Gary and I love to venture out to the hot springs of Chachimbiro to take in the natural beauty of the surrounding verdant countryside in one of the most healing environments in Ecuador. There’s nothing more therapeutic and restful for mind, body and spirit than a few hours soaking in the healing waters there.
Chachimbiro is a Quechua word meaning “strength,” and that’s just what the potent mineralized waters will impart to your body.
The hot springs are volcanic in origin, possibly arising after the eruption of the 1868 earthquake that caused extreme damage throughout the region. Some of the most healing waters in Ecuador, the chemical composition is high in iron, copper, iodine and other minerals. The water regulates the digestive system and stimulates the cardiovascular and central nervous systems.
The springs can be reached by bus, car or taxi from Cotacachi either by way of Ibarra, a slightly longer route, or through Atuntaqui. Either way, the route takes you through the village of Urcuqui and past Hacienda San Francisco, a nice hosteria near the springs.
Chachimbiro is 17 km from Ibarra. Usually a cab will charge about $30 -$40 for the round trip from Cotacachi to Chachimbiro and a 2-3 hour stay at the hot springs.
Our favorite spa is Arco Iris, a small hot springs operation with a restaurant up top as you enter the property from the road. Arco Iris’s entry fee is $4 per person. No towels are provided, so bring your own. If you are 65 or over, don't forget to ask for the senior citizen's discount.
There’s a long winding staircase partly covered by a flowering archway that descends to the river and spa area. Oops, the owner has remodeled and ripped out the gorgeous canopy of flowering vines. Too bad.
There you’ll find colorfully painted concrete pools of varying temperatures from about 30-48 degrees C. The brave-hearted will take a dip in the icy-cold pool to cool off in between par-boiling in the hotter pools.
At the far end of Arco Iris there are changing rooms, bathrooms and an outdoor shower to clean off before entering the pools. Next to the hottest pool is a large white-tiled sauna usually scented with fresh eucalyptus branches.
I love to soak and take in the far-reaching green landscapes that stretch as far as the eye can see. Very calming and perfect for a few hours’ meditating and communing with nature.
Best to go during the week because it’s less crowded and there is less chance you’ll be subjected to the blasting of eardrum-splitting electronic music so beloved of Ecuadorians. Weekends are popular and bus loads of students can show up.
This changes the atmosphere from quiet to chaotic and amps up the volume of the musical offerings. The owner will sometimes turn the music down if you ask nicely or beg.
Higher up the mountain from Arco Iris is a large Disney-like spa complex. The Complejo de Turismo Ecológico Chachimbiro, managed by Fundacion Codillera, has hot mineral thermal baths, swimming pools, organic gardens, cabins and restaurants.
It comes complete with a giant bright-colored dragon by the pool, a disco and loud music. Fun for the family and children.
Up further behind this spa is the health center, with mud baths, massages, saunas and many therapeutic treatments. They also have some rooms for rent.
Senior citizens get a 50% discount for this spa, but you must ask for it. Again, we advise you to stay away on weekends. It can be hectic then, but peaceful and enjoyable during the week.
Horseback riding can be arranged and there are cable cars (tarabitas) and a zip line at the larger spa. There are also several small hostals, rustic cabins, and food stands up and down the road.