Have you ever seen a branch of Body Tech gym in Bogotá: all huge glass panes and beautiful people cycling furiously and not even sweating…its equal parts terrifying and depressing. Some of the independent street gyms aren’t much better: rusty equipment and men who make Schwarzenegger look like…well…me. All in all, the gym can be quite an intimidating, not to mention expensive place. Why mortgage your flat or risk contracting tetanus to stay fit and healthy…there are so many more options available to you in this city. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 best ways to keep fit and healthy in Bogotá:
The granddaddy of fitness options in Bogotá, Ciclovía is when, every Sunday and Public Holidays, certain main streets are completely closed to traffic, allowing people to cycle, jog or just stroll around the city. The concept is popular all over the world, but the brainwave is credited to Bogotá, when, in 1976, Jaime Ortiz and other organisers sowed the seeds for the modern Ciclovía. There are also occasional ‘No Cars’ days to enjoy in Bogotá. Nowadays the weekly Ciclovías are used by nearly 2 million people and cover around 120km of streets, all of them free of cars. Nearby squares are also used for group fitness classes – so here’s the routine: cycle from your house ‘til you reach a square, half an hour of yoga, cycle back (repeat as necessary).
2. Jogging in Parque Simón Bolivar
The largest area of parkland in Bogotá (bigger than Central Park in New York in fact), Simón Bolivar is a fantastic option for those of you who enjoy exercising amongst nature, surrounded by trees and lakes. The park is nearly 1000 acres of green space in the middle of the city, perfect for anyone with time to kill and a pair of fetching spandex jogging shorts. There are also several areas of outdoor gym equipment, so you can pump some iron and swell those biceps in the sunshine, breathing some fresh air (also a relief in this city!).
3. Day Hikes
Bogotá, being as it is a high-altitude, Andean city, is surrounded by great options for day hikes – the perfect way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and get fit at the same time. You don’t just need epic treks in the Andes to enjoy Colombia’s natural beauty. The two hour trail up to Monserrate is great exercise and the payoff is stunning panoramic views of the city. Alternatively there are beautiful hiking options in Chicaque National Park, Laguna de Guatavita, the Cerro de Majuy, and Chingaza National Park – all of these wonderful places are only about 1-2 hours outside Bogotá. Many people like to join hiking clubs, of which there are several; as they offer a great way to stay fit and healthy and make new friends at the same time (Couchsurfing has a good hiking group page).
4. Practice the national pastime
That’s right…play some football. Colombians love the beautiful game and, unlike back home, five-a-side matches aren’t just an excuse to kick people and drink heavily (although the latter is still an option and not recommended if you’re serious about this fitness thing). The style here is fast paced and perfect for some intense exercise (once again the altitude, although hard to adjust to, is the perfect extra ingredient to get extra fit). There are indoor pitches throughout the city, so get some friends together and organise a weekly session. Alternatively, you could play outdoors in one of the many city parks.
5. Get a job in a building with lots of stairs…
In my other, secret life as a university teacher I have discovered the perfect way to stay fit whilst working (and disgust 22 Colombian teenagers by sweating profusely throughout a 2 hour class) – just ignore the elevator. It’s that simple. It’s always too full anyway and, what with the altitude, 20-odd brisk walks a day up to the 4th floor could shed some pounds from even the fattest teacher!
So there you have it: drop that empanada, ignore El Corral and get fit, Bogotá style. Who needs the gym?!