Andean Treasure

ALTHOUGH ECUADOR IS RARELY THOUGHT OF AS A PRIME SPA destination, the country is home to the famed Termas de Papallacta, natural hot springs found approximately 40 miles outside of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Rich in historical significance, the hot springs are located on the Cinnamon Trail, which explorer Francisco de Orellana traveled in 1542 when he crossed the Andes in search of the El Dorado treasure. Today, the springs are the site of the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs Spa & Resort. Situated in the Ecuadorian highlands at an altitude of 10,800 feet above sea level, the spa and resort serves as the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon Region.

 Resort guests enjoy a variety of hot springs found around the property
Resort guests enjoy a variety of hot springs found around the property

According to general manager Jaime Pallares, 10 years ago a group of investors bought the property, which was in bad repair, with the vision of creating a resort. "Little by little, they invested in the improvement of the hot springs by building a hotel, cabins, and ultimately the spa," says Pallares. Opened in January of 2002, the spa has 13 treatment rooms and a spa café. While the spa caters primarily to Ecuadorians, who make up 70 percent of its clientele, international visitors make up the other 30 percent. Americans comprise 15 percent of the overall total and represent 50 percent of all international guests. The spa has become a popular destination on the weekend for Quito day-trippers as well as an ideal respite for adventure travelers, who come to explore the area's dramatic landscape.

Most of the thermal pools look out on mountain views
Most of the thermal pools look out on mountain views

The spa is divided into two distinct sections: The Thermoludic Area, which features the spa's thermal pools, and the Thermal Club, where guests can partake in therapeutic treatments. Papallacta has 26 thermal pools of varying temperatures ranging from 85 to 157 degrees Fahrenheit. The spa has five hot springs and one cold plunge.

Steam rises from some of the hotter pools; lower right: The spa's café features a rustic look
Steam rises from some of the hotter pools; lower right: The spa's café features a rustic look
"Termas de Papallacta is the only spa in Ecuador with natural thermal water," says Pallares. Ideal for those suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, stress, digestive disorders, and other ailments, the unique volcanic thermal water is a draw for those seeking its rehabilitative effects. The water's restorative benefits can be absorbed three ways: immersion, inhalation, or ingestion. According to Pallares, the Thermoludic Area gets 60 to 70 clients a day. Entrance is priced at $15 for adults and $10 for children between the ages of three and 12. The Thermal Club treats roughly 20 to 30 guests a day.

At the Thermal Club, guests can receive facials, massages, baths, reflexology, and other services. The menu features unique treatments like Papallacta's Muds & Clay Body Wrap ($22, 20 minutes) and the Aromatic Andes Clay Body Wrap ($22, 20 minutes). Not surprisingly, the spa's menu also focuses on incorporating the famous therapeutic waters into its treatments.

The spa's exterior blends well with its natural surroundings; lower right: Guests soak in a pool located behind the spa
The spa's exterior blends well with its natural surroundings; lower right: Guests soak in a pool located behind the spa
Clients can enjoy the Thermal Hydromassage Bath ($11, 20 minutes), the Thermal Hydromassage Bath of Herbs ($12, 20 minutes), and the Massage with Pressure Water ($7, 15 minutes; $11, 20 minutes). American guests are often pleasantly surprised by the affordable prices. For instance, the 45-minute Facial Care Treatment is only $26 and the 60-minute Antioxidant Facial Session is only $30. According to Pallares, aromatherapy massages are especially popular.

In keeping with its natural surroundings, the spa avoids chemically based products in favor of more natural product lines. The spa's primary skin- and bodycare line is Anakiri Bioenergetic Skin Care from Dahlonega, GA. And instead of using high-tech equipment, which is in short supply, the staff relies on the region's restorative thermal waters and the power of the human touch.—Heather Mikesell.

Between treatments, guests can relax in the pools located outside the spa
Between treatments, guests can relax in the pools located outside the spa

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