This Colombian city is reinventing itself as a vibrant, modern metropolis.
When news outlets talk about the transformation of Colombia, they typically point to Medellín as an example. It was Medellín, a city scourged by drug trafficking and civil war, that shed its violent past through law-enforcement initiatives, innovative public investments, and plenty of hard work and resilience.
Only a handful of decades after Medellín was named the most dangerous city in the world by Time Magazine, the country has been reborn as a Latin American Silicon Valley and real estate hotspot, crowned most innovative city in the world over New York and Tel Aviv in 2012.
Nationwide, Colombia has witnessed incredible growth over the last decade, shedding its dangerous reputation to become one of South America’s powerhouses and top destinations.
But even as the rest of the country witnessed a boom in tourism, industry, and innovation, the southwest city of Cali in the Valle del Cauca lagged behind Medellín, Bogotá, and the rest.
As longtime residents and lovers of Colombia, we’ve kept our eye on Cali. Despite its slow start, Colombia’s third most populated city is gaining momentum as well as tourism rates climb, new restaurants pop up left and right, and property values skyrocket.
What’s behind the rapid growth? To find out the answer, let’s explore the rise of Cali, Colombia from a primary commercial hub to a thriving, modern metropolis.
The year was 1536 when Sebastián de Belalcázar, a Spanish conquistador, made his way into the Valle del Cauca. When he arrived, he discovered a fertile valley inhabited by the Calima and other indigenous peoples. Belalcázar christened the settlement “Santiago de Cali.” The region around Belalcázar’s new city was characterized by sugar plantations, where thousands of African slaves would be eventually shipped in to work.
Cali declared its independence from Spain in 1811, along with several other cities in the valley. The city grew into a prospering industrial base after the 1940s, when the arrival of the railroad meant Cali could export sugar and coffee to the rest of the world.
With money pumping into the economy, Cali bloomed and became the capital of the Valle del Cauca as well as the country’s primary commercial hub for interior trade and the third-largest city after Bogotá and Medellín.
A city in transition
Following a decade of unprecedented peace, Colombia has turned its attention to tackling social and economic development, strengthening tourism, and building itself as a global economic leader.
After a more turbulent start than fellow cities Medellín and Bogotá, Cali began experiencing the fruits of Colombia’s revival efforts in the early 2010s. From 2013 to 2016, Cali saw a 50 percent rise in tourism.
In response, the government invested millions in renovating its airport into a state-of-the-art facility. The expansion doubled the number of international flights, allowing visitors to fly directly to Cali from Panama City, as well as New York, Miami, and many other major American cities.
In addition to digital nomads, retirees, expats, and travelers, Cali is drawing major brands from around the world.
As a primary center for trade within Colombia, Cali is the headquarters for multinational corporations like Johnson & Johnson and RB, in addition to luxury hotel brands like the Hilton and Sheraton. In December 2017, the city even welcomed its very first Starbucks.
Modern day Cali
Today, Cali is a sparkling clean, vibrant city where salsa music hums through the air and evidence of urban renewal abounds.
To witness evidence of this profound growth, you need only meander through Cali’s diverse neighborhoods. Some of our favorites include:
El Peñon. In the upscale El Peñon neighborhood, you can walk down the tree-shaded river boulevards amid joggers and bicycles to take a photo with El Gato del Rio, or “River Cat” – the city’s iconic cat monument. The upscale, secure El Peñon neighborhood is home to luxury hotels as well as restaurants, cocktail lounges, and boutiques. We recommend checking out chic spots like Penélope Martini and Roset, where you can mingle with well-heeled caleños over cocktails.
San Antonio. Nearby, the historical barrio of San Antonio has become Cali’s bohemian quarter, drawing foreigners and residents alike with its cafes, local bars, and parks. Sip a cappuccino among a mix of digital nomads, expats, and students at Cafe Macondo or swill pints of craft beer at La Colina, Cali’s oldest bar. San Antonio is also home to one of our favorite salsa clubs, La Topa Tolondra, which is small, welcoming, and always hoppin’.
San Fernando. The vibe is local in San Fernando, where budget-friendly restaurants and watering-holes attract students and backpackers. Pop by the trendy La Comitiva to sample authentic food from the Valle del Cauca.
Grenada. In Granada, you’ll find some of the finest gastro-districts in the city, along with boutiques showcasing Colombian designers. Try Cantina La 15 for upscale Mexican or Restaurante Carambolo for Mediterranean-fusion. After dinner, check out a show at Teatro del Presagio, a contemporary theater with weekly performances.
Pance. South of Granada lies Pance, a wealthy neighborhood with excellent high schools and university. Pance is the perfect jumping off point to explore the Pance River and nearby mountains, where you can hike, cycle, and take a break from the energetic city.
The future of Cali
The future looks bright for Colombia’s tenacious salsa capital. With a burgeoning food and drink scene, colorful culture, and substantial investments from the government into the city’s tourism infrastructure, Cali is poised to become a top international destination.
As tourism rates soar, so do real estate prices. Offering a conservative estimate, we predict that Cali property values will continue to rise five to eight percent per year over the next decade.
The burgeoning southwest city represents unparalleled opportunity for those considering investing in the local real estate market.
If you are interested in investing in real estate in Cali, we encourage you to get in touch with the Lifeafar investment team to learn more about the city and our latest project.
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