So you want to learn to dance salsa in Cali, and then put your skills to use? This is a quick guide on where you can dance the salsa in the best, most fun, beginner-friendly Cali salsa clubs.
We came to Colombia to learn to dance the salsa. And so as beginners, after taking a few classes, we wanted to know the best salsa clubs in Cali that wouldn’t be too intimidating for beginners. And also that don’t have too many gringos.
We only know a few moves, and we knew we’d be repeating them a lot and generally be awe-struck by other dancers (part of the reason we’re here, to be surrounded by champions, just like how we went running in Kenya). So here is a list of clubs that you should try if you want to dance in Cali as we did.
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Quick tips for dancing Salsa in Cali
Here are a few things we wish we knew before we went out dancing in Cali. We’re sharing them with you, too!
Tip 1: Pack lightly (or nothing). We went with just 50K COP between us — money for drinks, entrance fee, and the cab — and phones. I kept everything in my pocket. Even when the lady has a small bag, that gets annoying because of twirling (and there’s a lot of twirling in salsa).
If you take a bigger bag, then you have to either leave it with friends, check it in (if the club has that facility), or accept that it might get stolen.
Tip 2: Go late — don’t go just as the club is opening! Dancing really only gets going in clubs around 10 pm. While many clubs open from 7 or 8 pm, only go that early if you want to spend a while (hours) drinking and talking before dancing. Drinks aren’t expensive. A few bars have food, but not all — but there’s always street food outside.
Tip 3: Learn the salsa before you go! If you go to a salsa club and don’t know any moves it’ll just feel like a missed opportunity. There are LOTS of salsa schools around the city, but our favourite few were Sondeluz and Sabor Manicero. Swing Latino is also very well known.
Prices for salsa lessons in Cali are much cheaper than in the US or elsewhere and vary depending on packages you buy, group classes, private classes, or in couples, and where you go… for example, at Sondeluz, a package of 5 individual classes is 230,000 COP or about US$14 an hour.
Tip 4: Dress nice but casual still. Mean wear shirts and trousers; women often wear shorts or pants too (but skirt is fine of course). If you’re a guy, don’t wear shorts, no matter what you were wearing in the hot daytime — you’ll look out of place.
Most good salsa clubs are air-conditioned. A t-shirt is more OK than a shirt. Many (most, it seemed) women opt for trousers or shorts, with only a few wearing skirts and even fewer (or none) wearing dresses.
La Topa Tolondra — The Old Standard, Huge
La Topa is the beginning of many people’s lists of where to dance the salsa in Cali. It’s bigger than most locations. Pretty popular with foreigners, but the majority of people are locals (and good dancers).
La Topa is open every night (only starting late, around 10pm) and always is fun. There are themes to some nights (like alternating salsa and another style of dancing) — so check their Instagram to see what they have programmed. Cover also changes by night.
You are also VERY secure and safe at La Topa. We get pat-downs at every club. But we each got two pat-downs at this club and generally felt like nothing bad was going to happen inside there.
Despite it being foreigner-friendly, LOTS of locals go there to dance and have a good time. I’ve been told (and it seems) the ratio is about 75% local, 25% foreign visitors. And most visitors can’t dance and just sit around and think “Wow we’re so salsa”. So take a few dance lessons and show the locals that yes, some foreigners know how to do salsa caleña!
Considering how packed the other bars get, the ample space at La Topa Tolondra was welcome to us. Go there if you want to try some complicated moves that need a little more room.
MalaMaña — Underground Bar
Address: Carrera 4 # 9-59 (near Plaza de Cayzedo). Open: Thursday to Saturday from 8 pm. Air-conditioned. Cover charge: No cover Thursday, Fri/Sat 5,000 COP (about USD $2). Includes credit for drinks but not every night (just … sometimes?). Facebook page
This was our favourite bar among all of Cali’s salsa clubs.
Mala maña literally means “bad habit”, because you dance salsa like it’s a bad habit, don’t you?
This small basement salsa club opened at the end of 2016 and has all kinds of dancing — not just salsa but also boogaloo, guaguancó, and pachanga and others, too. But mostly salsa, when we went, and according to others.
There are three main rooms and two bars. It’s hard to capture in photos (also we didn’t want to take photos of people staring at us). But suffice it to say, it’s not just everyone in one room.
The club has a dark underground bar-style feel and a pretty youthful clientele, mostly between around 20 and 40 years old — though there’s always someone 70 years old tearing it up!
The walls are decorated with photos and a mural of famous salsa dancers. It’s very Instagrammable. At least a couple of times a month, there are live performances, too. And often there’s a percussionist accompanying the DJ tracks.
Because it’s kind of small it can get packed sometimes, so you have to learn to dance “small”. But we went on a Friday at 10 pm and loved it.
Address: Calle 5 # 38 – 71B, near Universidad del Valle. Open Thursday through Monday from 8:30 pm. Cover: 5,000 COP (about US$1.50).
El Rincón de Heberth — Open Air Salsa
El rincon was our local club when we stayed in Cali, just a few minutes from our house.
Heberth’s corner is a little bar that has dancing both inside and outside in the open air. Salsa al aire libre! This gives this bar a special atmosphere of street partying, or rumba callejera as they say.
The focus of El Rincón de Heberth is salsa of all kinds — caleña and other colmbian, Cuban style, Puerto Rican and others. It’s a particularly open-minded bar, where you can be from any walk of life. “Even wearing shorts”, the owners said (referring to men).
The owner of the bar, Don José Heberth Bonilla, has a massive music selection of more than 6,000 LPs and CDs and really shows his love for the music.
El Rincón gets a bit rowdy, especially in the early hours of morning. But around 10pm on a Thursday or Friday it’s good.
Punto Baré — Live Music
Punto Baré is much more relaxed than the other Cali salsa clubs. It’s much more a sit-down salsa bar, but with a dance floor with a couple of people usually dancing. They also have dance classes some nights!
So it’s good for a night when you want to chill and more listen to salsa rather than dance it necessarily.
The big band, which plays on Wednesday nights (no cover!) has a rotation of 20 musicians from the El Colectivo School of Music (from the Universidad del Valle) who rotate in and out.
On other nights there are different bands, and it’s all danceable (but you don’t have to if you’re just going with friends who want to dance).
Tintindeo — The College Bar
Tintindeo is another favourite for visiting locals. It’s another spacious bar, just like La Topa Tolondra.
Tintindeo was opened in 1985 by four university students who wanted to open a special bar dedicated to music, beer, and dance. It’s now known as one of the best salsa clubs in Cali.
Tintindeo has a university bar vibe — it’s open, spacious, and not as packed as other salsa clubs around the city. Sometimes it can be a little empty — check at the door first.
You can visit Tintindeo even on Sunday or Monday night (and cover might be free… it is sometimes), but it’s most lively on Friday and Saturday nights.