Whilst both are great, they are very different offerings. We love being able to choose the experience that best resonates with us each time we want a relaxing soak.
Hopefully, you'll also be able to use this guide to decide which hot spring is best for when you next spoil yourself. Or, why not plan to do both and decide for yourself... All in the pursuit of scientific research of course!
Got your towels ready? Great, let's dive in.
|Piedra de Agua||Pumamaqui|
|Where||20 mins from Cuenca (Baños)||50 mins from Cuenca (Soldados)|
|Price||$12/p for large pool only|
$35/p for Spa Circuit
|Towels included?||Yes - for Spa Circuit & above packages only.||No. Bring your own or buy one there.|
|Transport Cost||Approx $7 for a taxi (one-way)||$15 private driver (one way - arranged via Pumamaqui)|
|Kid friendly?||Partial. Kids restricted to main pool only.||Yes|
|Food & Drinks?||Extensive selection including main meals and alcohol. Additional cost.||Light meal included in price. No alcohol (or BYO).|
|Massages?||Yes. Starting at $25 for 25 mins||No|
|Session length||2 hours||2.5 hours|
|How to book||Purchase via Website. Book via phone (+593 7 289 2496)||Via Facebook or phone (+593 7 404 5561)|
Location is an important factor for us when deciding between these two hot springs.
Piedra de Agua is very conveniently located about 20 mins away from Cuenca. It's in a small suburb aptly called Baños (baths in Spanish). But, don't confuse it with the tourist mecca Baños de Santa Agua.
The hot springs are in a local residential setting and can be a little confusing to find for your first time. But, there are numerous signs that will help guide you.
Taxis can be found easily in Cuenca and they are very affordable. The fare from Cuenca's historical district will set you back between $5-$8 (it's slightly more expensive at night too). The professional front of house staff at Piedra de Agua will happily order a taxi for your return trip.
There's really not that much else for tourists to see or do in Baños, so it's best for a quick (or long) soak, massage, and maybe something to eat or drink before heading back to Cuenca.
Piedra de Agua's location is best for: A quick, convenient hot spring session. Tourists can fit this in with another 2 or 3 Cuenca based activities the same day.
Pumamaqui offers a very different experience. They have invested their efforts into being as close to nature as possible. And, it just works.
They are located right on the Yanuncay river and have direct access to it. This is ideal if you're into cold plunge pools as you can easily swap between the hot springs and the cold river water. A partially see-through fence separates the hot springs from the river.
The biggest highlight for me is the gorgeous mountains that surround the hot springs. Wherever you look there's more nature staring back at you. There are only farms and national parks in the area.
You'll come across many beautiful Polylepis trees surrounding the hot springs. This is generally a good sign that the owners have let nature take its course as these trees are notoriously slow to grow - ie half an inch in diameter every 100 years!
It does take more time to get there with a 50-minute drive each way. Your two main routes to get there are via Banos or along the Yanuncay river. Our strong recommendation is to take the river route as it's beautiful. Directions are dead simple - drive past the fancy Cuenca Tenis y Gold Club and keep on going until you see the large wooden Pumamaqui sign before the small community of Soldados.
If you need transport, then it's best to contact Pumamaqui directly as they can arrange a reliable driver for $15 each way. You can also just grab a taxi, but due to its more remote nature, they may not be willing or know exactly how to get there.
Oh, and did you know that the famous Cajas National Park is just another 10 minutes up the road? We didn't before we visited. This is an alternative entrance to the one that you may have seen if you've driven between Cuenca and Guayaquil. Talk about a dream combo: hiking the Cajas all day and then popping down the road for a sunset hot spring session. Yes please!
Pumamaqui's location is best for: Day trips filled with nature and topped off with a satisfying hot spring session.
Did you know that the same underground volcanic crack supplies the heat for both the hot springs of Piedra de Agua & Pumamaqui?
So, whilst I'm not a geologist, it would make sense that the chemical composition of the water in both hot springs is quite similar. Perhaps I'll dig deeper into the chemical properties of each water source when I next visit.
But, there are significant differences in how the pools are constructed and the number of pools at each hot spring.
There are two main access levels that visitors to Piedra de Agua use the most:
Allows you to use just the main large pool. This pool is rectangular and looks like a standard swimming pool. It's a little underwhelming visually, but it does have sections with different temperatures. This is the only pool that kids under 12 can access. You can also access the sauna (terco), showers and changing rooms. There is a 2-hour time limit for completing your visit.
The Spa Circuit also gives you access to the main large pool, the Japanese pool, 2 small mud baths & 2 plunge pools inside a cave (1 hot & 1 cold). There is a 2-hour time limit for completing the Spa Circuit and relaxing in the other pools.
The Japanese pool is child-free, which can be a blessing and a curse. We'd like to be able to relax with the kids in the Japanese pool, but we also appreciate some alone time.
The Japanese pool is our recommendation for relaxing with a cocktail and some snacks. They bring out a little floating boat which holds drinks very well.
The 2 mud baths are a little hit and miss for us. We really like being able to generously apply mud to our bodies, but the downside is that this mud is all washed into the baths. The mud isn't very well filtered out, so you can be left bathing in very silty water that doesn't feel particularly hygienic. This can be especially noticeable towards the end of a busy day - we like to visit at night. Your time in these baths will be monitored and you'll be asked to move on when your time is up.
The 2 internal plunge pools provide a great contrast to the outdoor pools. The little caves add a romantic, almost eerie atmosphere. One of these pools is hot, whilst the other is cold. You're encouraged to swap between the two. This is also timed and you'll be asked to move on during busy periods.
Overall, the pools are well constructed, albeit some are a little plain. Most of the time all the facilities are in good working order, which isn't exactly the norm for Ecuador.
We've been about 8 times now, and only experienced one issue where the electricity cut out a couple of hours before closing. This meant the pumps etc didn't work and the water quickly became cold. The staff handled it as best they could and were apologetic, but stopped short of offering any sort of compensation. Given they pitch themselves towards the high-end of the market, we were a little disappointed that they didn't offer a free pass or even a 2 for 1 deal etc to compensate.
In addition to the Spa Circuit, they also offer a private Underground Thermal Tour for $60. This is their premium offering. Honestly, the Underground Thermal Tour is very similar to the Spa Circuit, but it's private and set in a slightly more interesting cave. You're basically paying close to double for privacy.
Piedra de Agua pools are best for: Adults that value a lot of variety.
Pumamaqui also has two large pools. They are slightly different temperatures - one is 38°C (100°F) and the other is 36°C (97°F).
Access to the pools is based on 3 regular timeslots, each of 2.5 hours each:
They also offer a sunset timeslot - but you'll need to request it. This is what we'll be doing when we go for our next visit.
The facilities are cleaned between each timeslot, ensuring that each new group has the same experience as those that came earlier. This is a significant difference from how Piedra de Agua operates.
Another difference is how each approaches maximum occupancy. Pumamaqui has a two-family maximum rule (approx 8-10 people total). During COVID this has been reduced to 1 family at a time. The result of this is that you'll be sharing the facilities with a maximum of one other family.
This is very different to Piedra de Agua, where one of the most constant visitor gripes is that it can get too busy. Indeed, there have been several times where we've visited the Spa Circuit and it's full to the point where you're constantly waiting for others to move on so you can proceed. This does take away a little bit from the relaxing vibe we've come for.
The two pools at Pumamaqui have a more natural feel to them. They have been constructed in a way that helps them blend into the existing environment. Instead of a concrete floor, they've opted to leave it with natural pebbles. For me, this helps ground me with nature and I'm glad they've kept it this way.
There is no specific mud bath, but they do provide mud for you to cover your body as you see fit. The difference here is that you'll wash it off in either the outside shower or the river. We opted for the river and this was a very refreshing experience.
We actually prefer the mud at Pumamaqui because it's finer. The mud at Piedra de Agua has quite a few larger stones in it, which can turn what would be a relaxing skin foliation into a harsh scrub.
Pumamaqui is a much smaller, intimate setting. The drawback of this is that there is not really room to include any more pools. We'd have loved it if there were maybe one or two more pools to provide some additional temperature variations.
Pumamaqui's pools are best for: Families and groups that value privacy and connection with nature.
We like a good deal just like the next family. We consider both of these hot springs to offer good value in their own way.
Piedra de Agua offers numerous services, including:
View their full list of services.
And, if you happen to live in Cuenca and just can't get enough of Piedra de Agua, then you can also purchase a yearly membership for $670 that gives you:
Food and drink prices:
The food and drink menu offers a good selection of both local and western-friendly dishes. We've found the quality of the food to be very good, albeit a little more expensive than similar quality restaurants in Cuenca.
Their restaurant, Libélula (Spanish for dragonfly), has a very relaxing atmosphere and they are normally willing to turn on their large space heaters if it gets cold.
Piedra de Agua regularly offers some quality promotions based on the day of the week such as:
Check their website for current promotions. These specific promotions may not be available when you want to book.
By far the most popular promotion appears to be their 2 for 1 deal on the Spa Circuit. This brings the Spa Circuit price to $17.50 each. We've used this promotion several times on Friday night and we think this is particularly good value - especially if you add in a few 2 for 1 cocktails! It's a great way to wind down after a busy week and sets the mood for the weekend.
Our biggest gripe with the Friday evening promotion is that sometimes it can get very busy. If this bothers you, then we suggest trying for another day (ie Monday).
Piedra de Agua's prices are best suited for: The occasional indulgence that can be turned into a regular experience by keeping an eye on promotions.
Pumamaqui's pricing structure is very straight forward:
This includes a light lunch such as a hearty sandwich & juice. Note - the owners are vegan, so you're very unlikely to receive meat products in your meal. We received a large salad sandwich complete with avocado and a fried egg. It was very tasty.
Obviously, this differs considerably from the restaurant offering of Piedra de Agua. It's a simple, yet rewarding food option.
Pumamaqui does not offer alcohol for sale and does not allow you to bring your own. Save the booze for when you're back in Cuenca.
To secure your booking, you'll need to pay a 50% deposit. This is largely to discourage no-shows which makes sense as they only open the hot spring if there are bookings. Paying staff to clean and open the hot springs only to have the booking cancel last minute is not viable for this type of business and we respect that.
The 2.5-hour time limit for completing your visit compares well against the 2 hour limit offered by Piedra de Agua.
Now, Pumamaqui is not as strong with their promotions, but I'd argue that their regular prices already offer considerable value. Particularly when you factor in how private these springs are.
Pumamaqui's prices are best suited for: Affordable, regular & private hot spring experiences.
We're generally happy with the service provided by both hot springs. However, given their businesses are very different, it's hard to really compare the two. But, here we go...
Think of Piedra de Agua as the large incumbent that has gone through a lot of growing pains to get where they are. They rely on a lot of staff each mastering their defined duties. There is no doubt that the staff at Piedra de Agua are well trained in their respective processes. This is not something that you can take for granted in Ecuador and we really appreciate the efficiency when you stick to the script.
It's when a process needs to be amended on the fly that issues may arise. For example, we received an email from Piedra de Agua that included some juicy promotions. We tried to book it two days later but were told that the promotion was only valid for the day the email was sent. However, there was no fine print such as 'must book today'. The staff acknowledged this but said even though they wanted to give us the promotion price, they couldn't override their system to re-issue the promotion.
This was a little disappointing, but we've also come to expect these types of rigid processes throughout Ecuador.
The service at Piedra de Agua is best suited for: The majority of visits that go according to plan.
Pumamaqui is a very different type of business. Think of them as the lean challenger brand. It's a small operation that doesn't need many staff to operate well. You aren't going to get bogged down by any red-tape or experience issues when needing to go outside the process.
You'll mainly be dealing with someone with significant input into the business such as an owner. This has considerable benefits such as being able to accommodate meaningful requests. For example, we wanted to access a roof to take some photos of the mountains and river. This is normally off-limits, but because we were dealing directly with an owner, he was able to make a quick decision and allow us access - provided we took some basic safety precautions.
Yes, it would be great to have the option to indulge in additional services like massages if they had the personnel and offered this service. But, more staff would also potentially intrude on one of the main reasons we enjoy Pumamaqui - privacy.
So, we're very comfortable supporting a small, lean business that values our privacy.
The service at Pumamaqui is best suited for: Intimate visits that allow for meaningful interaction with the business.
It's tempting to try and come up with an overall winner, but I simply cannot. The offerings are very different and complement each other well. Sure, they are both essentially offering bathing in hot springs from the same volcanic heat source. But, how they do so is very different.
I don't see them as competitors. I see them both as adding considerable value to Cuenca's plight as a tourist destination and I truly want them both to continue to thrive.
Ultimately, which hot spring we decide to go to will depend on our mood.
If we want to make a day trip filled with nature and privacy, then we'll head to Pumamaqui.
If we want a quick, convenient soak or perhaps some indulging massages, then we'll choose Piedra de Agua.
Now, I'm off to gather our swimsuits ready for our next Cuenca hot spring adventure.