By some estimates, there are up to 400 thermal sources in Peru — which means, hot springs and thermal baths are peppered across the country! So whether you want a therapeutic soak or a chance to chill with pals, here’s a rough guide to get you started.
By Robert Brodey | Outpost Travel Media
In my books, soaking in a hot tub has got to be one of the “Top 10 Most Relaxing Things in the World to Do” (along with napping in a hammock!). But perhaps nature can top that with its percolating hot springs. After all, our planet has the best heater in town, in the form of a molten core of iron goo.
Hot springs form when water seeps down through the earth and is then heated by magma that has, under pressure, pushed up closer to the surface — often because of volcanic-type activity. The heated water then travels back up along cracks and gaps in the earth to the surface, where, if conditions are right, we can enjoy a hot soak in mineral-rich waters.
One more geological nugget: Along the western side of South America lies the Peru-Chile Trench, where the offshore Nazca Plate is slowly pushing east under the South American Plate — moving at a rate of about 3.7 centimetres per year. The subduction of the Nazca Plate, in fact, created the volcanic (and spectacular) Andes Mountains, which means more spots where hot water bubbles to the surface.
All this to say, Peru has lots of hot springs peppered throughout the country (by some estimates, 400 thermal sources)! So, whether you’re looking for a therapeutic soak or a chance to chill and socialize with pals, Peru has a hotspot for you.
In South-Central Peru | Cusco/Sacred Valley region
The Thermal Baths of Cconoc (between Cusco and Abancay)
Where the River Apurimac flows, just off Route 3S in Peru, you’ll find a picturesque series of pools (about a 2.5-hour drive from Cusco). With gorgeous vegetation all around and the soaring Andes always in sight, this seems an ideal spot to take a breather and plunge into hot mineral-rich waters.
The grounds are well managed, and you can even cool off in the Apurimac River. If you’re taking public transit, beware that you’ll be walking the last 3 kilometres down a dirt road to Cconoc. There is also a bar and restaurant onsite, so you can rehydrate and refuel after a vigorous bout of relaxation.
Thermal Baths of Colcaymayo | Outside Santa Teresa (near Machu Picchu)
I’m not exaggerating when I say Colcaymayo pretty much shows up on every Top 10 list for hot springs in Peru. It’s quite close to Machu Picchu, making it a natural stopping point to chillax. Although it may not be able to compete with the proximity of the thermal baths of Aguas Calientes, which are directly below Machu Picchu, Colcaymayo offers exquisite views, which makes the extra distance worth travelling.
The springs are located about 5 kilometres outside of the town of Santa Teresa, and can be accessed on foot, bus or by taxi. If you are travelling with a tent, consider camping spring-side!
Thermal Waters of Chimur por Amparaes (Challabamba-Cusco)
This is a beautiful yet simple complex in a remarkable outdoor setting: the Mapacho River Valley, just a few hours’ drive north of the Sacred Valley. No doubt, the region surrounding the Sacred Valley has some very popular hot springs, including the thermal baths in the Lares Valley, which have well-developed infrastructure.
However, if you want to avoid the crowds and don’t mind travelling further afield, Chimur may just be the spot for you. Of course, the price you pay for going off-the-beaten path is that you may need to hire a taxi to take you there and back.
In Central Peru
Thermal Springs of Churín La Meseta
Away from the bustle of Peru’s urban centres, you’ll find the town of Churín, a five-hour drive northeast of Lima along Highway 18. Churín has a full complement of hotels and restaurants to turn your visit into a weekend stay. The complex itself has pools and private rooms, as well as nearby waterfalls. This is mountain country, so enjoy the views and that clean alpine air!
Chancos Thermal Baths (by Route AN-770)
Along the western edge of the Parque Nacional Huascarán, about 30 kilometres from Huaraz and on the edge of the River Vicos, you’ll find Chancos, a thermal spring with 15 pools. This is a popular spot with locals, and despite its somewhat industrial-looking entrance, the warm waters will beckon you. There are plenty of amenities surrounding the spot, including restaurants and a hotel, so relax and stay a while.
In Southwest Peru | Thermal Baths of Putina, Ticaco
The hot springs of Putina are perhaps not the easiest ones to access, but if you happen to find yourself in southern Peru, a stone’s throw from the Bolivian border, you may want to consider a visit.
Located a kilometre or so from the town of Ticaco, the pools can be accessed by a red and yellow footbridge, with great views of the majestic Andean mountain-scape. From the larger urban centre of Tacna, you can catch a bus to Tarata (2 hours via Highway 38), and then follow that up with a short bus or taxi ride to Ticaco, where the healing waters await.
In Northern Peru
Paucar Yacu (outside Tarapoto)
As you head east across the high Andes, you drop down into lush semi-tropical and tropical forests. The hot springs of Paucar Yacu are located in such a place, in a verdant Amazonian cloud-forest near the city of Tarapoto (between there and the town of Sauce). This is definitely a more rustic and remoter option for a soak, but it looks well worth the visit, particularly if you find yourself already travelling around Peru’s St. Martín Department. Oh, and there’s also an option to take a nice mud bath. ♦