By Lauren Brender
Situated on the banks of the pristine Pastazas River lies Baños Ecuador, a popular tourist destination and weekend getaway for Quiteñas and other Ecuadorians, who come to indulge in the famous natural thermal baths, as well as partake in adventure activities.
From the moment I arrived, it was hard not to become intoxicated by the beauty of Baños. I decided to take a bike ride on La Ruta De Las Cascadas (the Avenue of the Waterfalls), a popular route that runs 25 kilometers alongside the Pastazas River. I cycled past more than 13 waterfalls and peaked with a hike to El Pailón de Diablo, a breathtaking waterfall a few kilometers off the route.
The ride left me with a sense of accomplishment and pride, but also with a desire to spend the rest of the day experiencing the indulgent side of Baños. I made my way to El Refugio Spa Garden, a stunning property hidden by an unassuming entrance on a small, unpaved side street about a mile from the city center.
El Refugio is an ecological spa that offers alternative therapies. Its mission is to treat the mind, body and Spirit. To begin, El Refugio offers a meditation walk on the gorgeous grounds, which centers and relaxes you prior to treatments.
Along with traditional spa treatments, El Refugio is well known for its Baños de Cajon, a steam bath, which helps to relieve stress and relax muscles. The Baños de Cajon is given in a stunning room on the north side of the spa. One side of the room is a wall of windows, which overlooks the Pastazas River, and on the other side of the room sits a row of what would best be described as large wooden boxes.
Unaware of what to expect, I sat down inside one of wooden boxes, and my therapist wrapped a towel around my neck so that only my head was out of the box. I was then instructed to turn a lever, and the box filled with hot steam. The initial vapor was intense, but easily adjustable with the lever inside the box. I relaxed inside the steam-filled box, enjoying the views of Baños while sipping (through a straw) a refreshing jasmine tea.
After 10 minutes of blissfully soaking in the view, my therapist opened the box and had me walk across the aisle to a beautiful tiled bathtub, which sat just below the window through which I had been appreciating the river view. I sat in the tub and was utterly shocked when my therapist poured ice cold water over my head and entire body. The ice water shocked my body, and I must admit, I was beginning to question my decision to try this treatment.
I was relieved when I was ushered back into the box and was able to turn the hot steam on once again. After another 10 minutes, I was instructed to go back to the tub where I was, for a second time, covered in ice water. Fortunately, my body adjusted to the hot and the cold, and this time the ice water was a welcoming and refreshing experience. This process proceeded for a total of 40 minutes, with four total ice baths. By the time I had finished, I felt completely refreshed. My sore muscles from the bike ride were now rejuvenated and feeling stronger than they had before.
I completed my day of activity and relaxation with a traditional hot stone massage – and a complete of sense of tranquility and bliss.
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