For Mind and Body

Mexico's spas offer a wide range of cutting-edge treatments in luxurious settings

By: Maribeth Mellin

Mexico has been a spa destination ever since media stars began recuperating at Rancho La Puerta in the tiny Baja town of Tecate in 1940. Residents of Mexico City have long escaped to Cuernavaca, seeking pampering and seclusion at several of the area’s well-known spas.

Today, city residents are learning to combine spa escapes with their daily routines. In Mexico City, the Gran Melia Mexico Reforma recently opened the city’s largest hotel spa with a full gym, an enclosed atrium-roofed pool edged with three whirlpools and a comprehensive spa and beauty salon.

Lawyers and politicians from nearby offices stop by to work out in the gym and spa, while tourists recuperate from grueling sightseeing sessions with relaxing massages.

“Here, within the city, you have culture, art and pampering,” said the hotel’s assistant director of marketing, Manuel Montelongo. “We found our guests enjoy the combination.”

Every destination in the country from Baja to Cancun seems to have some sort of spa experience available these days. According to Claudia Najeras, president of the Mexico Spa Association, roughly 50 destination spas have opened in Mexico and more than 150 hotels include spas in their facilities. Some merely turn offices into treatment rooms while others construct free-standing facilities. Treatments using local ingredients and native techniques are all the rage, and spa directors take creative leaps to provide new and unusual services.

Take the “tequila and sage oil” massage at the Apuane Spa at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, for example. Who knew tequila had healing properties? But the massage is a popular treatment at the lavish resort north of Puerto Vallarta.

These upscale spas attract savvy travelers accustomed to being pampered. Acupuncture, crystals and Ayurvedic principles are among the treatments available at Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, where, spa director Carole Sullivan said, clients want to “open their hearts, chakras and minds to a different level of spa experience.”

Spirituality and personal growth are emphasized at many Mexican spas, especially those that include a temazcal experience.

A temazcal is a beehive-shaped sweat lodge similar to those used by Native Americans. Some claim the temazcal originated with the Aztecs, others say it came from the Mayans. Every spa has its own ritual surrounding the sweat bath.

At Ceiba del Mar, Maroma and Ikal del Mar, three top spas in the Riviera Maya south of Cancun, a conch shell blows to announce the beginning of the ceremony. The pungent scent of copal incense drifts through sea breezes as the leader bows in the cardinal directions while chanting. Inside the sweat bath, the leader asks each participant to meditate silently; sometimes the sound of drums fills the air.

“The temazcal is like the womb of mother earth,” said Margarita Roca, who conducts the temazcal ritual at several spas around Cancun. “It’s all about energy forces, expanded consciousness and unconditional love.”

Serious spa clients check in for a week or more at Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso, where the 22,000-square-foot Thalassotherapy spa has been certified by the International College of Thalassotherapy in France. The technique uses heated seawater to encourage an exchange of minerals and toxins. Its healing properties are well known in Europe, and it’s catching on in Mexico. During the Underwater Affusion Massage, the client’s body is suspended in water while the therapist performs the massage; the balneotherapy treatment takes place in a multi-jet bath.

Unfortunately, the abundance of spas in Mexico has created a shortage in qualified therapists. The most expensive places tend to have first dibs on the best masseuses, manicurists and estheticians.

The requirements governing therapists are far less stringent in Mexico than in the United States. The Mexico Spa Association is working with the Secretary of Tourism to establish standards for spas. “We look at where they are educated and where they have worked,” said Montelongo.

Regardless of the lack of qualified therapists, the spa movement in Mexico shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.