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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banos de Cuenca

You've all probably figured out that we're enjoying ourselves (for the most part) here in Cuenca. Despite our time here, we really haven't gotten out to a lot of the traditional places that tourists like to go. Sure, we made it down to the coast and have visited a few sites outside of the city limits, but many people who visit, see more in a month than we have in the whole time we've been here. Chalk it up to laziness, over involvement in getting settled or just plain comfortableness. We're hoping that will change soon.

I made a return trip to Banos de Cuenca, a suburb, really, of the city proper. The town features a very pretty blue church that sits high on the hillside, overlooking the tourist information centre and the rest of the town, if you miss your bus stop for the spas, this is where you'll likely wind up deboarding.

The town of Banos de Cuenca is a mini Banos de Agua, (quite famous and located closer to Quito,in Tungurahua province) with thermal pools and spas abounding. It's a nice way to spend an afternoon, soaking in the mineral pools, giving yourself clay treatments (now for a girl who doesn't like to get dirty...this was a challenge, but I sucked it up...twice, once for red mud and the second for blue) or packaging yourself up in a steam box (yup, like the one's you see in old gangster movies) with your head sticking out and your neck wrapped in a towel. You can also get massage services and other treatments.
Like fish en papiote...

Bring flip flops/thongs, the ground is rough and can be slippery.
Most of the spas offer some sort of package that includes all of their "public areas", meaning the pools, saunas and steam rooms. They will not tell you at the front desk if some of the services aren't available, so it's always good to ask and maybe have a walk around, before you commit to paying.

My friend and I went to Piedra de Agua for their Monday two for one special. ($35 for entry to all their services excluding treatments from their staff.) They failed to mention that the biggest pool was being serviced, but there are two other smaller mineral pools, so it wasn't a huge tragedy. The staff is attentive and you can drink and eat pool side, but the prices are higher than you would anticipate. (We had two bottles of water which cost $3.14. This sounds like a deal, if you aren't in Ecuador, but I know full well that each of those water bottles cost under 50¢ - probably well under - so the mark up is a bit much.)
Contrast pools, one cold & one hot
Even on their discount days, it isn't overly busy. I'd probably recommend avoiding holidays, as Cuencanos likely flock there for a little R & R. There are two bus lines that can take you to Banos de Cuenca, for a whopping 25¢, one way, number 12 & 200, or you can catch a cab for around $5, or so says the website.  There are other spas in Banos de Cuenca, so don`t take this as a recommendation for Piedra de Agua, although I did enjoy it. I don`t really have anything to compare it to, so take a tour of the facility before you pay and know that there aren`t really any in and out privileges, so you`re stuck with whatever they have on their menu and the associated cost if you want to spend a whole day. Other tips of note: if you elect (and pay) to only use one service and then decide you'd like access to more, there is not will have to pay the full entry on top of your original payment. This is something that they need to work on and which might seem strange to North Americans, but don't say you weren't warned!

So hop the bus and enjoy a few hours (or more) in Banos de Cuenca, cloudy or sunny, it's a nice way to pass some time and relax.

Other options: NovaquaHosteria Duran (they seem to be affiliated) , Hosteria Rodas. There may be more, if you take the time to wander around the town.

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