Nestled in the Cauca Valley in southwestern Colombia, the city of Cali is famous for its fierce love of the Afro-Caribbean style of music and dancing known as salsa. In fact, Cali is considered the “Salsa Capital of the World”, boasting some 200 plus academies dedicated to teaching the spicy dance, and more than 40 clubs where salsa can be seen, heard and experienced – not to mention the countless informal venues where locals kick it up nightly.

The city’s obsession, however, is never more apparent than during its annual festival, when Cali dresses to the nines and hosts one of the world’s most important salsa competitions. The event brings together the greatest players in the salsa game, with the genre’s most prominent dancers and musicians competing, performing and sharing their talents, in addition to salsa workshops, a food fair, academic talks, craft stalls and more.

This year from 27-30 September, more than 3,500 local, national and international artists will once again take to the stage for the 13th Cali World Salsa Festival. Held in the Coliseo El Pueblo, the event is the ideal place for locals and visitors to experience salsa culture – and release their own inner dancer.

Salsa: From Cali To The World

The World Salsa Festival is a unique event, bringing together more than 44,000 attendees to enjoy performances by thousands of artists from around 7 countries each year, and culminating in over 56 hours of salsa across the festival’s 4-day run. One of the most important events in the salsa world, the festivities pay homage to salsa caleña, Cali’s particular style of salsa dance, recognised across the globe for the amazing speed with which the dancers move their feet, as well as the creative choreography and colourful costumes.

According to festival director Adriana Olarte, the success of the event is thanks to year-round work and investment by the city, the result of “a public policy that legitimises salsa as a Cultural Heritage of the people of Cali. In addition, it is the main national and international tourist attraction of the city – that’s why the work of the Culture Secretariat of Cali is to generate spaces to promote the culture of salsa caleña throughout the year, reaching its peak during the Cali World Salsa Festival.”

Since its inauguration in 2005, the festival has contributed much to the city’s cultural industries, providing artists, musicians, dancers, costume makers and make-up artists with valuable work, as well as supporting young talents who have found their calling in salsa.

The Festival: What To Do

Though the focal point of the event is the salsa competition itself, many visitors are looking to experience salsa in other ways, too; this is why the festival offers a full programme of auxiliary activities, like lectures and discussions for music lovers, as well as salsa workshops, a gastronomic area, the traditional “Salsa al Parque” (salsa concert in the park) and, of course, mucho dancing, partying and celebration.

Here are just a few of the activities and attractions on offer:

Competition:  The main attraction of the festival, featuring professional and amateur dancers and musicians from across Colombia and the world, who compete in styles such as Salsa Cabaret, Salsa Caleña, Salsa en línea (from New York and Los Angeles) and group ensembles (with live orchestra).

Salsa Expo: Seeking to decentralise the festival and bring salsa shows to all corners of the city, the Exposalsa is especially designed for tourists, with various performances held at hotels, clubs and shopping centres.

Concerts: Every year, major local, national and international musicians are invited to regale festival attendees with the best of classic salsa music.

Mundialito: A space for dance companies to show off their emerging talents, highlighting dancers between the ages of 5 and 13. The programme features groups and couples dancing in Cabaret and Salsa Caleña styles. Delight in the spectacular performances of these “little giants” of salsa!

Workshops: Think salsa isn’t your thing? Like anything else in life, it’s a matter of practice and a good teacher. Since the festival offers free workshops in different salsa styles taught by trainers from the city’s various academies, as well as international guests, this could be your chance to shine.

Talks And Discussions: Delve into the history of salsa around the world with in-depth discussions led by academics and specialists. If you’re a fan of this iconic Latin rhythm, don’t give these talks a miss.

“We invite the international public to join this great party that’s unique in the world,” says Olarte, “a party with 100% free programming and with the top players in the world of salsa, where you’ll experience a thriving country open to tourists, as well as enjoy the warmth and flavour of Cali.”

So pack your bags and practice your best dance steps – and get ready to discover how Cali earned its title as the Salsa Capital of the World.

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