Food and Fitness in Cartagena

Dear Reader,

Should our health and fitness goals ever take a vacation? I am currently in Cartagena, Colombia and am pondering this question. On my first full day in the city, I walked around a little in the morning (before the intense Caribbean heat set in) and ate what was convenient—mostly doughy and, admittedly, greasy foods. I recently made a new year’s resolution to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables (more on that here). However, with less than a week into the new year, my little Colombian adventure is a bit of a setback to my goals.

From my limited, tourist’s perspective, I initially see that much of the food here is brown or yellow. Fried doughs, meats, pastries, and potatoes are the go-to options. The breakfast served at my hotel consists daily of the following items: bread (3 varieties and 1 jelly-filled pastry), arepas (fried corn dough-like patties), scrambled eggs, deli meat, cereal, and two types of fruit (this morning the selection included watermelon and papaya). Yesterday, I ate dinner at “Restaurante La Tinaja” and was surprised to see that there was no salad section on the menu. While not 5-star, this restaurant is certainly nice and serves an impressive selection of dishes including pasta and seafood varieties. To me, a restaurant of this quality would have at least a few salad entrees. To pursue my new year’s resolution, I desperately searched for dishes with dark, leafy greens with little success. I did manage to find the ensalada de salmón which consisted of chunks of (very good) salmon set atop of some green beans, carrots, and zucchini. Although I was happy to see some vegetables, it was at the same time a little bit of a letdown to see a “salad” that did not include any sort of lettuce or spinach and comprised very oily rather than fresh and crisp morsels.

Ensalada de salmón, Restaurante La Tinaja, Cartagena, Colombia, winter 2020

I can’t imagine that there are no decent salads in this city. I looked up some other restaurants and cafes in the area and did manage to find many promising leads! My faith is restored in Colombian cuisine and I will make it my mission this evening (and over the next few days) to try these salads.

On the topic of my exercise goal, I find it a bit too hot and humid in this city to do any outdoor physical activity more strenuous than a 15 min walk. I recently have gotten into the habit of going to the gym back home and being here in Cartagena without free weights or mats have made me antsy to move about more. On a trip to the mall, I found that there is a “Smart Fit” gym located near the food court. Smart Fit is essentially the Latin American version of Planet Fitness. Customers can subscribe to a few different levels of membership that allow them simple admittance to gym equipment up to access with personal trainers. The monthly rate (at the time of this writing) is 39,000 Colombian pesos, which is only $12 US dollars (plus some hidden fees down the line). With access to a full floor of equipment and locker rooms, I was fully prepared to pay $12 for my few days at the gym. I couldn’t easily take advantage of this rate though, because of residency and medical insurance restrictions. However, I was lucky to find out that Smart Fit offered 24-hour passes for travelers at about $8 a day. While I realize that I would be paying significantly more than the locals, the ease at which I was able to pay and receive the pass was totally worth it—plus, if I go two days in a row in under 24-hours I can stretch this pass a little further.

Smart Fit

Should I be worrying about health and fitness while I am gone for just a week? I think, in general, it is fine to take a break. However, for myself, I know that when I have the energy and drive to see something through, I will feel much better pursuing rather than restraining this energy. I am glad that I have chosen to work toward my health and fitness goals here in Cartagena. For me, my health and fitness journey is about lifestyle change. One day, I hope a morning jog and a hearty salad are things that I will naturally endeavor to do, but today, these habits are still being formed by willpower, determination, and practice.

At the end of the day, Cartagena is a city like any other. We can find what we seek when we look hard enough and are creative with the opportunities around us. While I may not be able to enjoy a jog on the beach at sunrise or a quick bite to eat on the main streets, I am happy to know that I am not constrained in my opportunities here to fulfill my goals and enjoy my time.

Where will 2020 take you, Dear Reader? Whether at home or away, I hope you will enjoy your surroundings and create your own happiness.



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