Medellin! A guide to the city's fitness

Medellin is a vast, cosmopolitan city high up in the Colombian Andes. Sat within a valley, the city is surrounded by deep green, forest-covered mountains towering over it on all sides. These mountains make Medellin a mecca for Colombian cyclists. Anyone that prefers to mountain bike or explore the surrounding countryside on foot is unlikely to be disappointed either. 


This is a city where people move a lot, and it’s central to Colombia's health revolution. Outdoor gyms are scattered on roadsides and central reservations around the city. You can find health stores selling everything from quinoa flour to creatine everywhere you turn. And importantly, functional fitness boxes of every variety and price range offer plentiful opportunities to train. I’ve selected some of the best and most competitive CrossFit boxes in Medellin and written up a full analysis which you can see here


Competing

Colombia also does competitions well, and Medellin is an excellent place to start. Check out Unbroken Games, which takes place in August, and is put on by the owners of CrossFit DLX, one of the boxes feature on our site.


Triathlon 

SportTravel organises a few short length triathlons in beautiful locations outside of the city.


Guatapé Triathlon

  • July - Guatapé - A stunning Antioquian pueblo (town) surrounded by a man-made lake, around 2.5 hours from the city (See more below).

  • September - Rionegro - Green fields and rolling hills. This area just outside of the city is home to Medellin's international airport, a beautiful box to train in, and smooth roads perfect to cycle on. 

  • November - Santa Fé de Antioquia - Only an hour and a half from the city but much lower in altitude, this small colonial town has a much warmer, drier climate in comparison to Medellin.

  • Check out sporttravel.co


Cycling

If you head out on a Sunday morning, you can’t avoid the cycling buzz. People of all levels head out in there hoards as the central highways close to allow for cyclists, joggers, or anyone out for a stroll. Groups of cyclists head out of the city on their shiny bikes which wouldn’t look out of place on any ride in Europe. Other, more recreational cyclists, take to the roads with their families on whatever bike they have available to them. Fitness level and bike aside, it seems as though everyone is keen to enjoy the process.


Nevertheless, you will want to bring your own bike if cycling is the primary purpose of your trip. While some areas of the city are overflowing with bike shops (both Envigado and Sabaneta), imported bikes are expensive, and high-end bike rental is difficult without joining a tour. However, if you think renting a bike or joining an organised group cycle is something you might want to explore, it's worth contacting equipo.



Cycling to Montebello, Antioquia

Finding a group to cycle with

I met cyclists in both my gym and Spanish school in Envigado who were keen to invite me to go on a ride. However, if you don't think you'll have time to meet people this way, you'll probably have a lot of success by asking in some of the bike shops. Colombians are incredibly welcoming, and they will be happy to have you.


Planning your cycle ride in Medellin

You’ll want to leave early in the morning to allow time for the epic climbs out of the city before they get busy. The road surface is generally excellent, and traffic tends to be respectful to cyclists. Once you are off the main transport routes, you'll also be treated to some empty roads.


It's also worth noting that it’s common in Colombia to cycle along a road, or up a climb, and come back the same way. It’s something which I have struggled to get used to. There are, however, some excellent vueltas (loops), although they don't tend to be short.



Here are a couple of rides to search for on Strava:

If gravel riding is more your thing (though it hasn’t really taken off in Colombia yet) it would be perfect and open up so many more routes. I have some planned, so let me know if you would like me to send you some routes.


Mountain Biking 

Enduro and cross country mountain biking are both popular in Medellin, but the trails tend to be well hidden. If you are planning to bring over your own bike, your best bet is to ask in a few shops and see if you can join a group going out. I was invited as soon as I asked.


The Head Coach at Crossfit DLX is also a competitive enduro rider so he would also be an excellent person to ask. You can check out his Instagram @Carlospiper



Hiking / Train Running in Medellin

Wiki-loc is a great app to download for hikes around Colombia. 


One thing which I love about Medellin is the volume of great walking in easy reach of the city. Unlike Ecuador and Peru, these aren’t epic, multi-day treks, but hikes that can be done in a few hours to a day, or ran in even less. 


Trail running is not as common here as in some other areas of Colombia, but many of the hikes can be run. If it can be walked, it can be run, right? 



Here are some of my favorite walks within the cities valley:


  • Cerro de las Tres Cruces. Probably the most well known hike in the city, and extremely popular on Sunday mornings. It's a short 1.2 km walk straight uphill to the top of the valley for great views over the city. Some people will do this multiple times for time. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a calisthenics rig and an IG opportunity. Find a more extensive writeup here: #

  • Arenales to Pablo Escobar's prison (La Catedral). This fun, and in parts technical, walk starts with a hike through a stream and passes two impressive waterfalls with swimming opportunities. You can get the bus from Envigado Metro station to the start at Arenales, and then walk up the hill to La Cathedral via Chorro de las Campanas (the first waterfall). When you finish, you can either call a taxi to drive you back down to Envigado or walk back down the road into town. Some blogs about this hike suggest starting at the top and walking down, but from my experience, it's far better to walk uphill. 



  • Jardin Ecoparque Project, Barrio Trece de Noviembre - This is not really a hike, but a walk which offers some of the most spectacular views over the city at sunset. Not to be confused with the town 'Jardin', this is the start of a development project that invests in the more impoverished communities high on the banks of the valley. The plan is to extend the well-manicured gardens and bright murals in both directions. Eventually the entire town will be circumvented with a beautiful cycle path, befitting of any developed city. For now, there are a couple of kilometres of beautiful pathways to explore, all with jaw-dropping views. To get here, take the tramline from San Antonio to Miraflores, where you can take a Metrocable up the hill to 'Trece de Noviembre'. While you are here, it's also worth checking out the views from the Articulated Life Unit (UVA) La Libertad’. It's a very contemporary looking community centre with viewing platforms at the top of spiral staircases


Jardin Ecoparque Project, Barrio Trece de Noviembre

  • Parque Arví - For many tourists, Parque Arví is a must. Everyone seems to visit, and locals love it. I guess it's Medellin's central park - without being central. Most people take the Metrocable from Acevedo (change as Santo Domingo) to get there through the main entrance. However, those seeking a little more adventure might want to take a hike that starts at Cerro Pan de Azúcar and leads into Parque Arvi via a back entrance. (Cerro Pan de Azúcar is close to the Barrio Trece de Noviembre Metrocable stop above.) Read more here


Places to keep active outside of the city

Here are some of my favourite walks outside of the city:


Cerro Tusa

This area to the south of Medellin, around Venecia, is littered with stunning hills covering the landscape like an idyllic watercolour of a fantasy world. Above them, stands ‘Cerro Tusa’. steeper, taller and pointier than all of the others. It’s a natural green pyramid. Steep, straight-sided, meeting at the top in a small point with just one narrow path up and down. Scaling the extremely steep path is fun and challenging. The way down, even more so. 



Guatapé

This oddly shaped lake with endless bays is a popular day trip from Medellin, although, in my opinion, it’s definitely worth an overnight stay. I've visited twice, and the first time we rented a secluded Airbnb in one of the bays for a couple of days. It felt like a private island and was ideal for setting out on long swims around the lake.


If this isn't an option though, don't sweat. The town itself is charming and each building is decorated with colourful figures. The countless bays also make Guatapé an excellent place to explore on a jet ski. 30mins costs 70COP from an operator in town.



Guatapé is perhaps best known for the huge rock, la Piedra del Peñol, which towers over the lake, and from which the 649 steps offer some stunning views. It’s best to get this done early in the morning, though. We ran there from town and arrived for 7am where we had it to ourselves. Arrive much later, and you’ll likely be stuck behind a queue of people as they slowly make their way up the narrow staircase. 


Running and hiking in Guatapé - If you are looking for long, scenic roads to run down with hardly any traffic, you will find your paradise here. Most of the traffic only goes as far as Guatapé town. In fact, hiking and trail running is somewhat overlooked in Guatapé. However, a quick look at the Wikiloc app shows that there are a fair number of walks that you might want to check out.


San Carlos, 

This is an undiscovered gem. It's one of the many success stories to come out of Colombia's bloody past. It's not only completely safe, but it's a haven for hiking and exploring numerous waterfalls. I'll let you explore this on your own.


Nutrition in Medellin

One of my favourite things about Medellin is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables available in most areas of the city. There are a few large fruit and veg markets that offer even more range, and better value than elsewhere.



A visit to one of these markets can be an exciting way to spend a morning, but it’s only necessary if you are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary. For example, I picked up fresh turmeric which I hadn’t been able to get hold of elsewhere in the city. While most spices etc. can be found in smaller shops if you know where to look, these markets can still provide the most straightforward options for stocking up on nuts, seeds and spices. 


The two biggest markets in Medellin:


Plaza Minorista

Depending on where you are based, you probably won’t be doing your daily shop here, but it’s certainly worth a visit. Plaza Minorista José María Villa is a vast, lively covered market with hundreds of passionate, independent vendors, each selling a colourful variety of produce. Everything from exciting tropical fruits and vegetables to nuts, seeds, spices. It’s also possible to pick up meat and fish here, although this takes up a much smaller part of the market. This is the market where you will find the most atmosphere and the best bargains in the city. 


Monday to Saturday: 4:30 am to 6:00 pm,

Sunday: 4:30 am to 3:00 pm


Mayorista Central Market

This slightly larger market is further south, close to the Ayurá metro station. It is easy to get to for anybody staying in El Poblado, Envigado, or Sabaneta (check out the best places to train in these areas here). Mayorista is more of an organised, wholesale operation than Minorista, and lacks some of its authentic energy. Nevertheless, if you are looking for something exotic and don’t want to go as far as Minorista, this is an excellent place to start.


Where to stay in Medellin?

In Medellin, there are a few key areas favoured by visitors. The great thing about Medellin is that all of these areas have great boxes to train at. You can see a summary of these boxes here


El Poblado / Parque Lleras

Home to DLX Crossfit

This affluent area is by far the most popular for tourists of all kinds when they come to stay in Medellin. The tree-lined streets which surround the central Parque Lleras play host to the best coffee shops, restaurants, boutique shops and cool bars. However, when picking a hostel, you would do well to choose somewhere away from Parque Lleras itself, which can be very noisy at night.


A lot of people miss some of the best restaurants in El Poblado. They are often hidden out of the way, so it's worth checking on TripAdvisor, or for vegetarian/vegan options, happycow.net. However, I've suggested a few of my favourites below:

  • Betty's bowls: Smoothie Bowls and Healthy Brunch https://bettysbowls.com/

  • Cafe Zorba: Truly gourmet thin crust pizza in a serene, romantic setting. OK, not healthy, but I didn't regret a visit.

  • A quick vegetable fix: The salad bar at Crepes and waffles. As the name suggests, their menu consists of mainly crepes and waffles. However, this popular Colombian chain does have a good value salad bar for around 12,000COP. I often head here if I want a quick vegetable fix. 

  • Cheap vegan / vegetarian lunch: Dharma, Veg Station, Helecho, Justo

  • Coffee: Pergamino Cafe, Cafe Velvet, Urbania

Where to buy ingredients for cooking in El Poblado?

However, for all its multitude of restaurants, El Poblado lacks the small local fruit and veg shops which, for me, make this part of the world so fantastic. For fresh fruit and veg, you really have a choice of one of two supermarkets. 

  • Éxito, the largest supermarket in this area of El Poblado (located at the bottom of Calle 10) sells everything from cheap gym gear, to whole pre-cooked chickens. 

  • You can also find a Carulla by Parque El Poblado, which sells more upmarket, high quality produce.

Laureles & Estadio

I’ve heard this area in the North East of the city referred to as ‘the next El Poblado’. That might be pushing it, and I don’t think anybody would be keen for Laureles to go that way. Maybe ‘El Poblado before it got overtaken with backpackers’ is more accurate. Laureles is the next best for gastronomy in Medellin. However, instead of being surrounded by backpackers and digital nomads, the tree-lined streets in Laureles are more popular with Medellin’s young professionals. Here it's more Salsa, less Reggaeton.


Laureles & Estadio are primarily residential areas, so there isn’t a tremendous amount of choice in regards to hotels and hostels. That being said, it more than makes up for it in other areas:

  • A sports centre with an Olympic size swimming pool, velodrome, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts.

  • The home soccer stadium of Medellin’s number one team

  • Central location

  • Authentic experience

  • Good food market (Plaza de Mercado la América, this is next to Colombia Immersion Spanish School)

  • Great options for learning Spanish (Check out Colombia Immersion. Some people also take classes at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana) 

  • Serviced by a few large supermarkets (Éxito, Carulla, Euro, Consumo)

  • Parts of the area is serviced by metro stations (Estadio, Floresta)

I say parts of the area because while Laureles & Estadio are lovely, the area is large and sprawled. Unlike some of the other areas listed here which feel more like self-contained towns with a lot of shops, Laureles & Estadio has a lot of residential space. This can mean that you might need to walk a little further to pick up some fresh produce or find a cafe.


CrossFit in Laureles & Estadio

There are two boxes in this area which I should mention. Unfortunately, I haven't trained at either, but I plan to early 2020. 


  • Centro de Movimiento. - I have heard some good things about this gym, but not so much for their CrossFit. However, where these guys set themselves apart is in their ‘Movement’ classes. These are like gymnastics classes with style. Think capoeira meets gymnastics. Expect to leave with greater body awareness and control. Maybe even a little artistic expression.

  • Distrito Crossbox - This box is ideal for anyone staying in the Estadio or Floresta area, and it’s only about a 25 min walk from Colombia Immersion Spanish school. The gym is nicely kitted out with sleds and Rogue Echobikes. 


Envigado 

For anyone wanting to experience the “real” Medellin, Envigado has a lot to offer with its neighbourhood-like feel and traditional tiendas (corner shops) and restaurants on every corner.

“Located right next to the high-flying, rapidly-modernizing El Poblado district of Medellin, Envigado remains a hard-working, urban, unpretentious town that’s yet to be swallowed up by globalism. It is to Medellin what Brooklyn is to Manhattan (or was before the hipsters invaded).
It still has a true neighborhood feel. Residents still say “buenos dias” and shop at the local butcher and market, kids play on the streets, and old-timers sit on street-side tables drinking coffee (or aguardiente) while playing cards.”

- Travel Blogers, 'The unconventional route'


Envigado was famously home to Pablo Escobar, but today the only sign of this is the area’s increased wealth . That, and the hike you can do up the mountainside to the prison which Pablo built for himself.


Envigado is a small, self-contained city in itself. Full of restaurants, cafés, health food stores, and a large fruit and veg market. 


​Where to stay in Envigado?

Many that choose to stay in Envigado for a while go through Airbnb to find decent, reasonably priced accommodation. Most of the travellers/expats in the area work remotely or study Spanish at the popular Spanish school, so they tend to stay for an extended time. 


The most popular areas are: 

  • El Dorado - Home to the Spanish school, Colombia Immersion and a public running track which is free to use. 

  • La Magnolia - Not the healthiest of restaurant options, but never more than 10 minutes from one of Medellin’s top boxes, Soy Hakuna. I can recommend this Airbnb.

  • San Marcos - Similar to La Magnolia, but the restaurants take a step upmarket in this area. You’re a bit closer to the metro station here, but slightly further away from the gym.


Roof Top Patio of my Airbnb in Envigado


Where to workout in Envigado? 

  • Soy Hakuna

  • ​There is also a running track in the El Dorado area. 

Eating Healthy in Envigado?


Fruit and Veg Markets

Buying fresh ingredients in Envigado is easy. If you take a stroll, you’ll find quite a few places selling fresh fruit and veg. Many will be more general stores which stock a basic range, but for a more comprehensive selection of vegetables, you should either head to one of the many supermarkets or:

  • Plaza de Mercado de Envigado - A covered market with lots of small stalls, and the greatest range in Envigado. There are also a couple of good health food stalls amongst them. It’s worth negotiating over the price of the fruit and veg here, and if there is something you can’t find, it’s worth asking. I was once looking for some fresh rosemary, which I couldn't find anywhere. After having a little back and forth due to the language barrier, and older man scurried off to the corner of the market and came back with a huge batch for a negligible amount of money. Google maps link

  • When it comes to fresh produce, the deals can be had just over the road from Plaza de Mercado de Envigado. It’s an old car pack which has been taken over with crates of fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, it has no name, and Google won’t find it’s address, so I'll have to leave this with a bit of mystery surrounding it. 



Meat

There are butchers all over central Envigado. Some who only sell chicken, others only pork, but for me the best options are:

  • AP3 Carnes - A clean butchers with good quality beef. They also have a little ready to eat BBQ section.

  • Angus Azul - Not a place, but a brand of vacuum-packed beef that can be found in the Jumbo supermarket, and the large Éxito also has a small section of cuts. This is melt in your mouth Beef, and a world away from the quality found in some of the cheaper butchers.

Sabaneta 

Why you should stay in Sabaneta:

Sabaneta is my preferred spot to base myself when in Medellin for an extended period. It has a lively but innocent and authentic feel, with children running around the central square. 


Sabaneta is located south of Medellin, surrounded by mountains on three sides, making for spectacular views. It also has effortless access to the Metro taking you straight into El Poblado or the centre of Medellin. The area is practically unvisited by tourists, and only a small number of expats call it their home. Maybe this is how it’s managed to hold onto its authentic Colombian richness.



Where to Train in Sabaneta? 


Faster Crossfit is the OG CrossFit box of Medellin.


Where to stay in Sabaneta? 

Ultimately, the absence of tourists translates into the lack of hostels and even hotels. There are, however, a few options on Airbnb. Somewhere close to the central park will probably take you about 20 mins to walk to the Faster Crossfit, and as you get closer to La Estrella metro station, this shortens.


Nutrition in Sabaneta

In terms of nutrition, it’s probably the best suited to those who want to cook for themselves. While there is a large selection of restaurants, from Colombian to burgers and Mexican food, there isn’t much in the way of healthy choices. Closeby Envigado and El Poblado certainly have more to offer in this area.


So, if you’re coming to Medellin to party, then you’re probably best off in El Poblado or Laureles, where you’ll be in the heart of the city’s nightlife. However, if the idea of interacting with the city in a more authentic, low-key way is appealing, Envigado or even Sabaneta should be top of your list.


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