Santa Marta, Minca, Palomino, Tayrona, Cabo de la Vela & Punta Gallinas - A guide for the Health & fitness obsessed
Santa Marta is a small yet busy city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Most backpackers choose not to stay here for more than a few nights, and use it more as a transition stop between Minca, Palomino, and Tayrona to the east. However, it does have a few nice cafés and restaurants, mainly focused around Carrera 3, a small alleyway close to the centre. Lulo Cafe Bar is a good place to start for some tasty healthy(ish) options, like smoothies, salads etc. Just be aware that the breakfast arepas, whilst stacked with fresh ingredients, are loaded with cheese.
If you’re heading east towards Palomino or further to Cabo de la Vela / Punta Gallinas, then this is going to be your last chance to get some serious fitness done along the coast. Beyond here it’s going to be beach workouts, swims and maybe some kitesurfing.
There are three boxes in Santa Marta worth mentioning. The one you go for should probably depend on what you want to do with your time in Santa Marta.
If training is your priority, CrossFit Santa Marta is the only affiliated box, and I really enjoyed training here for the best part of the month. The class program is packed full volume, so if you’re a fan of long workouts you should love these.
It’s located on the outskirts of the main town, on Rodadero beach. The area has a lot of hotels and not much of a backpacker scene. If you are here to top up your fitness, don’t let that put you off.
Rodadero beach is cleaner and calmer than Santa Marta’s Beach, especially if you head further south towards the river. Central Santa Marta is still only a short bus ride away when you want to visit the old town.
In addition to the normal restaurants you would expect to see catering towards the hotel clientele, there is also Macado Verdé café/restaurant, as well as the gyms own café. These both sell clean & healthy clean options. Try the protein pancakes at Crossfit Santa Marta or the artesenal yogurt at Macado Verdé.
The best little perk to training at Crossfit Santa Marta is that after your workout you get to use the pool of the beachfront hotel over the road. It’s a good size, and the best way to cool down from a sweaty shift.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to stay closer to the central ,backpacker-focused area of the city there is High-Intensity 1982. This is the somewhat bargain option, and the central location it’s definite plus. The third option is Bearcave Fitness which probably sits somewhere in the middle in terms of facility.
Surrounding Areas and Adventures
Taganga - Fresh fish straight from the fishermen & scuba diving
Taganga is a fishing town on the opposite side of Santa Marta from Rodadero beach. The bay has built up a reputation for partying and scuba diving, and most visitors will stay long enough to get there PADI at rock bottom rates, and then move on. For me, the biggest attraction was being able to buy my fish directly from the fishermen as they brought in their catch onto the beach at sunset. However, I found it difficult to get fresh veg here and even the fruit was hit and miss. I had my own transport so a regular supermarket trip to Santa Marta wasn’t un-feasible, but if you’re relying on public transport I think you’d find it difficult to sustain a clean diet here.
As a base for training it doesn't really work unless you have your own transport, and even then the city’s congestion measures can make it difficult.
Minca - Hiking, trail running, and lots of sunrise yoga
For many backpackers, Minca is a highlight of their trip to Colombia. It’s nestled in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and is one of many stand out jewels of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. Its cooler climate can be a welcome escape from the heat of Santa Marta, and as it’s only 25km from the city, I found myself heading there most weekends to cool off.
Surrounded by waterfalls, forests, and a complete absence of paved roads, the area is a great place to slow down and reconnect with nature. The best places to stay are converted fincas perched on the mountainside high above the town itself. Here you can even expect to get a landscape view when you are sitting on the toilet or taking a shower!
As you would expect, there are no gyms up here, but most of the hostels will do early morning Yoga. Theses mountain fincas are an excellent base to head out on hikes, or if you’re up for it, trail runs! There are plenty of waterfalls for you to cool off under along the way!
There’s also a really cool adventure retreat about to open up, which I can’t wait to try out.
From a nutrition standpoint, it’s unlikely that you will be able to cook your own meals in much of the accommodation. However, my experience of the food was that it was good enough that I never really worried.
Nuevo Mundo Eco Lodge - These guys cook up big communal meals for lunch and dinner, and everything is grown in their own garden. The hostel has a really cool vibe and the food is delicious. If you want to avoid cheese or anything else, just let them know in advance and they will happily oblige. It’s all vegetarian so if that’s a concern you may want to take some protein if you are staying here for an extended period.
Tayrona National Park - Swimming and sweaty hikes through the jungle
The beaches of Tayrona National Park are a must-do on everyone's list when they come to Colombia. Cars and buses aren't allowed to get close to the beach, so you’ll either arrive by boat from Taganga, or set off on a sweaty adventure hiking through the jungle. When you do arrive though you’re rewarded with spectacular insta-worthy beaches.
If you wanted to make a fitness trip of this, you could head out early, and spend a couple of days hiking from beach to beach. There is basic accommodation offering hammocks for a place to sleep on the beach, listening to the waves lapping up against the shore.
The current can be quite strong, but for strong swimmers the beaches here can be a spectacular place to swim.
The beaches can get very busy, especially on weekends, so it pays to plan your dates wisely, and maybe head to one of the more difficult-to-reach beaches.
Further North - Beach and desert
Further North along the coast from here you can head to the popular beach spot of Palomino, about 70km from Santa Marta. The village is very small, and a great place to fill up on some nutritious food, with palm lined beaches going on forever. For some peace and quiet and a great sunning spot, head along the beach to the right. There’s no gym close by, but I took some rings and hung them in a tree to work on some gymnastics whilst I was there.
As you keep heading along the road after Palomino you will eventually arrive at the small desert city of Riohacha. There isn’t really a decent functional fitness gym here which I can highlight, but if you are keen to get in a workout there are a few basic gyms which will likely have some free weights. It’s certainly the last chance before heading North, deep into the desert, onto the kitesurfing hotspot of Cabo de la Vela and the iconic coastal sand dunes of Punta Gallinas.