Hot Spa Trend: Sweating it Out in a Mexican Steam Bath
Mexican hotels are installing traditional temazcals in their spas, where—with help from local shamans—visitors can sweat it all out.
It was a sunny afternoon in the Mexican town of San Juan Cosala, on Lake Chapala, but I was sitting in a dark temazcal, a traditional sweat lodge, at the lavish La Vita Bella Soul Spa Hotel. Katuza, a local shaman, prayed aloud as he poured water over smoldering rocks. He looked exactly like you might picture a shaman would look—huge dark eyes, a long gray beard, and long gray hair. As the temperature climbed, I pressed rosemary and sage to my face to breathe in something other than hot air.
The temazcal—a Nahuatl word that combines temal (bath) and calli (house)—is an ancient healing tradition, used historically by pregnant women and their midwives. In recent years, many Mexicans have rediscovered this ritual: those who can't afford medical care have started going to temazcales for treatment, while the wealthy have built their own, often for entertaining.
Travelers have sought them out as well: La Vita Bella is one of many resorts that have added temazcales (for others, see right). Many were constructed by Katuza, who builds them by hand using stones, clay, and brick. He believes in the ritual as a cure-all for everything from parasites and depression to poor circulation.
After 20 minutes in the hut, I crawled out through the low door into the sunshine. Katuza followed and poured water over my head. Shocked by the cold, I shrieked before sprinting across the grass. (Next to sweating, nothing feels more cathartic than a good scream.) Four rounds of sweating and ice water later, Katuza wrapped me in a sheet and I lay on the grass, my body buzzing. It felt like being wrung out. It felt like sitting by the fireplace after a day of skiing. The euphoria lasted all evening. lavitabella.mx; doubles from $127.