My very favorite excursion outside of San Miguel is a trip to La Gruta Hot Springs, a place much more beautiful than the Spanish translation of the English title, “The Grotto.”
Just 15 minutes outside of San Miguel are several “balnearios,” or spas built around natural springs. La Gruta was recommended on our first visit to San Miguel, and we have made our pilgrimage at least once during every visit since.
I think the best way for me to describe La Gruta is to tell you about my experience firsthand as it unfolds before me (at which time you will see, I have far too unnatural of a love for this place! ha ha!)
The grounds leading down to the heated pools are beautiful landscaped, with lots of “green space” for picnicking beneath the shade trees. As I follow the groomed path down to the springs, it feels several degrees cooler here than in the city of San Miguel, so the early morning sun peeking through the trees is welcome warmth.
As I descend down from the parking lot, leaving behind the noise of the highway, I hear only the serene sounds of the birds chirping as the first level of buildings appear; the stone structures of the banos and “vestadores,” or changing rooms. I slip into one of the cool rooms made from small round stones stacked floor to ceiling to change into my swimsuit and sarong.
Next, I follow the curved sidewalk down to the lower level, as the first of the crystal blue pools of varying temperatures comes into view. There are nice, padded lounge chairs around the perimeter, so I drop my things, spread my towel, and head straight for the clear, warm water. Being over 6,000 feet in elevation here, the air feels thin and crisp. The light breeze causes immediate cooling as the water evaporates from my skin.
Now acclimated to the cooler of the pools, I step across under the stone archway and slip into the warmer, deeper pool. Outfitted with little underwater seats, this is typically where most people congregate for conversation. Many a favorite restaurant experience or tales of travels has been shared over margaritas in this warm soaking pool.
In the far back corner of the pool is an entrance to a chest-deep water filled stone tunnel that leads to the source of the hot water. Although it can separate the claustrophobic from the calm fairly quickly, it is one of my favorite parts of the La Gruta experience. Having been a cave diver during my younger years, it brings back memories of flowing through the Florida aquifer, rolling over on my back, watching my scuba bubbles dance in the light of the clear blue water across the ceiling of the aquifer’s “Peanut Tunnel.”
The tunnel leads to the namesake for La Gruta, “the grotto,” which is the source of the water from the hot springs. Inside this large, dome-shaped “bovada” structure, it is steamy warm with shafts of light beaming through the small glass hammam-style windows overhead. On schedule, the steaming hot water comes gushing out of a spout on the wall, just the right temperature and height of a “shower massage on steroids.” One by one, we bathers line up around the perimeter of the room to await our turn to be pummeled by the gushing water spout. I stand underneath the man-made waterfall, allowing it to massage my back, neck, and shoulders for as long as my conscience will allow, then slither off in total relaxation to soak in line and await my next turn.
All of this stimulation can lead to quite an appetite, so my I always enjoy the homemade guacamole and chicken flautas served poolside, chased down with yet another margarita. There is only one thing that could relax me more, and that is the nice massage coming up.
La Gruta has expanded since we were there last, with an additional lap pool for swimming. Massages used to take place in a thatched hut behind walls made from sheets, but they have upgraded to a massage building complete with incense, candles, and zen-like CDs playing. It is nice, but I rather enjoyed the novelty of the old open-air option.
The time to depart comes all too soon, as the sun drops low in the sky and a chill permeates the desert-dry air. But I bask in my La Gruta glow a little longer, hoping to hold on to the memories until I can return once again…