Whoever would have thought that staying fit in Medellín – a city of 2.6 million people – would be so easy? There are three operational words here: dogs, Laureles, and Medellín. First, our fur babies, Rosie and Tango, need and expect long walks every day. Second, our chosen neighborhood of Laureles is flat, picturesque, and relatively free of crazy traffic – perfect for those walks and also for cycling. Laureles has everything we need just a few blocks from our apartment, so we’re able to walk everywhere and manage without a car.
Third and foremost, the city of Medellín has a huge fitness culture. On any given morning, you’ll see folks out running, walking, and toting yoga mats, and there are dozens of gyms and yoga studios in Laureles alone. The Medellín mayor’s office is so dedicated to fitness “para la gente” (for the people) that it operates a huge sports and recreation department, INDER. With a large volunteer force, INDER provides a fantastic array of free or almost free activities for folks of all ages and fitness persuasions.
Since we’d heard in advance about Medellín’s fantastic and growing cycling scene, one of the first things we did after moving here was to buy bikes. There’s a huge and growing network of bike lanes all over the city, and the long-term plan is to someday link them altogether. These maps are a bit hard to read, but they show current ciclorutas (bike lanes) as well as those under construction.
Right away, we started riding in the Ciclovia, one of INDER’s most visible and popular programs. Every Sunday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (except for the Estadio route, which ends at noon), the Ciclovia closes major roads and even freeways to motor traffic at 10 separate locations. There are also evening Ciclovias on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Riding the Ciclovia is like joining a massive, moving street party, with thousands of people out cycling, rollerblading (rollerblading seems to be making a comeback, at least here), jogging, walking, and enjoying family time. Live music is common, and there’s always a plethora of street vendors selling snacks and refreshments together with bike parts and repair services. It’s a real scene!
Another great local program is EnCicla, a fantastic and user-friendly bike service operated by the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley. Anyone with an activated Cívica card can walk up to an EnCicla station (there are more than 50 all over the city, with new ones opening all the time) and check out a bike for an hour. You can turn the bike in and change to another one if you need more time. Currently, the program provides more than 1,300 bikes, with plans to deliver another 2,000 together with 100 new stations all over the greater metropolitan area. Here’s a good article about the program.
You can apply online to use EnCicla here. Once you’re authorized, you then need to go to the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley office and have your Cívica card activated, a process that takes about five minutes. So what’s a Cívica card, you ask? It’s a type of universal, rechargeable public transportation pass that gets you on the Medellín Metro (light rail, cable, and streetcar) system as well as certain city buses. It’s easy to get a Cívica card — just visit the San Antonio, Niquía, Itagüí, or San Javier Metro stations and present your cédula or passport.
For grins, we tried EnCicla out a couple of weeks ago. We were impressed with the bikes, which are well-maintained and easy to ride, and how convenient and easy the stations are to use.
We were avid hikers when we lived in rural Panama, and never had to go far to find spectacular trails in the cloud forest. (Here’s a link to our Panama hiking posts.) As urban dwellers, we’ve been surprised and pleased to find that it’s still easy to get a dose of nature and a good hiking workout. The bonus is that we can combine hiking with other activities, like cycling, riding public transport, and exploring new areas of the city.
On one recent excursion, we hopped on a couple of EnCicla bikes and rode them to the foot of Cerro Volador – a beautiful nature park perched on a high hill smack in the middle of Medellín. After leaving the bikes at the convenient EnCicla station at the nearby Universidad Nacional de Colombia campus, we climbed to the top of Volador for spectacular city views.
On another occasion, we rode Metro down to the Envigado station, where we met up with a Trekking Medellin hiking group. From there, we all boarded a bus that headed into the upper reaches of Envigado, the first municipality bordering southern Medellín. Our destination was Ecoparque el Salado, a gem of a nature park situated high in the hills above the metro area. Our two young guides led the group on a seriously challenging hike that rewarded us with stunning views and two beautiful waterfalls.
We’re pretty new to the Zumba scene. For the uninitiated, Zumba is a combination Latin dance/aerobic exercise class set to sizzling hot salsa music that is HUGE in Latin America. It’s a serious workout and a lot of fun, even if you’re uncoordinated and suffering from gringo-itis (a distinct inability to move your hips in a sultry Latin manner)!
A few weeks ago, we stumbled on a free Zumba class, offered by – you guessed it – INDER, at a park in the neighborhood bordering Laureles. Since the park is within easy walking distance of our apartment, we can combine the dog walk with the class. There are also Zumba classes in virtually every big shopping mall (and Medellín has a LOT of malls!).
Surrounded by so many people devoted to movement, fun activities, and clean living, staying fit in Medellín is easier than we ever expected! And if we need a dose of nature, we don’t have to go far. That’s two more reasons to love this fantastic city we’re lucky enough to call home.