Piedra de Agua: Visionaries in health tourism

29/Octubre/2012 | 13:26

By Lance Brashear

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Water is a very powerful force.  In large quantities it can alter geographic landscapes and move with destructive energy.  And in small doses, over time, it can permanently change everything from stone to flesh.

Piedra de Agua (translated literally as “stone from water”) is an exclusive spa located in Baños, just 15 minutes from Cuenca, Ecuador´s southern UNESCO heritage city.  And though it may seem like a man-made destination, the materials that give it shape are from the earth just beneath it.

The work of engineer Roberto Duran Andrade, Piedra de Agua is a geothermal complex built from volcanic rock, mined onsite, that channels natural, thermal waters loaded with minerals to more than half a dozen pools, caves, and therapeutic stations where visitors come daily to relax and rejuvenate.

“The subterranean caves are where the rock comes from.  All of the stone is formed by water, which is why we call it Piedra de Agua,” says Duran.  “The water is what gives form to the rock.”  If you look closely you see the channels, the fingerprints, formed over millennium, and now used to showcase one of the region´s foremost destinations for relaxation and health.

Baños de Cuenca takes its name from the naturally occurring thermal hot springs in the area.  Several spas and thermal facilities can be found in this small town.  But Duran created Piedra de Agua with the idea of going beyond what any other spa had done previously, not just in Baños, or Ecuador, but worldwide.  It may seem like an exaggeration, until you visit the complex. 

“For many years I have been visiting the thermal resorts in all parts of the world – Europe, North American, Latin America,” explains Duran. “Until now, not one that I have seen has everything concentrated [in one place].  Some have water but not mud.  Some have mud but not water or vapor.  Some have vapor but not the steam boxes. So, what I have done, due to all of my travels, is put together all of these services.”

The complete circuit

Piedra de Agua now has a six-stage circuit for visitors, who pay just one price ($30) to enjoy it all.  Guests are guided by staff members who explain the benefits and recommended time to spend at each station.

The circuit begins with a Turkish Bath – vapor baths ideal for strengthening respiratory system and purifying and relaxing the body and mind.

Next, visitors move on to the volcanic mud baths.  The traditional mud bath utilizes a red mud the color of the surrounding volcanic rock, with high concentrations of iron and calcium, which are ideal for therapeutic treatments for the skin and muscles.

A recent discovery deep below the property yielded a second kind of mud – a blue mud, whose color is the result of unique elements including gold, silver, copper, and quartz.   Both mud pools sit side by side.  Visitors begin with red mud treatments and then move to the blue. 

Manager Isabel Lopez says, “Each mud has an additional benefit for each type of skin.  Red is good for mixed skin while the blue is better for dry skin.”  But she says both should be used during the circuit as complementary treatments.

Following the mud baths, guests proceed to underground thermal pools, complete with candles, essences, and music.  Here guests enjoy what they refer to as a cutaneous gymnasium, alternating from a hot pool, approximately 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), to a cool one, approximately 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit).  The drastic temperature changes offer benefits for the skin, nervous system, and muscles.

The circuit then takes guests to the steam boxes that offer a steam bath for the body, without the hot vapor on the face.  This treatment is recommended for exfoliation, skin cleansing, removing toxins, and even weight loss.

The circuit ends with a spa treatment and enjoyment in the thermal pools, including the new Japanese pool, the design of which pays homage to Japan, a place with more thermal pools than anywhere else on the planet. 

Once completed, guests can repeat the circuit or add complementary services, such as massages and facial treatments.

Beyond Baños

Piedra de Agua represents a radical change in the way the region has traditionally thought about tourism.  Duran had a vision that, like Cuenca itself, the springs of Baños could be converted into an international destination, something that he helped bring to fruition.

The Cuenca region has recently positioned itself as a destination for health tourism, in part because of the geo-thermal springs of Baños and how they are utilized in a way that is attracting international attention.

Last year Piedra de Agua was a finalist in the Innovators of America competition sponsored by the Latin American Development Bank.   And this year Duran and his staff attended Termatalia, the world´s leading convention for health spas, which was held for the first time ever in Latin America, a sign that Piedra de Agua and Baños are garnering attention far beyond Ecuador.

Piedra de Agua is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-9pm and Sunday, 9am-7pm.  Day visits range from $10 to $30 depending on the thermal treatments desired.  Massages are separate, $20 for 30 minutes or $40 for an hour.  For more information contact them by calling 07-289-2496 or 07-409-2413 and visit the website at www.piedradeagua.com.ec.

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