There is no better place in the world to learn salsa dancing than Cali, Colombia.

In the self-proclaimed “Salsa Capital of the World,” salsa is everywhere. It’s the glue that holds the city together. You hear it in taxis, supermarkets, dentist offices — it’s inescapable.

I originally arrived in Cali to take a week of classes. Six years later, I’m still dancing shoulder-to-shoulder with the city’s top dancers. Whether you’re planning a trip for three days or three months, here’s everything you need to know to learn salsa in Cali.

1. Find a salsa school in Cali

You’d think finding a salsa school in Cali would be easy, but the dizzying number of options can be overwhelming. Before starting your research, define what you’re looking for.

Do I want group classes or private lessons?

If you’re short on time and want to learn as quickly as possible, private lessons are the way to go. But if you want to mingle with other Colombians and make friends, group classes are the best. During my first week in Cali, I did both — two hours of private classes followed by four hours of group classes. I slept well that week.

What type of salsa dancing do I want to learn?

Some schools focus solely on “Cali style” salsa (salsa caleña), which is a side-to-side style with complex footwork. Other schools teach the on1 style (salsa en linea), which is the international style with front-to-back movements, less footwork, and more spins.

Some salsa schools specialize in teaching social dancing skills, while other schools teach choreographies designed for presentations. Choreographies are fun, but they’re not as practical as social dancing skills. With choreographies, you can only use what you’ve learned if you are dancing with a partner from the same class.

Where are the sala classes located in Cali?

Salsa schools are sprinkled around the entire city, but some parts of the city are less tourist-friendly. All recommendations in this guide are centrally located near tourist zones within a 10-minute taxi radius. If you’re going to be taking classes every day, it’s convenient to choose a school near your accommodation (or vice versa).

2. The best schools for foreigners to learn salsa in Cali

Many of the best dance schools do not have official websites. They operate solely through Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Schedules can vary week to week, so send the school a message before arriving on their doorstep.

Almost all classes are taught in Spanish. It helps if you can understand, but it’s certainly not required. Most foreigners tune out what the instructors say and just copy what they do.

Manicero

La Academia de Baile Sabor Manicero is one of the cheapest places to quickly level up your salsa game with group classes for all skill levels. It attracts hordes of students each day, making it a great place to meet Colombian friends (or if you’re like me, a Colombian wife).

Every day you learn a new routine from scratch, so there’s no commitment to attend every single class. Each routine has a mix of social dance elements and choreography.

Prices: Classes come in packages, ranging from one to 16 classes. The larger the package you buy, the cheaper it is per class. A single 90-minute class costs 15,000 Colombian pesos (around $4), while a package of 16 classes costs 120,000 Colombian pesos (around $32). A one-hour private class costs 40,000 Colombian pesos (around $11).

Where: Calle 5 #39-71, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042. ​​Note that there is another salsa school called Manicero a few blocks away, so pay close attention to the address to avoid any mix-ups.

La Escuela de Baile

La Escuela de Baile is run by Dicksson Diaz, a stellar instructor from Manicero who went on to start his own school. Group classes are similar to those of Manicero, but the space is smaller, there are fewer students, and it’s slightly more informal. This means if you’re struggling, you’re more likely to receive personal attention.

Most classes focus on steps you can use in social dance with occasional choreography elements sprinkled in.

Prices: Classes are sold in packages. The smallest four-class package costs 60,000 Colombian pesos (around $16), and the largest 16-class package costs 170,000 Colombian pesos (around $45). A one-hour private class costs 90,000 Colombian pesos (around $24).

Where: Calle 9 #36a Bis 08, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042 (second floor). This is located directly in front of Las Canchas Panamericanas, a popular sports complex. It’s also the best place in the city to try a cholado (shaved ice) or Colombia’s famous cheese-filled, ice cream-topped ensalada de frutas (fruit salad).

Joy Dance

Joy Dance markets itself as the school for bailadores (social dancers). Their classes focus strictly on dance moves you can do with any partner you meet in the salsa clubs. Unlike Manicero and La Escuela de Baile, Joy Dance classes build off one another. That means you need to be able to commit to class each week. If you skip a class, you still pay for it, and you have to get special permission from the owners if you want to make it up..

Joy Dance is unique in that it dedicates Mondays to practice and review. This is helpful because it’s easy to forget what you learn in class if you aren’t going out and practicing regularly.

Prices: The base price is 75,000 Colombian pesos (around $20) per month for four 90-minute classes, plus one-hour practice sessions each Monday. Joy Dance doesn’t offer private classes directly, but if you speak with any of the instructors, you can set them up easily.

Where: Calle 2B #18-00, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760044. Joy Dance rents out this building just during class time hours. There are no signs, but if you arrive during class times, it should be obvious.

Swing Latino

People in a salsa dancing class in Cali

Photo: Swing Latino Academia/Facebook

Swing Latino is the most prestigious salsa school in Cali. Many Swing Latino-trained dancers star in Cali’s famous Delirio and El Mulato Cabaret shows. Others go on to compete worldwide.

It has a strict, formalized training program focused on salsa caleña, including acrobatics. It has six levels, and each level lasts four months.

Swing Latino makes the most sense for those staying in Cali long-term who want to become professional Cali-style salsa dancers.

Prices: One-time initiation fee of 30,000 Colombian pesos (around $8). Then 130,000 Colombian pesos (around $34) per month for eight one-hour classes. A one-hour private class costs 80,000 Colombian pesos (around $21).

Where: Cra. 31 #7-25, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042. This is located a two-minute walk from El Mulato Cabaret, a must-visit salsa experience.

Other possible salsa schools

Salsa Pura and Arrebato Caleño are two other honorable mention salsa schools popular with foreigners. If their location and class schedule fit your needs, they’re worth checking out.

3. The best salsa clubs in Cali where to practise your skills

Taking classes is only the first step to salsa mastery. If you never put to practice what you learn, you’ll forget everything. This is especially true in schools like Manicero and La Escuela de Baile, where you learn a completely new routine every day.

So after you take a few classe to learn salsa dancing, it’s time to hit up the salsa clubs.

Cali has over 1,500 registered bars and nightclubs, but the best salseros stick to a select few casual salsa clubs.

Some of these salsa clubs are open every night of the week. If your goal is to practice what you’ve learned in class, consider going out on weeknights. On weekends, these clubs are jam-packed, and you won’t have space to test out your moves.

Weekdays also have a different vibe. It’s when all the best dancers come out to play, which is fun to watch. On weekends, the clubs fill up with the general public.

Each of these clubs is cheap, casual, and social. Everyone dances with each other, so if you don’t have a partner, you can show up alone (this isn’t the case for most other clubs in Colombia).

La Topa Tolondra

La Topa is the most popular salsa club for Millenials, according to Colombian newspaper, El Pais, but all ages are welcome.

It fills up every day of the week, and each day has a slightly different style of salsa music. It often offers classes on Monday earlier in the evening, and Thursdays are known for live music events. Cover charges range from 10,000 to 15,000 Colombian pesos (around $3 to $4) depending on the day’s events.

Where: Calle 5 #13-27, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760044.

El Rincón de Hebert

El Rincón de Hebert is a humble salsa club with a lot of heart. Most of the club’s activity goes down on what is essentially a fenced-in sidewalk on the corner of a city block. But don’t let appearances deceive you. This is where some of the most skilled salsa dancers go to show off their moves. It’s open Thursday through Saturday, but you’ll find the best dancers on Thursdays. The entrance fee is 6,000 Colombian pesos (around $2).

Where: Cra. 24 #5-32, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042. Hebert can be tricky to find for first-timers because the main route is often closed. You may have to instruct your driver to go to where the Salsa Night Club used to be on Avenida Roosevelt (it closed during the pandemic). From there, you can either walk half a block to Hebert, or you can ask your driver to drive in reverse down a one-way street. Don’t worry, there’s no traffic.

Tin Tin Deo

Couple dancing salsa in Tin Tin Deo Salsa Club in Cali

Photo: Tin Tin Deo/Facebook

Tin Tin Deo is one of Cali’s most iconic salsa clubs. In its prime, it was Thursday’s go-to salsa spot. With La Topa’s rise in popularity, Tin Tin Deo isn’t quite as buzzing as it once was. But if you’re taking salsa classes in Cali, you can’t miss it. Plus, it’s a short walk from Manicero, so you could potentially walk straight there after night class on Friday. Tin Tin Deo is only open Fridays through Sundays, and they charge a 5,000 Colombian peso (around $1) entrance fee.

Where: Calle 5 #38-71 B, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042.

Zaperoco Bar

Zaperoco is a traditional salsa bar on the north side of Cali. Its walls are lined with photos of famous salsa figures that have visited the bar. Zaperoco is a bit cozier than the other salsa clubs mentioned. Instead of a wide-open dance floor, It’s more of a bar atmosphere with people dancing in between the tables.

It opens Thursday to Saturday, with occasional special events on Sundays. Entrance is normally free, but on nights with live music, they charge 10,000 to 20,000 Colombian pesos (around $3 to $5).

Where: Av 5 Nte. #16-46, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760042.

MalaMaña

couple dancing salsa in salsa club MalaMana in Cali, Colombia

Photo: MalaMana Salsa Bar/Facebook

MalaMaña is an underground salsa bar located in the city center. It’s a cool little club to visit if you need a change of scenery from La Topa. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and it has bumping salsa music. Similar to all the recommendations on this list, it is also very casual. No need to squeeze into a fancy dress. It’s a jeans-and-tennis-shoes kind of place — whatever is comfortable for dancing. The city center isn’t the safest place to hang out at night, so it’s best not to wander around outside the club.

MalaMaña is open Thursday to Sunday, and the cover is 6,000 Colombian pesos (around $2).

Where: Cra. 4 #9-59, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia 760044.

4. Dive deep in the Cali salsa culture

In Cali, there’s more to learning salsa dancing than schools and discotecas. For the full experience, check out some of Cali’s epic salsa events throughout the year.

Festival Mundial de Salsa

In September and October, Cali holds the Festival Mundial de Salsa, where professional dancers and dance schools compete. It’s called the World Salsa Festival, but most dancers are from around Colombia and neighboring countries. Unless you’ve reached elite dancer status, you likely won’t compete yourself, but it’s fun to watch.

Salsodromo

If you want in on the salsa festivities, Salsodromo is the answer. Salsodromo is a giant salsa parade held on Christmas Day, kicking off the week-long Feria de Cali. The city closes off the main highway, and nearly 200,000 Caleños come out to cheer on over 1,000 dancers.

Most dancers participate in Salsodromo through their salsa school. But as a foreigner, the easiest way is to join through the Bailadores group. This is a group dedicated to individual social dancers and isn’t associated with any particular school.

In past years, all bailadores had to register in September and pass an audition held in October or November. Corfecali, the government organization responsible for throwing events in Cali, posts registration and audition information on the Corfecali website.

If you can’t make it to Colombia for the audition, they may allow you to do it virtually. Auditions can be intimidating, but most intermediate-level dancers pass without a problem. It’s mostly just a formality to avoid throwing a dance parade full of people with two left feet.

I’ve danced in two Salsodromos, and I can attest that it’s a goosebump-giving experience you’ll never forget.

La Feria de Cali

La Feria de Cali is one of the best times for salsa dancers to visit, but if you have better things to do on Christmas Day, it’s not the end of the world. You can find salsa shows year-round. If you can’t make it for Mundial or Salsodromo, Delirio, Ensálsate, and El Mulato Cabaret put on impressive weekly and monthly performances.