Most people traveling through Colombia have their sights set on visiting the beautiful beaches, coffee zones, archeological ruins, jungles, big cities and colonial villages. But there are a number of relaxing hot springs easily accessible and close to some must see Colombian destinations. The cost of entrance to these springs is modest, even on the tightest budget. So don’t miss the opportunity to treat yourself to a carefree soak in one of the steamy thermal pools located throughout Colombia.
Hot springs also boost circulation, relieve stress, promote sleep, decongest, eliminate stress, intoxicants, body aches and pains and leaves your skin smooth and soft.
Here are my four favorite hot springs and thermal spas in Colombia:
Coconuco – San Vicente – Santa Rosa – Paipa
Hot Springs – Aguas Hirviendas at Coconuco (Popayan)
About 15 miles (25 km.) from Popayan, an hour bus ride on the road to San Agustin, is Coconuco a beautiful spot surrounded by green hills and waterfalls. In the mountains over the town, the magical site of Termales Aquas Hirviendas (Thermal Baths of Boiling Waters) is found.
Popayan is a city in southern Colombia. For just an entrance fee of $3, you can soak in the Coconuco’s thermal pools. Boiling pools of sulfur water are mixed with cold mountain spring water and channeled into the surrounding pools. Each pool has a different temp. There are changing rooms above the pools.
The spa ritual is: 15 minutes in the hot pool, get out, stand under a waterfall of ice-cold mountain spring water, scream, jump back in a hot pool and repeat. There are a lot of locals here on the weekends but hardly anyone visits during the week.
This my favorite hot spring in Colombia. I’ve been here several times over the years and this spot never fails to amaze due to its remote location and natural settings. It reminds me of the thermal waters and pools of Banos in Ecuador.
There are a lot of locals here on the weekends but hardly anyone during the week. The locals bring boom boxes and sip Bacardi rum with Poker beer chasers pool side. There is also a volcanic spring fountain where you can drink sulfur water they call aqua soda or soda water – very diuretic.
For more information see: Popayan – a Colonial City in Southern Colombia
The hot springs of San Vicente – the most natural Thermal Spa in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle
The hot springs of San Vicente and Santa Rosa are located in Colombia’s magnificent coffee triangle. San Vicente is my second favorite group of hot springs in Colombia due to it’s secluded, intimate setting in the lush green countryside.
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.
These hot springs 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.
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.
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 air temperature here is always quite cool, around 50-60 degrees F. (10-15 degrees C.) but the pools are over 100 degrees F. (30 degrees C.), the waters are 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. There are changing rooms and lockers on site. 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, 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 but 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 included in the price and served buffet style at an open air 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 ($70) 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.
Hot Springs of Santa Rosa – Termales Santa Rosa – ‘a 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 coffee or cafetero town. It’s quintessential Colombia and, compared to Salento, rarely sees tourists. It has a beautiful town square –Araucarias Park, a 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.
Thermales of Santa Rosa – “a place to be born” is their slogan. It is a beautiful place famous for its tall, picturesque waterfall of cold water. 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 waters of varying temperatures heated by volcanic activity deep within the mountain. There are plenty of changing rooms and lockers on site but bring your own lock.
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 forceful river water cascading over the rocks from 100 feet (30 m.) up.
Between hot soaks and cold showers bring a book, grab a lounge chair and sit back to enjoy the cool mountain air and people watch. 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 a couple of private spas a km. 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.
For more information see: Hot Springs in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle
Paipa – Thermal Spas on Lake Sochagota in Boyaca
Paipa is on the road between Tunja and Duitama. It is famous for its hot, salty, spring waters. There is a town named Paipa on the main road. The buses stop in town 4 km. from the spa. Get a taxi to Lake Sochagota just outside of town. There is a public beach on the north side of the lake. The Hotel Hacienda del Salitre and spa are located on the other side of the lake past a boat dock and boardwalk called Playa Muelle.
The spa is open to the public. It is called the ITP pool and is run by Paipa’s tourist office.
Most people come to enjoy the aquatic park where there are some nicely heated thermal pools. The biggest is Pozo Azul, there’s also a pool of green algae and a jacuzzi pool with a water slide. Changing rooms, showers and lockers are poolside.
Adjacent to the park is an enclosed more private spa called Terminal y Centro de Hidroterapia where hydrotherapy spa treatments are carried out. One has to book an appointment at the spa to use the services. They will take same day bookings at the spa though and while it did prove hard to get much information on their services from the ITP pool side offices, I managed to get an appointment 2 hours after I showed up on a weekday. While waiting, I soaked in the pool and sun-bathed on the deck.
The spa offers guided group spa sessions of hydrotherapy, with thermal water pools, mud baths, jacuzzis, dry and wet saunas. The pool treatments feature warm, salt water jacuzzis and warm pools with spigots firing jets of water to be used as a massage tool followed up by a dip in another pool of cold water.
After an hour soaking in the pools, they direct you to a hot sauna for 20 minutes. Come out and you’ll given a bowl of green, volcanic algae to smear over yourself. You let the green toxin removing slime dry on your skin followed by a courtyard shower and finishing with a session in the dry sauna.
Separately, a 30 minute shatsu massage can be booked after the spa or later in the day. Go back out and enjoy the public pools where there is a bar serving food and cold drinks.
The hydrotherapy sessions cost 65,000 COP, the massage 46,000 COP and it costs 18,000 COP to get into the aquatic park pools. But one could book a spa session and afterwards grab a book, lounge chair and enjoy the public pools at no extra charge. The spa is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and the pools from 6 a.m. – 9:45 p.m.
What to Bring?
All of the hot springs have changing rooms. Most have lockers without locks.
*bring your own padlock and key.
*Some hot springs require a shower cap. If they do caps are sold onsite.
*Bring a swim suit, hat and sun screen.
*Bring a couple of towels as they are not supplied.
*Bring warm clothes to wear after your soak.
For more information see: The Beautiful Colonial Villages of Boyaca
For more information on the natural volcanic mud baths on Colombia’s Caribbean coast see: Arboletes: Mud Volcano on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast