The third-largest Colombian city, Cali, provides a relatively safe destination as long as you adhere to the Colombian tenet, “No dar papaya.”
That means don’t give papaya literally and it is slang for not flashing money or expensive items.
Despite the Colombian drug trade and housing some of the most famed drug cartels, Colombia still makes a fun and generally safe tourist destination.
Warnings & Dangers in Cali
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
Cali provides a respite from the upheaval occurring in other areas of Colombia. Because of COVID-19 and crime and terrorism in Arauca, Cauca, and Norte de Santander, the US State Department has ranked Colombia as a country with a Level 4 Do Not Travel area. Organized crime has overtaken the country of Colombia with homicide, armed robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and robbery topping the list of problems. The Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The terrorist group FARC contains some hold-out factions that refuse to demobilize though. Another terrorist group in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN) continually plots attacks within the country’s borders. They typically target tourist hotspots, transportation hubs, and local government facilities. They also include religious locations and hotels as attack points as well as major cultural and sports events. Despite this, the country of Colombia did not receive its Level 4 rating until COVID-19.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Despite the political unrest, you’ll probably feel at home since taxis provide a common mode of transport in the city of Cali. The taxicabs provide reliable and the easiest way to hail a cab is using the app EasyTaxi. The minimum fare is $1.40 but goes up just a bit on Sundays and during the evenings after 8 pm.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : HIGH
Throughout the past decade, Cali proved a safer place to visit. It has gone through changes though and become dangerous and violent in many areas. You are likely to get pickpocketed in Cali if you flash your papaya or you look like a tourist. The only way around this is to blend in completely and avoid taking anything of value on the streets with you.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : HIGH
Cali, Colombia experiences many dangerous natural hazards including hurricanes, tropical storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and a rainy season that results in frequent landslides and floods. Even areas of the country that do not have a local volcano can experience issues from an eruption since the smoke and fire from the volcano travel through the atmosphere.
MUGGING RISK : HIGH
Muggings occur in Cali frequently. You should leave all of your valuables in the hotel safe. Try to blend in and look as much like a local as possible. Consulting with your hotel’s concierge to learn directions to your destination, then memorizing them so you never need to check them can help you stay safer.
TERRORISM RISK : HIGH
Cali could become a terrorist attack target during its major cultural events such as Carnevale. From August to September each year it offers numerous cultural events that could attract terrorists since they draw attendance from throughout the world. These include the Pacific Music Festival, meeting of Creators of Jazz Fusion and Experimental Jazz, the International Poetry Festival, the World Salsa Festival, the International Book Fair, the International Theater Festival, the International Film Festival, and the Cali Fair. As the major cultural mecca of Valle del Cauca, it gets picked as the destination for many major events, and, as such, terrorists may target it.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
You won’t find many street scams or other rip-offs in Cali, but you could get approached by someone about couriering drugs. Regardless of what you’re approached about carrying, always refuse politely and move on quickly.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
According to World Nomads, women can safely travel solo to Cali, Colombia. You will do better there if you speak the language and avoid vulnerable situations. This means you should always stay aware of your surroundings. Either avoid drinking or set a limit and never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from a stranger. Women alone on the street prove a more frequent mugging target so take a taxi or walk with a friend.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
In the major cities of Colombia, you can drink the water straight out of the tap. The tap water in Cali, Colombia comes from the Cali River. It undergoes cleaning and potabilization at a treatment plant and is transported to homes and businesses throughout Cali by “clean pipes.”
Safest Places to Visit in Cali
As long as you stick to touristy areas, you can stay relatively safe.
If you want to explore a typical neighborhood, choose a good neighborhood like Ciudad Jardin or Barrio El Penan.
Try the salsa clubs in San Antonio for evening entertainment since Cali is considered the salsa dance capital of the world.
When choosing your accommodations, pick a hotel with a doorman in the Normandia area.
Also, visit the butterfly farm and explore street art.
Places to Avoid in Cali
Of course, every area has its neighborhoods to avoid and in Cali, those include Siloe, Terron Colorado, and Aguablanca.
If a local tells you not to go to an area, stay away from it because the police in Colombia, especially Cali does not service the bad neighborhoods.
Police corruption runs rampant there and those who live there and run travel blogs warn tourists that they should stick to the beaten path and tourist groups to stay safest.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Cali
- Always keep a low profile when visiting the city and Colombia as a whole.
- Avoid going out drinking alone. Even when you and your friends go to bars or salsa clubs together, remain in control of yourselves and do not overdrink. Drunk tourists easily have bad things happen to them.
- Do not take drugs. Some individuals visit the country known for the Medellin cartel and decide unwittingly to try the local product. Doing any drugs anywhere in the country will land you in prison.
- Leave all of your valuables at home. Do not travel with a fancy phone, such as an iPhone, or bring an expensive camera. Buy a cheap phone before traveling that no one would consider flashy.
- Avoid bringing your own bicycle, especially an expensive one. Muggers have killed tourists for their carbon-frame bikes. The country is very poor, and the $3,000 bikes cost more than many people earn in a year. It is in very poor taste to flash your money in any way.
- Do not hire a prostitute or other sex worker. Colombia has become a hot spot for bachelor parties. Have fun without hiring or picking up on any locals. Many of the prostitutes are underaged and the situation is so serious that the government created a special hotline – Linea 141 – to report the abuse of children, including sex abuse and sex workers under the age of 18.
- Keep the little money that you take outside of the hotel in a money belt or other hidden means. Never flash the cash on the street. You will need cash since most places don’t accept credit cards.
- Never make jokes about the drug wars, the political climate, or other local issues. Colombians can take offense and you could end up hurt or dead.
- Hire a driver, using the taxis or Uber. Many tourists who drive themselves in a rental car have wrecks because the roads are bad, and mountain passes are treacherous. It takes experience to drive them.
- Use a local guide that you hire ahead of time. Better yet, plan your trip through a travel agent and use only organized, recommended tours that you booked ahead. Bird watchers and orchid collectors often try to explore on their own, but you should hire a guide to maximize your safety.
So... How Safe Is Cali Really?
While COVID-19 has eroded safety there with respect to the health situation, the city of Cali still provides a mecca of cultural attractions.
This happening little city hosts so many festivals and meetings that it offers something for everyone.
You just have to know when to visit it.
As long as you take essential precautions, most of which you would take when visiting any major city in the US, too, you’ll be fine.
Yes, there is an enhanced risk of terrorist activity.
The breakoff groups from FARC notwithstanding though, the city provides a safe and fun place to visit and explore the culture of this South American country.
It is not a safe place for investigative journalists or foreign business people at this time.
That’s due to the political climate and the police and the people’s perception of foreign journalists.
Never wear any military-looking clothing and never insult their coffee.
The latter may seem strange since the country grows some of the finest coffee beans, but they export that.
The coffee served in most areas tastes terrible since they keep the worst for themselves.
If you order Brazilian coffee or send back your Colombian coffee, you will have insulted them.
How Does Cali Compare?
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- Visas - If you are not a Colombian citizen, you will need your passport to enter and leave Cali, Colombia. You won’t need a Colombian visa unless you plan to stay longer than 90 days, according to the US State Department.
- Currency - The Colombian peso serves as the currency in the location. You can exchange your dollars for pesos before your trip by visiting the foreign exchange bureau, post office, or bank. Exchanging before you leave can result in better exchange rates.
- Weather - Colombia experiences some of the nicest weather you can imagine. July, the coldest month in Cali, experiences a high temperature in the mid-60s F. During January, temps hover in the mid-80s F. Nightly lows drop about 20 degrees, so expect a low temperature in the mid-60s during January and February, for example.
- Airports - You’ll need to fly into Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport, outside of Cali. If you read old travel books, this airport used to be called Palmaseca International Airport.
- Travel Insurance - It makes sense to purchase full travel insurance before visiting Cali. You could get hurt while there or mugged and the travel insurance covers your medical costs. Many people think of it as trip cancellation insurance, but it does much more than that. It can provide travel assistance if you get kidnapped by terrorists, for example.
Cali Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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