Before we launch into this post about health and wellness while living in Colombia, I should tell you that I’m writing this article while eating a massive slice of cake. My fingers are sticking to the keyboard. I’m disclosing this to let you know I’m not a health guru nor am I in perfect shape.
My fervor for sweets aside, I do try to be relatively healthy and before moving to Colombia, I wondered if living in this South American country would facilitate a healthy lifestyle.
Read the following tidbits about health in Colombia from a soccer playing, Fitbit wearing, cake enthusiast:
Don’t worry about your “guns” turning soft after moving to Colombia. There are plenty of gyms in the major cities, even in the neighborhoods not normally inhabited by foreigners.
Like gyms in the United States and other countries, prices depend on the quality of the environment. I have seen janky gyms with older equipment that cost 35,000 COP a month, or about 12 USD.
Then there are the glitzy ones with Wi-Fi, fitness classes and TVs mounted above each cardio machine. Those gyms could cost 300,000 COP, about 100 USD, per month or more.
If gyms aren’t your thing, you could always try joining a sports team. You’re in luck if you play soccer, as there are tons of organized leagues for men and women. I pay about 6,000 COP, or 2 USD, each game to play 8v8 with a women’s soccer team. Pick-up games are also common and are normally less of a commitment.
There are two ways of looking at healthy eating in Colombia. One could argue it’s difficult to eat healthy foods because typical Colombian meals consist of a greasy flank of meat (usually beef, pork or chicken), paired with white rice, potatoes and maybe some beans. Sometimes there’s a “salad,” which looks more like taco toppings that fell out of the shell.
On the other hand, one could also argue it’s easy to eat healthfully in Colombia because of the abundance of fresh produce available at extremely cheap prices.
Let me blow your mind: I can buy five of those small Hass avocados for 3,000 COP, 1 USD. The trick is to hit the fruit stands or markets, that’s where you can buy bags of fresh produce for less than 10 USD.
Just like with food, the topic of health care can be approached from more than one angle. I honestly don’t know every intricacy of Colombian’s healthcare system, but I do know everyone is required to have some form of health insurance, even if it’s just the government health insurance called EPS.
The basic EPS can be supplemented with private insurance. I pay 216,000 COP a month, about 70 USD, for my basic health insurance plan in Colombia.
Colombia is recognized for being a country with great health care, but according to the Colombians who I know, great health care comes after you’ve paid for the supplemental insurance.
One of my soccer teammates seriously hurt her knee and would have had to wait six months for surgery with regular insurance, so she paid out of pocket to avoid the wait.
I have also paid out of pocket to avoid a wait when I needed a MRI after a soccer slide tackle gone wrong. It cost 245,000 COP, or 80 USD, to get an MRI, which isn’t bad when you think of what it would have cost in the United States.
Colombia is not the country for you if you’re a germaphobe. Food sanitation practices are relaxed at best, so don’t be surprised if the person handling your food isn’t wearing gloves.
It’s common to see meat being cooked on the street and products such as milk and eggs resting at room temperate.
I thought I had a hardy stomach, but my first two months living in Colombia was a constant battle with food poisoning.
I also catch the common cold a lot more than I did in the United States (about once a month). Colombians tell me my constant colds are a direct result of Bogotá’s ever-changing weather conditions, but the lack of personal space on public buses sure doesn’t help keep the germs at bay.
No matter what country you live in, maintaining a healthy lifestyle depends a lot on personal decisions and situations and doing so in Colombia seems to be a lot less costly.
Anneliese Delgado is a writer and a marketing manager for Uncover Colombia and Abroad in Colombia. She was born and raised in the United States, but moved to Colombia alone at the beginning of 2016. She writes about life as a foreigner, traveling and being a Gringa-Latina. When she’s not writing, she’s playing soccer or wandering around stores with no intention of buying anything.