Heeding the advice of VT-member 'canuckmike', I took my footwear off when I entered the depths of the thermal spa! The warm 35 degC (94 degF) water felt great as it washed over my feet, even though the water temperature has reportedly dropped since the early years of the 1900s.
There are all sorts of baths and small rooms located in the spa, all of which have the strange yellowish appearance as the sulphur leaches out of the water. During the days of the luxury hotel, each of its guest rooms had these soothing waters piped in!
While we were there, the spa was a busy place as various tourists explored the many doors and passageways beneath the rocks and stone bridge towering overhead.
This 70-foot long sulphur rock bridge spans the fast-flowing and muddy Cuevas River, providing the only access to the old mineral water spa. One theory has it that, during glacial times, the sulphur-rich waters flowing from the hot-springs here deposited their sediments atop an ice base. With the eventual melting of the glacier, the sulpher rock bridge was left suspended 69-feet above the river.
Although the bridge was used as a path across the river by Inca travellers between Chile and Peru in pre-Columbian times, there is a legend as to how the formation was named: "Many years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, a great Inca chief had a sick son suffering from paralysis. After trying many cures without result, he heard that in the south there was a place where healing water could put an end to his disgrace. Without delay, he prepared a group of his best warriors and left for the high peaks. When he arrived, he observed with amazement the famous waters that came out of the earth. But, in front of it was a torrential river, blocking access. His warriors, to make the chief's dream come true, did not hesitate to embrace one another, building a human bridge that reached the other side. The Inca chief walked on their backs with his son and reached the thermal source where he found the cure he had been seeking. When he looked back to thank his warriors, they had been turned into stone, creating the famous 'Puente del Inca'."
En 1925 se construyó el Hotel Puente del Inca que representó para su época un verdadero lujo al que asistían las personalidades más importantes. Cada una de las habitaciones poseía su propio baño termal. La grieta de agua se encuentra aún hoy detrás de la amarillenta construcción, que debe su color a la gran cantidad de azufre que recibe. Luego de sobrevivir a varias amenazas climáticas, que previamente habían dejado inhabilitado el servicio del tren trasandino, el hotel fue destruido por el devastador alud de 1965. Un verdadero milagro fue que la fuerza de la naturaleza no pudo en esa ocasión arrasar la pequeña capilla colonial que aparece en donde provisoriamente se instaló el personal del hotel y los visitantes. Actualmente el hotel permanece abandonado, pero el lugar no deja de ser meta de los visitantes atraídos por sus colores. La terma que motivó la creación de la mayor parte de esta historia continúa hoy ofreciendo agua a la superficie, aunque su temperatura es menor que a principios de siglo.
Just above the Puente del Inca (aprox 30 m) there are some small thermal pools. They were very warm and provided me with a soothing spa. The frozen peaks around you really puts your existence into perspective.
The water temperature was about 20 degrees C. The air temperature was about 9 degrees C.
The water was clean and the sulphuric smell was minimal.
This view was taken from beneath the natural bridge, looking back up the wet slope to where the mineral baths are located. Sue and our personal guide, Andrea, must be having an animated discussion about the curative effects of these amazing waters! (actually, Sue later told me that she was admiring Andrea's broach!)
It was very interesting to actually see what the old thermal bathing rooms themselves looked like. These were arranged in a row behind the big windows of the spa, with a view out toward the river. There were also dark grottos behind that our tour did not really allow enough time for exploration - perhaps fortunately!
The bright orange-yellow colour of the rocks was amazing. This photo shows the path leading from the thermal baths to beneath the rock bridge itself. In addition to the deep water channel seen here, shallow water is flowing on the surface in many areas as well, leaving it's sulphur mark behind. It was fun to walk barefoot on this stuff and it turned out not to be slippery at all.
The market stalls above and on the other side of the river have many curios for sale, including objects like shoes, bottles, etc. that have been left in the caves for a month or two. On removal, they have turned into this same colour from the effects of the sulphur deposits. Humm, maybe that is why my feet now have this strange orange look to them!
The yellow/orange color and smooth aspect of the stones is due to the sulfur water of the spring that leave a special layer on everything on which it flows!
There is nothing more delightful to have his feet in the warm water in front of such a wonderful scenery!