I got into a Facebook argument on a Facebook group about the safety of Colombia. This guy kept saying that Colombia was ridiculously unsafe, and I (along with most everyone in the conversation) kept saying that Colombia is safe if you act smart, execute caution, and stay out of certain neighborhoods. It's the same with any city. In Paris, there is St. Denis. In NYC, there are parts of the Bronx you should not go to. In London there is Peckham. In Madrid, there is Carabanchel. This is true of Cali as well. Cali has its sketchy neighborhoods, so stick to the better neighborhoods in Cali, exercise caution and common sense, and you will be fine.
Cali has over 200 micro neighborhoods, so I've decided to focus on the ones where you will have the least chances of something happening to you. I'll also list the neighborhoods that you probably don't want to go into (at least not without a local). This will make your Cali experience one to remember (in a good way).
Top Neighborhoods in Cali Colombia
Barrio El Peñon
WHAT IS IT LIKE: This barrio (neighborhood in Colombian Spanish) is located Southwest of the river. This is one of the more upscale areas with luxury hotels (skip the Intercontinental Hotel horrible experience - ask me about it if you are curious), and the tiny but lovely Parque El Peñon. There are tons of restaurants (about 40 in a 3 block radius), cocktail lounges, sweet shops, boutiques, and art in this neighborhood (each Sunday local artists bring their goods to sell at El Peñon park).
WHO LIVES THERE:
THINGS TO DO THERE: From this neighborhood, you're 5 minutes away from Parque del El Gato del Río and Museo La Tertulia; and a short distance from the old city, San Antonio Church, and the Cali Zoo (you need to drive). If you're up for a bit of a hike, walk up to Cali's Three Crosses.
PROS: The El Peñon neighborhood is quite safe, there are wachimen (watchmen that are hired by the neighborhood) on every street and they do a decent job of keeping petty thieves away.
CONS: This is a more "expensive" area, so expect to pay a bit more than you would in other neighborhoods. There is also tons of traffic and pollution here, much more than I am used to.
WHAT IS IT LIKE: The Granada neighborhood was famous back in the day because it was owned by two very prominent families (Lopez, Sarasti & Caicedo). These families erected some gorgeous Republican style mansions (and some of these buildings still remain). The neighborhood is undergoing a resurgence and while it is upscale for Cali, it is nothing like the Parque 93 area of Bogota. The feel is more laid back. There are restaurants (and this is where you'll find a bit more diversity in cuisines). There are also some great little boutiques for some very well known Colombian designers. This is my favorite neighborhood and where I would choose to stay. It's walkable and safe.
WHO LIVES THERE: Cali's elite.
THINGS TO DO THERE: Eat, there are tons (and I mean tons) of restaurants in this part of the city. Shop, there are so many cute boutiques there. A lot of them are expensive by Colombian standards, but perfectly affordable if you're from the US or from the EU. Make sure that if you go to the clubs and restaurants in the area, that you dress to impress. Men's jackets and ladies dresses (and a full face of makeup) are required to keep up with the locals.
PROS: The Granada neighborhood of Colombia is safe, clean, and has plenty to do. There is also a lot less pollution than in El Peñon. You won't need a car here as it is very walkable.
CONS: At night, everyone and their mother goes there to party, so it can get loud. At prime time, what should be a 15-minute cab ride to get there can take you 30-45 minutes.
Barrio San Antonio
WHAT IS IT LIKE: San Antonio is a very pretty neighborhood. It's more artsy and bohemian, but can be questionable in some spots. This neighborhood is more laid back than Granada and there are some beautiful colonial homes that will look great in your Instagram feed.
WHO LIVES THERE: Local Caleños who are in the middle (and sometimes middle lower) class (my family lived there when I was around 8 years old).
THINGS TO DO THERE: If you're sporty, you can jog by the river. You can take a quick taxi ride to the Zoo (which is pretty good and the animals seem happy).
PROS: Lots of restaurants, bars. The arts thrive in this area.
CONS: If you're into fancy things, you're better off in Granada or El Peñon. It is not as polluted as El Peñon, but it is of a few major streets and those areas are polluted.
Barrio Ciudad Jardin
WHAT IS IT LIKE: This is probably the safest neighborhood. It's pretty new, so most of the buildings there are less than 10 years old and they all have amenities like pools, saunas, that type of thing. The MIO (Cali's bus system) makes it easy to get around.
WHO LIVES THERE: Caleños. As with most of the neighborhoods in the city, it's Caleños that live in Ciudad Jardin.
PROS: Very safe place to live and visit. Services in the area tend to be good and upscale.
CONS: It's a bit far from everything else in the city, so if you want to head out it will take you 30 minutes when there is no traffic. Probably the closest place for you to go out if you are in Cuidad Jardin is La 66 where there are lots of bars and restaurants). Cuidad Jardin is more of a suburb, so you'll need a car to get places. It also has a bit of a strip mall feel (but the shopping there is superb).
You now have a list of what I consider to be the best neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia. If you have others I should consider, let me know in the comments so I can check them out.
Bad Neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia
A few bad neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia - the ones you should not visit unless you are with someone who lives there are Siloe and Ahuablanca.