Relax in the Very Best Hot Springs in Colombia
I’ll admit it. I was rather surprised at the number of opportunities I had to dip into a hot spring throughout South America. I suppose this is partly because I arrived determined to hike my way through the continent rather than relax in its steamy thermal pools. But, naturally, with all those epic mountain ranges come plenty of waterfalls and – even better – natural hot springs. So before I even had time to acclimate to the altitude, I was hot-springing it up in the middle of the Peruvian Andes and at 4,000 metres in the pristine Uyuni dessert. But my absolute favourite thermal springs experience was in none other than beautiful and biodiverse Colombia, at Santa Rosa de Cabal, an adorable town found in the heart of the country’s Zona Cafetera - or coffee region.
After exploring Salento and hiking through the Cocora Valley, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a little (natural) spa break at the San Vincente Reserva Termal Hotel and Spa. Only an hour’s drive from Salento and approximately 30 minutes from Pereira, Santa Rosa de Cabal is the perfect spot to unwind and slow the pace of your backpacking adventures. We took a private taxi from Salento to Santa Rosa and split the cost, 170,000 COP (around £45) total, but you can get there really cheaply by bus too. There are also buses direct from Pereira or Medellin to Santa Rosa de Cabal. Once you arrive in the main town, you can catch a local bus direct to the hot springs or share a willy (jeep) with fellow travellers. Whichever way you travel, the drive to the hot springs itself is jaw-dropping, with views of misty, verdant mountains along the way.
The springs are extensive, so you’ve got a couple alternatives to gain entry. If you’re on a tighter budget, your best bet is to stay in one of the local hostels (there are many running along the hill near the springs) and walk to the main thermal springs. Entry will cost you approximately 20,000 COP (£5). Once inside, it’s a bit of a hike to the springs themselves but the views will make it worth your while. Just try and visit off-peak - ideally during the middle of the day - to avoid the crowds as the pools tend to fill up in the evening. Whatever you decide, Santa Rosa’s hot springs are open late - until 10.30pm - so you'll have plenty of time to make the most of your visit.
Another alternative, if you’re able (and willing) to splurge, is to book yourself a night or two at the lovely San Vincente Reserva Termal Hotel. We did just that and had the pleasure of staying in a room that overlooked one of the streams and gave full access to the hotel’s private pools, which draw a much smaller crowd. One night’s stay at San Vincente will set you back 244,000 COP (about £63) but you’ll leave so relaxed you won’t really care about blowing your backpacker budget. The hotel also offers a range of spa treatments (including facials and massages) if you want to enjoy a full-on spa experience during your Colombian adventures.
Santa Rosa’s thermal springs are particularly good because they’re telluric instead of magmatic. In other words, they don’t have direct contact with volcanic magma which makes them odourless, tasteless and drinkable. However, they still provide all the fabulous benefits you’d expect from a long hot soak like stress relief and relaxation. At San Vincente, you'll also find hot pools, ice cold streams and everything in between, so you can create your own Finish-style spa circuit and get full health benefits from your visit.
Whatever you decide, a trip to Santa Rosa’s thermal springs is certainly worth your while. You’ll have the pleasure of some epic mountain views, a brilliant soak in therapeutic waters and the opportunity to really switch off. You know, from the stress of carrying that heavy backpack for too long.
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