in the after-dark rumba scene.
Salsa bars are designed for dancing, but they're also easier to have a conversation in than those booming electro discos. Salsa music just isn't cranked up as loud as reggaeton and other genres.
Plus, Cali has a bit of a reputation for being a dangerous city. While Cali has gotten much safer over the last few years, danger still lurks under the shadows.
So what's the best way to stay safe?
Learn a little Spanish, ¡por supuesto!. If you ever find yourself in a sticky situation, you'll need to understand what's being said on the fly. That way, you can turn a sticky situation from turning into something dire.
After all, how else are you gonna explain to that friendly fellow that you weren't staring at his girlfriend's gigantic Caleña nalgas? You were, of course, simply admiring her epic salsa dancing skills 😉
¡Que importante! Luckily, it's never been easier to learn a little Spanish. Just click here!
Cali, Colombia Nightlife Culture
We've talked about safety, salsa dancing, and the importance of speaking Spanish while partying in Cali–but there are a few more things you should know.
First, the party culture in Cali is a little different.
While people in Bogota love chatting with randos, Cali is the polar opposite. If you roll up to a bar solo and try chatting up strangers here, they'll look at you like you're a damn leper.
Cali is a big city, but most Caleños still hang out with the same people they've known their whole life. You'll see more big groups at bars and clubs here than almost anywhere else.
Suffice to say, it's not the best place in Colombia to “Conquistar,” if you know what I mean.
Hell, some clubs won't even let you in unless you have a date with you, especially if you look gringo.
If you're going out alone in Cali, I'd recommend sticking to some of the more gringo-friendly spots and the mid-week salsa nights. Click here for the latest on all the weekly gringo events.
If you roll up to Menga on your ownsome, it'll end up being a huge waste of time. You're much better off trying to tee up a dancing partner or putting together a group to hit the bars and clubs on a Saturday night. That's just the social norm here. It's how they roll.
Where to Stay in Cali, Colombia?
As Colombia's third-largest city, there are stacks of different neighborhoods to choose from. But considering the potential for crime, it's important you pick a spot that's safe and close to all the best rumba action.
Hipsters tend to hang out in Granada, a bohemian barrio just north of the Cali River. Aside from the usual array of museums, cafes, and restaurants, Granada has a fine selection of bopping late-night salsa joints.
Another decent nightlife district is the student-friendly San Fernando, particularly around Parque de los Perros. Here, low-cost housing and cheap no-frills beer halls make for a laid back party scene.
But for us fair-skinned fellas (and the ladies, of course), it's hard to go past San Antonio. It may be the tourist center of the city, but Cali isn't particularly popular with travelers, so it's not overrun.
Best of all, scattered around this cobblestoned colonial district is a smattering of boozy gringo-friendly bars and clubs. If you don't know your cumbia from your bachata, this is the place you want to go out for an evening. Your goofy two left feet won't cause embarrassment in this barrio's solid selection of bopping salsa clubs.
And if you're looking for something a little more upscale, simply pop up to El Penon — located just above San Antonio. Here you'll find some of the finest bars in the city, along with wonderful high-rise apartments and hotels.
You'll find a plethora of hotels and hostels throughout El Penon and San Antonio. There's no lack of options here, but one stands above the rest…
My top hotel pick in the city? Hotel Dann Cali
Hotel Dann Cali features an incredible El Penon location, that gives you easy to access to all the bars, restaurants, and nightlife in both El Penon and San Antonio.
You'll be within walking distance to dozens of great bars and clubs.
Plus, the hotel is stunning and features modern, boutique style rooms. There's a nice swimming pool above the city, along with a piano bar and a full gym.
Oh, and you'll grab a room here for well under $100 bucks a night. Talk about a steal.
Cali Nightlife | The Best Bars and Clubs in 2020
Let's move on to my top picks for nightlife in Cali, Colombia.
Of course, this whole piece could be about salsa bars, but your boy enjoys a little perreando from time to time. So, I've tried to include a little variety here as well:
– Salsa Bars –
- La Topa Tolondra: Famous salsa bar that's popular with gringos and Caleños alike. Weekends are good, but I'd recommend checking this out on a Monday night. La Topa Tolondra is the best place to go on a Lunes by a longshot.
- Tintindeo: Another famous salsa bar in Cali around the Parque de los Perros area. You'll find a few gringos doing their goofy dance here, but not as many as in La Topa Tolondra. Overall, Tintindeo is a great place if you're serious about salsa dancing. Don't even bother if you're not.
- Zaperoco Salsa Bar: While Zaperoco isn't as famous as the other bars above, it's located in the hipster haven of Granada–one of the best neighborhoods in Cali for travelers. If you want to dance salsa while staying in Granada, start here.
– Granada –
- Quickly Shots: I almost got jumped once at Quickly Shots after an unfortunate encounter with a bonita Caleña while her boyfriend watched on. The worst part? It was all her fault. Soy juicioso. That said, this is a reggaeton and trap club in Granada. It packs out on the weekend, but it's pretty small so bring a date or a few friends.
- El Viejo Barril: My buddy swears by this bar in Granada. The open-air locale is well-known and almost always full, but the vibe never really enticed me all that much. Still, it's a good place to start a night out before heading off to Menga.
- Antaño Cervecería Artesanal: My favorite craft beer place in all of Granada (and there's a few). If you're looking to have a few beers with your buddies or with a date, this is the place to be.
- Bourbon St.: This is the numero uno gringo hangout in Granada. A welcome change from salsa, Bourbon St. is a rock bar that has live music most weekends. While it's never all that wild here, there's typically a pretty good crowd bouncing around to banging tunes. It's a good place to start a fun-filled night, but don't bother eating here because the food sucks.
– Menga –
Menga is a neighborhood to the north of Cali that boasts some of the biggest and baddest clubs in the city. Most venues here claim to be “crossover” clubs, but generally, all you hear is salsa, salsa, and more salsa.
- Café Mi Tierra: My absolute favorite club in Menga is Café Mi Tierra. The lively open-air haunt packs out with middle-class Caleños on weekends. The people are friendly here and the prices are cheap. Highly recommended.
- Living Club: A giant club in Menga that's pretty damn famous around town. You definitely won't get in here without a date, especially if you're a gringo and it's a weekend. Expect a whole lot of salsa and not much else.
- Lolas: Another massive club in Menga. While similar to Living Club, they actually live up to their word and play at least a little crossover music here. Again, don't expect to get in without a date because packs of horny single gringos aren't allowed. Case in point: My buddy and I got denied entry posthaste.
– Other Clubs in Cali, Colombia –
- La Purga: If you're looking for a decent-sized club that plays reggaeton and trap in Cali, La Purga might be your best bet. Just so you know, it attracts a lot of folk from the LGBT community, not that there's anything wrong with that. Hell, last time I went here the vibe was pretty damn sweet.
- The Lobby: This is the best newer disco to go to in El Penon. The lobby is upscale, but one of my favorite places to party in the city! Highly recommended.
- Sonido Central: The go-to place for electronic and house music in Cali. Located in the center near Granada, you'll want to take a taxi to and from this club because the area is sketchy after dark. At least the feverish crowd and solid sound system make up for the dodgy barrio.
- Mazao Park: I was surprised the first time I went to Mazao Park by how damn great it is here. It's as good as you'll get on a Tuesday night as the club hosts a cultural exchange that turns into a crazy party afterwards. I've never been on weekends, but it might be an alright option on Saturdays if you're staying near Parque del Perro.
Best Nights to Rumba in Cali
One of the great things about the Cali scene is there's a crazy party every night of the week, except maybe Sundays.
As you might've noticed from my recommendations, some clubs specialize in wild mid-week shenanigans, and these are just as loco as anything you'll find on a Saturday night.
Outside of the weekend, however, you'll want to double-check where the party is at before heading out.
Wednesday: Check out La Topa Tolandra if you're looking to down a few beers and dance salsa.
Thursday: Check out Tin Tin Deo if you're ready and willing to dance salsa.
Those are the best midweek options when talking Cali, Colombia nightlife. They're not great, but both should hold you over until the weekend hits and Cali gets ready to truly fiesta.
Cali, Colombia Nightlife | Overall
If you've ever wanted to party in the salsa dancing capital of the world, this post will help you do just that. I've gone through every single thing I know about nightlife in Cali, Colombia.
If I missed anything, let me know.
Sound off in the comments and let this gringo know what's up. Stuff is always changing too, so I love hearing about new haunts.
And in case you were wondering, I do indeed dance a little salsa. Don't doubt these gringo hips, maricas.