By José Portuondo
High desert country. Abandoned railroad tunnels cutting into the mountains as the road keeps climbing, following the river’s path. A V-shaped valley with mountainsides rising over 2,000 feet from the valley floor. Circling overhead, against a deep blue sky without a cloud to be seen, Andean condors riding the thermal air currents rising from the valley.
Here in the Andes, 23 miles south of the city at the end of the road, is the Cacheuta Thermal Baths Hotel and Spa.
The entrance to the baths/spa is via the hotel front desk. Once payment for the day is made, every visitor is handed a white bathrobe and instructed to proceed to the check-in counter building for the baths. The spa takes the health of the guests very seriously, so every guest is given a blood pressure test. Depending on the results of the test, guests are advised which of the pools to use. After changing into bathing suits and taking a warm thermal shower, guests are allowed to use the thermal pools. Clothes are left at the check-in counter.
The thermal pools cascade as seven pools overlooking the raging river. The higher up the cascade the pool is located, the hotter the water temperature, ranging from 106 to 82 degrees. The best way to enjoy the pools is to start at the top, at the hottest, spending five minutes in each pool and working your way down to the last one, a large pool with “warm” (82 degree) water. Some of the pools have bubblers, providing “massages.”
At the top of the cascade, a tub of warm mud is available for the guests to lather on themselves. It is quite a sight to see 10 to 15 life-size terra-cotta statues — the mud-covered guests — baking in the sun! Within 15 to 20 minutes the mud has hardened and is ready for removal using an outdoor shower of mineral-laden warm water. The skin is left feeling soft and smooth — like new.
Lunch, served at the hotel dining room, consists of buffet stations of various salads, local vegetables, and the meats of an Argentinian asado. However, the most amazing part of lunch is the sight of over 100 guests all wearing their bathrobes. This is the formal lunch attire, mandatory for all guests.
After lunch, many guests sit outside on lounge chairs for a short siesta while taking in the view of the green-brown river, rugged bare mountains, and cobalt blue sky. Then it’s back to the pools for the final dips before heading back to the city.
The spa is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day. Reservations are strongly recommended. A rental car is the easiest way to get to the thermal baths/spa although the hotel will provide transportation if needed (reservations required). Rates are approximately US$70 per person (US$90 including transportation). To get there, head south on Route 40 and follow signs to Cacheuta or take the Acceso Oeste, which becomes the old Panamerican Highway, and follow it to Cacheuta.
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