By Edd and Cynthia Staton
Many expats and tourists are surprised to learn that minutes outside the city of Cuenca in the hillside community of Baños, a first-class spa facility called Piedra de Agua offers visitors a day of relaxation and pampering.
You know this is someplace special from the moment you arrive at the huge gates made from volcanic stone. Ten years ago Pablo Duran, owner of Piedra de Agua, envisioned and began construction on an ambitious project that would blend aesthetically into the surrounding environment. Today his creation of stone and glass houses an array of amenities to enhance the body and spirit.
After checking in at the reception and gift shop area and receiving your robe, if you are a first-time visitor an attendant directs you through the spa circuit. After changing into swimwear the initial step is to shower, then sit in a group steam room scented with fresh eucalyptus to begin detoxification.
Hot springs run through the surrounding mountains, and they, along with special muds extracted from the waters, are the highlights of a visit to Piedra de Agua. You are next led outdoors to two pools, one containing red volcanic thermal mud and the other blue mud.
Slather the red mud all over your face and body, then sit in chaise lounges for 15 to 20 as it dries. The mineral compounds in this mud remove toxins and impurities from the skin and stimulate circulation. After showering it off, move to the blue mud pool and repeat the process. This mud, only discovered in 2011 during an expansion of the property, contains anti-aging trace elements and minerals that combat wrinkles and sagging skin.
Shower again, and then you’re off to sit in individual steam boxes for more detoxification. Individual controls in each box allow you to adjust the temperature. The final step in the circuit involves the underground plunge pools, one hot and the other cold. The idea is to sit in the hot pool for 15 minutes, the cold one for 2 minutes, then repeat the cycle. Be forewarned that the second pool is absolutely frigid!
After completing the circuit you are on your own to enjoy the rest of Piedra de Agua’s amenities. There are three large outdoor mineral pools (one for adults only) as well as amazing caves built right into the mountains where you can receive massage as well as facial and body treatments.
Piedra de Agua also has a gourmet restaurant, Libélula, serving an array of Ecuadorian and international dishes plus juices and an assortment of coffees and alcoholic beverages. You can dine inside, on the terrace, or poolside.
The spa is open 365 days a year, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Be sure to take advantage of special 2-for-1 admission (and cocktails) on Monday from 11 to 5 and Wednesday from 5 to 10. There’s also an “under the radar” expat 2-for-1 special from 11 to 5 on Tuesday. And for frequent visitors, the spa offers annual and semi-annual memberships.