The NYLON Guide To Cali, Colombia, With Ajaie Alaie’s Daniella Samper

The fashion designer dishes where to eat, drink, shop, and more

by Daniella Samper

Daniella Samper, the brains behind mindful fashion line Ajaie Alaie, takes us on a tour of Cali, Colombia. She shares the go-to places to shop at, the best places to eat and drink in, and everything else this gorgeous city has to offer.

I recently traveled to Cali, Colombia, with my husband for a wedding, and it quickly became one of my most memorable trips. While we enjoyed the wedding and danced a ton of salsa, we also had the chance to experience what Cali is really all about: happiness! This city is a joyful place full of energy.

We experienced everything the city has to offer, from the kindness and charisma of its people to the food and artistic talent, and then went beyond Cali, to the Pacific Coast, to discover another aspect of Colombia, which proves itself over and over to be a beautiful country,  incredibly rich and diverse in flora and fauna.

Keep reading for my guide to Cali, and beyond.

Where to shop

Cali is a city full of creative talent, so you’ll find a lot of independently owned Colombian designer boutiques, such as Johanna Ortiz, Renata Lozano, and Padova. There’s also a boutique called Kloset that only carries emerging Colombian designers that’s worth checking out.

Colombia is known for its fun jewelry and colorful swimwear, so you’ll find brands such as Mercedes Salazar, Agua Bendita, and OndadeMar carried in nearby boutiques, as well as other local brands.

If you’re looking to get all of your shopping done in one day, the best neighborhoods in Cali to check out are El Peñon and Granada.

Where to eat and drink

Flor De Loto is a must for Latin vegan and vegetarian food. You’ll get typical Colombian dishes, such as plantains, tamales, and arepas, but in interesting, meatless and dairy-free forms. Even if you’re not a vegetarian/vegan, this place will blow your mind. Plus, it offers great live Latin jazz music.

Frutos Del Sol is another great vegetarian spot. This one is more focused on healthy eating.

For traditional Colombian food, try picada at Malecon while listening to live salsa.

Make sure to have a cholado (shaved ice with fruit on top) from Las Canchas Panamericanas, a sidewalk food stand located at one of the city's health clubs. They also offer a fruit salad—with ice cream and mozzarella cheese on top. (I swear, it tastes so, so good!)

Another go-to that will always be packed with locals is restaurant chain Crepes & Waffles. The food offering is a little bit of everything, but they have mastered their own, unique seasoning, which is what keeps Colombians coming back for more. I’ve been going there since I was a little girl, and I never get tired of it. Their menu is extensive, rich, comforting, and their dessert is so indulgent. They also chose to only hire women (aside from security guards), many of them single moms, helping to bring them out of poverty.

Another thing you can’t pass up in Cali? The street corn. It’s delicious and loaded with butter and salt.

Just as important as eating at the best places in Cali is drinking at the best places. Check out Penelope Martini, where you must order the Lulada cocktail with a shot of Aguardiente. You can check out the classic rock ‘n’ roll bar Martyn’s for great drinks and great music. If you’re looking for spectacular live music, such as Latin jazz and salsa, head on over to Punto Bare.

What to do, beyond Cali

While in Cali, you must take advantage of the many other destination spots in close proximity. All of these places vary so much from one another in terms of nature, climate, and what they have to offer, yet are so close together and what makes Colombia such a truly unique country to explore.

You can take a trip to Bahia Malaga in the Pacific, a two-hour drive from Cali, and go whale watching. The Colombian Pacific is the biggest breeding ground in the world for humpback whales, so you’ll often see them in groups of threes—it’s really mesmerizing to see them travel together. While in the Pacific, you should also go waterfall hopping in the backwaters of the beaches.

Another must-see town is San Agustín, which is home to ancient, pre-Colombian art. It’s a beautiful colonial town boasting several national parks with a lot of heritage and historic monuments.

For a colder climate, you can check out Volcan Puracé, a dormant volcano located in Puracé National Park. You can hike up to the crater and take a dip in the various natural thermal waters.