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Break a Sweat: 4 Workouts to Try in Cuenca 

Cuenca is a city where, if you like to stay active, there’s no shortage of options to do so. This is a hub for everyone from outdoor adventurers, cyclists, CrossFit enthusiasts, and the like. Here—as anyone who lives here would have realized—CrossFit gyms are plentiful, there’s many a yoga studio to try, and mountain trails just outside of the city snake through tangled bushes or succulent studded paths eventually leading to some of the most beautiful views of the city.

Let’s not ignore cycling culture. With Ecuadorian icon Richard Carapaz captivating cyclists around the world with his performances in the Olympics, Tour De France, and Giro d’Italia, it’s safe to say that bike culture is thriving in this country. Look at Cuenca’s ciclovia or country roads on any given weekend, and you’ll see proof of that. 

I’ve called Cuenca home for the past four-and-a-half years (and counting). I moved here in 2018 after a brief stint in Medellin and after living in Toronto for eight years where I worked as a writer and reporter at a running magazine. Life here is quite the departure from Toronto’s bustling west end (no, duh, right?). There’s the culture, language, and pace of life that’s entirely different, of course, but another, smaller, change I’ve noticed: people are more active. Take your average Saturday, for example. Personally, I wouldn’t have a hard time rallying the troops for a hike or walk by the river. And, on a lazier afternoon lunch, I’d be sure to hear about friends’ workouts during the week or upcoming challenges in the gym or in the mountains. 

Workouts and movement are a priority and way of life in both local and expat cultures here. And given the setting, I can see why. To be sedentary here would be to pass up great opportunities to bond with locals, experience Cuenca culture, and get fit along kilometers of pristine eucalyptus-lined pathways. So, recently, I decided to put my fitness to the test and explore some of the city’s cool spots for a workout. Below is a description of four options to try: 

C-TR3S Climbing + Fitness

What’s so great about the C-TR3S climbing gym is that it combines many activities all under the same *very high* roof. Think climbing (clearly), aerial yoga, kids programs, and space for grabbing pizza and a drink after your workout. The climbing walls themselves are a nice mosaic of angular bouldering spaces and three-story-high walls. (Look down… if you must.) The vibe here is friendly and chill with routes suitable for beginner and experienced climbers alike. Kids are also welcome with dedicated class times several times each week. There are plenty of bouldering options throughout the first floor of the space as well as top-rope and lead climbing for those who want a vertical challenge. I have to note here that what I love about climbing as someone who is fairly averse to typical gyms, is that it offers a full-body strength workout without any iron pumping involved or the monotony or reps. Sold.

C-TR3S also has the bonus of offering auto-belay—meaning you can clip into a belay device attached to the top of the wall which will automatically retract as you make it to the top and then releases you down slowly to the ground afterward. These are convenient for solo climbers who don’t have a belay partner, or for newer climbers who aren’t yet certified or confident in belaying. 

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On my visit to -TR3S, I put on my harness with apprehension and slip my feet into my snug-fitting shoes (yes, they’re supposed to feel that tight). Once upon a time, I hit the climbing gym a few times a week. But now, it’s been… years. Still, the energy here is a positive one, it’s not jam-packed with crowds, and my climbing partner and I have a little corner to ourselves. I clip into the auto belay and away I go gripping pink and green holds as I make my way slowly toward the top. What’s cool about the layout of this gym is that it takes you on a vertical tour up past the pizza restaurant (some of the best pizzas in Cuenca, in my opinion) and then past the aerial yoga space. I take in these scenes of friends chatting over dinner and a group gracefully spinning while suspended in the air. Before I know it, I reach the top. If you’re afraid of heights here, perhaps steer clear of looking down here or just stick to bouldering below. 

If you’re like me though, pause for a moment and feel your adrenaline pulse as you take in how high up you are. I do this and let go as I push off the wall. It’s been a while, sure, but the thrill is the same. I’ll be back! 

Contact C-TR3S

Zona Fit Bar 24

Zona Fit just opened up recently on 1 de Mayo in a space that’s equal parts gym (weights, CrossFit, bikes, the works) and food for your recovery (namely waffles, crepes, and smoothies). This gym is an airy space step away from the river so if your inner critic is going rogue as you make it through your workout, hopefully, the rush of the river current will drown that out. Historically, I’ve always gravitated to cardio. I trek, I run and I walk. But in Cuenca, you can’t deny the prevalence of CrossFit and from what I’ve always been able to tell, Zona Fit is friendly and welcoming. Plus, I know I should switch things up from time to time. 

When I go, my suspicions are confirmed: they’re extremely friendly as they walk me through what a commitment to their program looks like. Here’s how it works: you can sign on for a monthly membership, drop-in, or a monthly membership that includes a recovery meal/drink. It strikes me that this would probably be a great option for someone who wants to commit to a workout buddy and have some time to socialize in their dining area after a session in the gym. It is, after all, in a prime location in Cuenca. Zona Fit is also extremely tailored to your fitness needs and goals. They’ll walk you through how to set your personal fitness goal and they’ll track the necessary metrics (weight, water retention, body fat percentage, metabolism, etc.). 

The space sells itself. I leave feeling like this could be a gym that approaches exercises both with accountability… and approachability. 

Contact Zona Fit Bar 24

Atipico Yoga

On a cloudy Cuenca morning (you know the ones), I arrive at Atipico’s colorful and plant-covered terrace for a one-hour yoga class. The space has an alluring aesthetic and peaceful energy. Attached to a quaint hotel in el centro, the terrace where our yoga session takes place overlooks Santo Domingo Church on Gran Colombia. This is one of those places that reminds me why I came to Cuenca… and why I’ve stayed. El Centro is full of these amazing spaces where you can fully appreciate why this city has been named a UNESCO site. Atipico is one of them. 

We’re led through a vinyasa flow and to be honest, I’m reminded that I should be doing this more often. This class is a favor to my body for sure as our downward dogs address my tight calves, and our cat and cow pose combination opens my upper body which is tense from, well, writing. If there’s one hour in the week that you can spare for a movement/exercise class of some sort, that hour wouldn’t be wasted at Atipico. It’s not only that I can feel so much tension leaving my body, but with the revitalizing incense and words of affirmation reminding me of the importance of gratitude, staying in the moment, and carving out time for myself, I’m also feeling that this is just a really strong start to the morning. 

When the church bells ring, I feel that sense of gratitude rather strongly. Cuenca’s culture is so rich and while it’s incredible for most people just to take a trip, we actually get to live here. When class ends, I take in the view one more time and leave. Time to start work. Later in the day, my abs feel sore. Proof that yoga at Atipico is good for both mind and body. 

Contact Atipico Yoga

Ciclovía, 1 de Mayo

There are so many gyms, studios, classes, and groups to help you up your fitness game in Cuenca. With this said, I think one of the absolute best places to work out in the city is along the relatively new ciclovía and gravel pathway that run along 1 de Mayo. I admit here that I’m biased in this recommendation given that I live a stone’s throw from these parallel routes and also because as a lifelong runner, a good stretch of uninterrupted trail is really all I need to be happy. 

Bias acknowledged I’ll also say this: few cities can offer kilometers of pristinely-manicured bike paths that run along a river as stunning as the Yanuncay with eucalyptus breezes and mountain views in the background. I mean, it’s gorgeous. If you’re a walker, runner, or cyclist, this is the place to be. In fact, during mornings especially before 9:00 a.m., you’d be likely also to spot groups practicing martial arts, yoga, or bailoterapia (think Zumba) here. Plus, as much as running and cycling can be solo pursuits, there’s a strong sense of community here during the earliest hours of the day. Everyone from your grandmother to groups of seasoned cyclists to young families and marathon runners tends to be here at this time. Fair enough; it is one of the most beautiful spots in Cuenca after all. 

Now, if I may, I’m going to offer up a word of advice. There’s a difference between the ciclovía and the gravel pathway that runs just off the banks of the Yanuncay River. One is for those on a bike (the ciclovía) and the other is for those on foot. Stay in your lane. I say this with sass, sure, but also for the sake of your safety and peace. 

After your workout—be it a breezy bike ride, brisk walk, or 10K run—consider checking out one of the local businesses along the route. I can personally recommend Los Checitos, an Argentinian food patio, or Sumo, a newly-opened snack and juice bar where its owners work with fresh Ecuadorian produce. For ice cream lovers, reward yourself with some of Cuenca’s finest from Goody, which has recently set up shop on 1 de Mayo.

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