Published on November 12th, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
Enjoying a Thermal Spa and Mud Bath in Cuenca, Ecuador
Some people look good with mud on their face. I do not. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy my visit to Piedra de Agua, a thermal spa just outside of Cuenca, Ecuador.
Ecuador is known for its natural hot springs, with destinations like the town of Baños de Cuenca, just outside of Ecuador’s third-largest city, among the places where travelers stop to relax and rejuvenate. During my recent visit to Cuenca, I joined Tanja Laden — publisher of Pop Curious, a fabulous pop culture and travel Website — to check out Piedra de Agua, one of the region’s most upscale natural hot spring spas.
The facility isn’t huge, but it’s attractive, with contemporary style that makes good use of wood, limestone rock and glass. The prices are certainly reasonable; Piedra de Agua charges $10 for access to the thermal water pools for the entire day, and $30 for a day pass that includes use of the mud and steam baths; massages are an additional charge. Visitors can also dine at Libélula restaurant, a lovely little venue located on site.
I’m pretty much a wimp about anything that involves extreme temperatures; being born a redhead means that my sensitive skin tends to overreact, making me look like a lobster in some cases. But I gamely agreed to undergo a full regimen of treatments. Here’s what the experience included:
Turkish Steam Baths: First, we entered the Turkish steam baths, which are designed to purify the skin and eliminate toxins. I felt relaxed inside, but chose to exit a bit early, before the heat could get to me.
Volcanic Red Mud Bath Therapy: Next, we were escorted by our helpful spa guide to the outdoor volcanic red mud therapy pool, where he instructed us to slather our skin with the mud in order to combat aging, dryness and dehydration. According to the spa folks, The minerals found in the Volcanic Thermal Mud allow it to act as a peeling agent and decrease the amount of oil in the skin providing noticeable improvements for acne-prone skin. And the magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, zinc, and sodium found in the mud act as an anti-wrinkle instrument that slow down the aging process, strengthen, and revitalize the skin. It was actually fun, and I felt like a kid painting my face and body — great photo opportunities, although while reviewing the photos afterward, it seemed that the mud make me look like a giant baby.
Volcanic Blue Mud Bath Therapy: After showering the volcanic red mud off my body, I proceeded to the Volcanic Blue Mud Bath, where we repeated much the same application process as we did in the red mud bath. The blue mud, which has quartz, gold, silver and copper, is supposed to counter dry skin and dehydration. Another photo opp ensued, although it wasn’t as dramatic.
Massage Caves: After showering yet again, I took a break from the process for a trip to the massage caves, which are set inside dramatic limestone structures and illuminated with candles and small lights. The massage was brief but very relaxing, with delicious chocolate-scented oils.
Steam Box Baths: As an alternative on the traditional steam bath, Piedra de Agua also has steam box baths. I sat on a chair in one of the wooden boxes, which are about the size of a large, industrial-size washing machine. The guide closed the front and top, so that only my head was sticking out of the box (Tanja’s head was already sticking out of the box next to me). It reminded me of an old episode of The Lucy Show, during which Lucille Ball might get trapped inside. After a few minutes enjoying the soothing steam heat inside the box, I asked our guide to let me out early (I’m already a redhead; no need to feel like Lucy).
Underground Thermal Baths: The final segment of my thermal spa experience took place in the underground thermal baths, a pair of dramatically lit pools. These contrast baths are designed to open and close the body’s pores, and I was instructed to alternate between the hot and cold to stimulate blood flow and help my skin, muscles and nervous system. Again, I wimped out a bit with the extreme temperatures — barely dipping into the cold water — but I enjoyed the fresh fruit our guide served us in the cave afterward, and left the facility feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Other Thermal Spas in Ecuador
The Cuenca area is an increasingly popular stop on the health tourism circuit. It’s home to Ecuador’s first thermal recreation center, Hostería Duran, which has three pools filled with hot water that originates in a natural geological fissure. Hostería Duran is also home to Novaqua, a spa that offers massage and beauty treatments. About an hour and a half away is Termas de Papallacta, a natural geothermal spring, while two hours away is Arasha Spa and Resort. On the route between Cuenca and Quito is Baños, a town popular for geothermal springs including Luna Run Tun, Samari Spa and El Refugio.
Where I Stayed: I spent two nights as a guest at the Hotel Oro Verde Cuenca (click to read my full review of the hotel, as well as my Top 5 Reasons to Visit Cuenca and more of my Ecuador travel tips).
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