Hot Springs in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

The hot springs of Santa Rosa and San Vicente are located in Colombia’s magnificent coffee triangle.

Colombia’s coffee triangle is currently one of the hottest tourist attractions in the country. Not just for coffee lovers, it’s popular with tourists making their first journey into Colombia. A short plane trip from Medellin, Bogota or Cali, the coffee triangle can  be explored in a just a few days.

The coffee zone is contained within the small cities of Armenia, Manizales and Periera. And the mountain villages between these towns are settled in  Colombia’s green, luscious, breath-taking landscape. Coffee plantations are carved into the steep hillsides. Here one can hike, go horseback riding, visit a national coffee park or soak in hot springs.  

So don’t forget to pack a swim suit. While the coffee zone is inland, travelers  looking for a relaxing day of fun in the sun have the option to work in a visit to the hot springs located in the heart of the coffee zone. Called spas or thermal resorts, these pools of hot, steamy waters are places where one can relax poolside and nurse a cold beverage under the piercing tropical sun.

Hot springs boost circulation, relieve stress, promote sleep, decongest, eliminate stress, intoxicants, body aches and pains and leaves your skin smooth and soft.

The two hot spring spas of Santa Rosa and  San Vicente are definitely worthy of a day trip or two.  These spas are well known and popular with the locals of  central Colombia. But few foreign tourists know about them. 

Both spas are located just outside of the city of Periera with Manizales to the north and Armenia to the south.  But one could stay in either of these cities and do a day trip to the spa. It’s an easy weekend getaway from Medellin and just 30 miles away from the popular village of Salento.

The 100 foot high waterfall at the shot springs of Santa Rosa

Termales Santa Rosaa place to be born

The closest city to both of these spas is Periera. With a population of 700,000, it is the most populated city in the coffee axis. For a small town experience, stay in the quaint village of Santa Rosa Cabal, an hour bus ride out of Periera. To get there take a local bus from the city’s  bus terminal to the village of Santa Rosa Cabal.

The hot springs of Santa Rosa are just a 20 minute taxi ride outside the village – $7 (20,000 COP) or catch a collective jeep or chiva bus at the market $1 (3,500 COP). On the dirt road up the mountain to the springs there’s a wide selection of hotels, cottages, apartments, camping sites and restaurants.

Santa Rosa is a nice cafetero town. It’s quintessential Colombia and, compared to Salento, rarely sees tourists. A few travelers visiting the springs choose to stay here. It has a beautiful town square –Araucarias park, good market – La Galeria and plenty of little shops on the main street, bars, restaurants and billiard halls. There are a few modestly priced hotels in the village starting at $6 (18,000 COP) a night.

Cooling off under under the cascading waterfall

Thermales of Santa Rosa – a place to be born” is their calling card. It is a beautiful place. The spa  has an admission fee of $15 (54,000 COP) per person which includes a lunch or dinner.  There are four pools each filled with hot spring water of varying temperatures heated by some mysterious volcanic activity deep within the mountain.

Because of the alkaline nature of the waters, the thermal waters here are tasteless and odorless unlike most other hot springs that are pungent with sulfur content. This boiling water is mixed with cold water from the waterfall on the grounds. Bathe in the hot thermal pools then go over to the waterfall for a cold, shower of or forceful river water cascading over the rocks from 100 feet up.  

Between hot soaks and cold showers bring a book, grab a lounge chair and sit back to enjoy the cool mountain air while watching the Colombian families mix it up. There are changing rooms at the spa but bring your own lock.  There’s also free wi-fi, a bar serving up coffee, alcohol and snacks.

The spa always has a good crowd but tends to get even more crowded on the weekends. So if it’s a zen moment you’re seeking, you may consider visiting during a weekday.

There are more a couple private spas a kilometer further up the road located in the big hotels. But Balneario Santa Rosa is open to the public and has the best hot springs. Hotel Matisses is the most prominent luxury hotel – $62 a night (200,000 COP) and offers meals, massages and yoga lessons.

The entrance of San Vicente

The hot springs of San Vicente – the most natural Thermal Spa in Colombia

While the spas at Santa Rosa are considered the most beautiful in Colombia I find the hot springs of San Vicente to much more natural, secluded and intimate. Termales San Vincente’s motto is: ‘the most natural thermal spa in Colombia’. The facilities sit in a cloud forest in the mountains at 11,800 feet (2,300 meters) above sea level. The the air temperature here is always quite cool, around 50-60 degrees F. but the pools are over 100 degrees F. (30 degrees C.), the waters heated by underground volcanic activity.

Tucked in green valley, nestled between steep mountains covered in green jungle vegetation make this a perfect place for nature lovers. Here there are five pools of hot thermal water. Cold showers funneling mountain spring water are located pool side. But don’t forget to visit the natural pools down the hill near the entrance. The natural pools of Rio Termal, tucked away in the jungle vegetation, you may find to be the best.

San Vicente is a natural reserve park of 1,116 acres (472 hectares) in the middle of a National reserve park called Parque Natural Los Nevados. The first pools were constructed here in 1995.

This spa is more remote than Santa Rosa and the customer service is more on point and exclusive. There are two offices – one in the village of Santa Rosa, near Plaza Machete and another in Periera at the Avenida Circunvalar #15-62. One can make a reservation at the offices the day before departure or reserve online and arrive at the office at 8:30 a.m. to register, pay and catch the 9 a.m. bus to the the springs. The day pass is $20 (60,000 COP) per person and includes a full day at the spa, transportation, access to the pools and sauna and lunch.

San Vicente is located 18 km. an hour bus ride outside of the village of Santa Rosa. The bus leaves you at a gated entrance where a guide will lead you up the hill to the spa. There are changing rooms and lockers. Bring your own lock. After you are free to enjoy the five different pools on the property. There’s a very hot sauna built over a boiling, bubbling thermal spring with natural steam rising through wooden plank floor boards.

A full lunch is served buffet style at the restaurant. The most popular dish is locally farmed trout. There is a bar serving alcohol, coffee and snacks but, unlike most Colombian spas, no drinks can be taken pool side.

Be sure to be back down the hill at the entrance gate before 5 p.m. as the last bus back to town leaves punctually.

There are also accommodations located within the spa reserve. The San Vicente hotel goes for 250,000 COP a night per person with breakfast lunch and dinner. There are also rustic cabins on the property starting at 160,000 per person per night serving breakfast at the restaurant. The hotel offers massages, mud baths and beauty treatments. Though not inexpensive lodgings for Colombia, the surroundings justify the expense. Also, spending the night on the property includes exclusive access to the pools, sauna and thermal rivers after the park closes and everyone (including most of the staff) leave at 5.

Author: Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at: jonmcinnesjon@gmail.com

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