Tropical Elegance


With bold designers, hot fashion, and daring restaurants, the capital of the Valle del Cauca doesn’t skimp on style.

Text: Mariana Campos P.  |  PhOTOS: Azul Diafragma

“Chanel, don’t go in there! Chanel!” yells a young woman from Cali on a sidewalk along Avenida 9 Norte. She’s very stylish, her makeup and hair in perfect harmony with her sophisticated outfit and her little Maltese dog, Chanel, who is trying to sneak into a Barrio Granada café. It’s past six in the evening, and the neighborhood is beginning to fill with visitors shopping for gifts and organic products or stopping to have a coffee after a stroll down one of Cali’s hippest streets. No one would suspect that just a decade ago, this same neighborhood was not a popular commercial district.


Margarita Yepes from Taller Croquis  |  Bendita María María specializes in vintage-style designs.

Margarita Yepes from Taller Croquis   |   Bendita María María specializes in vintage-style designs.


The boom being enjoyed in the capital of the Valle del Cauca is clearly evident. Aside from being the site of one of the country’s most important fashion events – the Cali Expo Show, held every year since 2000 – the city’s neighborhoods provide ample proof of its status as a fashion and design hub. Districts like Granada, El Peñón, and Ciudad Jardín are epicenters of Cali life, complete with luxury and avant-garde design shops, cafés, and restaurants: everything you’d expect in the pursuit of a healthy dose of style.

It’s easy to see the creativity and courage behind concepts that inspire shops like Taller Croquis and Clownaman. Margarita Yepes – an architect by profession and the brains behind Croquis – leads the team that hand-paints each item crafted in her home studio. Unique garments (dresses, blouses, skirts) are created every day to offer clients a dose of color and style. Along the same lines, Clownaman – the creation of brothers Andrés and Carlos Vélez – is already a classic. About ten years ago, they launched a fabric-printing workshop and now have stores in Barranquilla and Bogotá as well as Cali. They create all sorts of pieces with original prints that include bicycles, monkeys, and birds, especially the exotic species native to this part of the world. And, of course, there are clowns.


Clownaman (6)

The fashions of Clownaman.

And the shops in the luxurious neighborhood of Ciudad Jardín or the boutique from Carlos Armando Buitrago in Barrio Centenario (right next door to Granada) are full of excellent examples of classic and elegant styles. Buitrago began as an antiques dealer, but he’s now the most sought-after dressmaker among the sophisticated women who visit his store to get measurements taken for their next order.


Designer Flavors

Night falls, but the heat and humidity of Cali show no sign of subsiding. That’s why there are places like Calathea, one of the city’s favorite ice-cream shops. Mexican vanilla, port and prune, mango and ginger, and dark chocolate are just some of the flavors served in the colorful cups and cones at this El Peñón establishment.

After she studied the culinary arts in New York and worked with master chocolatier Oriol Balaguer in Barcelona, owner Pili Agudelo returned to her native Colombia. In Cali, she opened the city’s first artisanal ice-cream shop, and her gelato-style offerings have caused quite a sensation. But there’s even more to savor.

“Head straight to Ringlete,” is a common refrain, heard from helpful hotel staff and folks on the street eager to share good advice. Everyone seems to agree on their recommendation for the best place to sample local flavor. Cali cuisine – Vallecaucan cuisine, to be precise – is an explosion of colors, aromas, and flavors, and chef Martica Jaramillo, the heart and soul of Ringlete, has done her very best to make the most of it. She welcomes diners herself and offers everything from an unforgettable aborrajao (ripe plantain stuffed with double cream cheese, covered in cinnamon and served over guava sauce, red wine, and mango sauce with mamey, a local fruit) to dishes featuring chicharrones (cracklings) and creations like the cola endiablada, oxtail with a reduction of carrot, bell peppers, chili peppers, and beer.

Platillos Voladores is very different but equally appealing. Experts and travel guides call it “the best restaurant in Cali” for its use of delicious local ingredients presented with sophisticated precision. Chef and owner Victoria Acosta combines fruits like mango and kiwi with local fish from the Pacific to create an unforgettable experience.


On the Town

On the street, in taxis, on every corner of the world capital of salsa, you’ll hear music. From the classic Sonora Guayacán to Bomba Estéreo to the popular and alternative Monsieur Periné.

The volume is turned to 11 in Absenta, one of the city’s favorite bars. It’s so popular that by nine on a Friday night, it’s impossible to get a table. The city’s “it girls” strut around, soaking up the admiring looks trained on their perfect outfits. Elegant executives enthusiastically hold court while sipping cocktails with names like “Jumping Bom Bom Bum” (made with vodka and Blue Curaçao, among other ingredients) or “Veneno” (gin, absinthe, Absolut Citron, Absolut Apple). You’ll find a similar atmosphere on the chic terrace at the boutique hotel Now. People come here to see and be seen, surrounded by an unbeatable panoramic view of the city.


  • Zaperoco Bar

The Zaperoco Bar is something else entirely: the soul of the city’s classic nightlife. The most iconic salsa joint in Cali kicks into high gear on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Locals and tourists, men and women of all ages, show off their skillful and spectacular moves, while the live band (on Thursdays) brings the packed house to life. Shots of aguardiente are tossed back, and the good cheer becomes contagious.

But the phenomenon transcends the dance floor. It’s just something that happens when you visit Cali. It’s such a happy place, you’ll want to stay (or at least come back as soon as possible). in


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