We walked a couple of blocks to the bus stop to catch either the #12 or #100 for the roughly 9km, 30-minute ride to Baños, a village southwest of Cuenca known for its hot springs. We caught the #12 (25 cents each), which we knew followed a much less direct route, but it was fun to poke in and out of new areas of Cuenca. [We caught the 100 back, which was about 10-15 minutes quicker.] Cuenca’s interactive bus map is a great way to figure out which buses go where. Buses will only stop at the blue Parada de Bus signs and the interactive map shows where all of these stops are.
Our target was 2 for 1 Monday at Piedra del Agua Fuente Termal & Spa. In Baños, there are cheaper options for accessing the hotsprings, but since neither of us had ever been to a spa, we decided to take advantage of the promo and drop $35 (for both of us) on a new experience. We kept an eye on our maps.me app (invaluable offline maps on our no-data-service phone) so we would know when we should be thinking about getting off the bus. Suddenly we noticed the name of another, nearby spa displayed on the “next stop” sign at the front of the bus. Since you have to hit the “next stop” button in the middle of the bus to signal the driver, we ended up getting off one stop farther along the route. With our trusty maps.me app, we were able to get to the spa – around a couple of corners and down a not-so-obvious gravel road before we reached the well-signed entry gate.
Once there, we paid our $35 for the full circuit, and were led to a room by a robe-carrying, white-uniformed wearing guide. After we changed into our bathing suits, here’s what our full circuit entailed (we were guided through the process so we knew what to do at each station):
- Steam bath, followed by shower; repeat.
- Rust-colored mud: in a warm, muddy pool, use dishes of mud with a bit of water and coat all exposed body parts and face; lay on wooden lounge chair in sun to bake until dry (about 10 minutes); step back into warm, muddy pool to rinse/scrub off most of the dried mud; walk over to outdoor warm shower and finish rinsing.
- Grey mud (called blue, but it looked pretty grey to me): same process as red mud, except rub it into your scalp and hair as well.
- Contrast pools: Follow the guide into candle- and spot-lit private cave, classical music playing soothingly on unseen speakers. 10 minutes in hot pool followed by 1 minute in cold (yeow!). Repeat.
- Steam box: Follow guide into another private cave where she opens a box front and top; climb in and sit on the bench and wait while she closes the box tops and front (there is a hole in the top for your head), turns up the steam, and then wraps your robe around your neck so the steam can’t escape. One blog post we read referred to this as whack-a-mole. Pretty accurate. Steam for 10 minutes, followed by a cold shower, and then a refreshing, warm, fruity tea drink with limes squeezed in.
After the circuit we were let loose to enjoy the pools and other areas of the spa. On the day we visited, it was very quiet and at least one pool was closed. There was an open family pool with lots of shaded seats, and an adult pool . We could see what looked like a fairly large restaurant with tables inside and out, but there was nobody in it.
After the circuit, which we really enjoyed, we felt a bit lost, not sure where we should go or what we should do. We had a dip in one of the pools, and then decided to leave. Though we had read that, on Mondays, cocktails were also 2 for 1, nobody asked us about ordering anything.
The grounds are really pretty with the caves looking like they were cut out of the cliffs. Everything was clean and the staff were all friendly. It would be interesting to be there when it is a bit more lively, but then we probably wouldn’t get the 2 for 1 promo, and we might have been rushed through the different stations or not have been able to enjoy them so privately.
Note: Even after all of the steam, showers, and swimming that followed the red mud bath, our skin was still tinged a bit orangey. Plan on a good soap-scrub shower before you go to bed! A Cuencana friend recommends washing your suit out well afterward to avoid staining. My suit was dark, so not an issue, but I would recommend wearing either a dark swimsuit, or not wearing your favourite one, just in case.
[No pictures for this post as we 1) do not have a waterproof camera, and 2) do not have pockets large enough in our swimsuits to hold one if we did.]