One of my favorite things to do after a long hard hike or a cold mountain summit, is to go and soak in a hot springs. Cotahuasi Canyon is located in a volcanic region, and while none of the volcanoes are active now, there are many hot springs in the area. The most famous one is in Luicho, which is in an enclosed area. It is right alongside of the Cotahuasi River, but the windows are so stained and dirty that you can't see outside.
The first hot springs I went to on my first trip to Cotahuasi is called El Niño (the young boy), and that has always been my standard to measure the other hot springs by. It is under some bamboo trees, right along side the Cotahuasi River, below the village of Velinga, in an area called Mayo. There is a small pool made of rocks, very natural, beautiful and free. My kind of place! Since then I have found a few other free outside pools, Ccosla by Pampamarca, on the
Pampamarca River, one between Huillac and Tarhuara, by the Cotahuasi River, and one above
Cahuana by a small stream.
This report will focus on what I think are the best ones, as well as a couple of the other popular ones.
When I first went to El Niño, it was a small pool, only big enough for about four to six people, depending on how cozy they liked to be. It has since been enlarged to about 10x15 feet, with rock walls on two sides. The water enters in one corner, with a small fall to the pool. Unfortunately, there is a rock in the way so you can't sit in the fall and get a massage. The bamboo has also been cut back, so there is no shade on a sunny day (it is starting to grow back). The water is almost body temperature, so you can stay in it for as long as you want, but it is almost too cool on a cold night. Fortunately it is located down in the warmer part of the canyon, so it rarely gets too cold except late at night. The hot springs is at about 5,900 feet.
There is a nice patch of sand along the river, which makes a good camping spot, just a few minutes before the pool. During the rainy season, the river is too high to camp there, but there is a bare field a few minutes after the springs where you can camp. There are some flat stones on one edge of the pool that make a good place to cook. I usually stand in the water while cooking, and then sit down to enjoy the meal while in the pool as well. The water coming into the pool is very clear, with very little if any sulfur smell, but the bottom of the pool is dirt so it gets stirred up with any walking around and makes the water all cloudy. Note: I was just at the hot springs (June '09) and the sediment seems to have flushed out, the bottom is sandy and the water is clear!
The pool is right along the main trail to Quechualla, so there are often people going past with horses and burros, especially early in the morning and in the late afternoon. It is the local bath for people from Velinga, so occasionally there will be people that come down from there, usually in the late afternoons.
The biggest problem with El Niño is that it is a long ways from Cotahuasi. There is combi service to Sipia bridge (takes about an hour), which now runs twice a day, but from there it is a four to five hour walk to the hot springs. Add another hour and a half to two hours if you walk from Cotahuasi. A nice side trip on the way back is to visit Sipia Falls. You can't see the falls from the trail, but you can see where the water drops out of sight at the top end. There is a sandy hill that you can slide down above this to the normal trail. For the return, stay on the trail from the falls until it joins with the main trail, near a large boulder with a yellow arrow showing the route to the falls. The main road going through Cotahuasi continues down to Sipia bridge. They are working on the road past there, but it isn't connected to the bridge yet.
I had heard about Ccosla shortly after arriving in Cotahuasi, but didn't get a chance to go there for a couple of years. This has since become my favorite hot springs in the area. It is located along the Pampamarca River above the village of Pampamarca and just below the small village of Siccincaya. The locals in Pampamarca say it only takes them 30 minutes to get to the springs, but it usually takes me about 45 minutes, longer if I am taking someone who has never been there before. There are two ways to get there from Pampamarca. One way is to take the higher trail that goes to Siccincaya, which is longer and has a lot more elevation gain. Hardly anyone uses that trail to go to the springs, although I did do it once just to check it out.
The normal way is to take the trail down from the Pampamarca towards the bridge to Santa Rosa, a small village on the other side of the river. After going down to just above a flat area of fields and pastures, the trail to Santa Rosa turns to the right and goes through the fields to the edge of the canyon and then down to the river. There is a small trail that continues straight ahead, this is the trail to Ccosla. It will soon come to a small irrigation canal that runs right alongside a steep cliff on the side of the mountain. At first it looks difficult and dangerous, but after doing it a time or two, it doesn't seem that bad. There are good hand holds on the rocks and the rocks on the edge of the canal aren't slippery, so your feet get good grip. I have taken many people through there, including those who are afraid of heights, and all have done fine, including being willing to come back the same way. If you are wearing a backpack, just be careful that you keep your back away from the rocks. If you turn your back to the rocks, your pack will try to push you over the edge, so remember to hug the mountain and you will be fine.
The hot water at Ccosla comes out of a cave in the side of the mountain into a small rock pool. You can enter the cave but it gets too small to go in more than about 20 feet. The water here is also about body temperature, although it does seem to be a little cooler in the winter time. It has a slight amount of what looks like a rust sediment but other than that it is clean and doesn't have any smell. Running from the first pool to a larger concrete swimming pool, is a two to three foot wide rocky channel, about 10 feet long. Because the flow of water is quite large, this makes a great place to lie down and it feels like you are in a jacuzzi. The problem is that the rocks are rough and it is hard to find a comfortable position. There are no trees for shade but the sun goes behind the mountain early in the afternoons and it is very pleasant here then, until near sunset when it will get cold immediately.
Below this channel is a small fall where the water drops into a corner of the lower pool. Depending on the water level in the lower pool (the drop is sometimes only about 12 inches when the outlet is dammed up to make the pool deeper), this makes a great massage. If the fall is about two feet, the force of the water is so great that it is hard to stay in the flow of water, but what a great massage! There are rocks to put your feet on and rock hand holds in the corner, you need all the help you can get to stay in place.
The lower pool has a rocky dirt bottom so it is hard to walk in, and the water is cloudy most of the time. There is also a roofless changing room at the end of an unused third pool. Alongside of the pools, is a narrow grassy area, which is a nice place to pitch a tent if you want to spend the night, although you might have to clean up some cow manure. The springs are frequently used by the residents of Pampamarca, so there are often a few young kids or a family there, especially in the late afternoon. The return trip is mostly uphill, so be sure to allow time to get past the canal section before dark, it you don't have a headlight.
A nice side trip on the way down is to go to Uskuni Falls, which is about 10 minutes off the main trail. From the village, the main trail follows a rock fence for about 10 or 15 minutes. Where the trail makes a left turn and goes down steeply, there is a small trail that climbs up onto a ridge, this goes to a lookout above the waterfall. Follow the same path to return, and then continue down the main trail to the hot springs. There used to be a sign at this junction, but unfortunately someone removed it.
There is still a sign for the hot springs at the edge of the village, but not in the village itself. When you enter the village on the road, turn left and pass in front of the medical center. The trail continues through an archway and then down towards the river. Just before the edge of town (and the hot springs sign), is a trail going up to the left, this is the alternate high route.
There is twice daily combi service to Pampamarca from Cotahuasi, which takes almost two hours, or you can walk it in about four to five hours. Pampamarca is up at 11,150 feet so be sure to take warm clothes with you, it gets cold after the sun goes behind the mountain, which happens a couple of hours before sunset. Another interesting side trip is to hike up to Huito Rock Forest, but this is a 3 – 4 hour round trip. There are erosion formed rock formations, a couple of old tombs, and a good chance to see condors. The trail is off the main road, just
before the rock walls, before you enter Pampamarca.
On one of my exploratory trips, trying to find a route to Nevado Firura, I hike up through Cahuana. At the top of the trail leading to the village, there was an informational sign telling about the tourist attractions in the area. It mentioned a hot springs, which I hadn't heard about before. It turned out that the hot springs was on route I was planning on taking so I was able to stop there.
Cahuana is a small village up above Alca. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to Alca, one hour if you are going by combi. Just before you arrive in Alca, there is an arch entryway into the village. There is a small stream right before that that goes up to the right, towards the mountains. There is a small trail that follows the stream, until you reach a small footbridge. Just a few minutes after the entry arch on the main road, is a dirt road that goes to the right, this road will also take you to the footbridge. The road continues and soon turns left and goes up to the village of Ayahuasi, another small village above Alca, across a canyon from Cahuana. Turn right at the bridge and follow the steep footpath up the side of the cliff, to the plain above, which takes 30 minutes to an hour. The informational sign used to be here, but it may not be there anymore. It was gone for awhile, then there was another one, but I'm not sure if there is one there currently.
Soon you will come to a fork in the trail, either way will take you to the village, although I usually take the left, or upper trail. After reaching the village, which takes about 15 minutes, take the wide main trail that goes up towards the mountain. This is also known as the trail to Ayahuasi. From here to the springs takes one to two hours, depending on your conditioning. It is a steep rocky trail, which upon reaching a canal, will turn to the left. You will be able to see Ayahuasi above and on the other side of the canyon, as well as all the terraced fields surrounding the village. It is a commonly used trail so you will probably meet lots of people, taking their animals to and from the pastures, or walking to their fields.
The trail climbs up and around the left of the edge of the mountain, with beautiful views off to the left. Soon the trial will drop down into the canyon, where there will be a small concrete bridge crossing the stream, and then the trail will start climbing up again. In just a minute, there will be a junction – to the left goes to Ayahuasi, the hot springs is up to the right. It is possible to make it from here in 30 minutes, but it usually takes closer to an hour if you aren't used to the altitude. The trail goes up
on the left side of a pretty canyon, through pastures and a few small fields, and then crosses the stream on a small log bridge. Here it again climbs steeply through some whitish rocks, following high above on the right side of the stream. Farther up there will be some fields down by the stream and here the trail goes to the right around a hill. You will soon see a small thatched roof house on the other side of the stream, the hot springs is a small concrete pool just below the trail here.
The water often has a bit of algae in it, and is very hot, but it is a peaceful setting with very few people around. I usually divert the hot water so it goes into the river rather than the pool, and then stir up the water well, as the water near the bottom is often a little cooler. When you get too hot, head down to the river and take a quick dip in the very cold water there and you will be ready for another hot soak. The area around the pool is not very flat, but there is a grassy area on one end where I have set up my tent to spend the night. There is no shade and due to the very hot water, a cold winter evening is the best time to enjoy this hot springs. It is at about 10,200 feet elevation, and the water temperature is about 108º F.
There is hourly combi service from Cotahuasi to Alca, which leave on the hour from Cotahuasi, and on the half hour for the return from Alca. I think the last one leaves Alca about 5:30 pm for the return to Cotahuasi. If you have your own vehicle, there is a road that goes from the entrance of Luicho Hot Springs, up to the village of Cahuana, but there isn't any scheduled combi service. An interesting side trip from Cahuana is to hike up to the pre-Inca Calla ruins, these are about 45 minutes above the village, to the right as you are going up the main trail to the springs.
Tarhuara is a small village on the edge of the canyon, a few miles past Alca. The hot springs is below the village, right alongside of the Cotahuasi River. One way to reach it is to continue on the road through Alca and up past the road to Huillac. The road will then start to go down again, reaching the lowest point as it makes a left curve along the river. Across the river you can see the village of Tarhuara, and a footbridge crossing the river. The springs is just on the road side of the river, with a steep trail going down to it. The other way it to pass through Alca until reaching the new vehicle bridge just out of town, turn left here and then right after crossing the bridge. This road will take you to Antabamba, where the road ends. There is a trail from there to Tarhuara, and then a trail down to the springs.
Just after leaving Antabamba, the trail crosses a small stream, which has warm water in it. If you follow the stream up a few minutes, you will reach some very small, very hot pools. This is not the Tarhuara hot springs however, so continue on the trail until you reach the village of Tarhuara, and follow the trail down to the river, crossing on a fairly new footbridge.
I haven't been here recently, but the pool used to have quite a bit of algae in it, and if I didn't rinse off in the river, I felt itchy after being out of the water for awhile. There is daily combi service to Puica, which is past the springs on the main road, but none going to Antabamba.
I have already mentioned Luicho, so won't add much more here. It is just off the main road from Cotahuasi to Alca, about 10 minutes before reaching Alca. The road crosses a small stream, – there should be a sign showing that the road to the right goes to Cahuana. There is an adobe brick building just past that, the road to Luicho goes left right across from the building. As of May, 2009, this road was mostly blocked by a rock slide that came down the creek, so the parking lot at Luicho was closed. Walk down this road, cross the new bridge and the hot springs are on the other side.
The three pools have different temperatures and prices, the first one is one sole, and is the coolest (but a very nice temperature), the second one is two soles and is hotter (too hot to stay in for very long), and the third pool is five soles and is even hotter. The second pool has a awning over it for shade, and the third one is located inside a round building. There are showers, bathrooms and changing rooms for all three pools, as well as lockers for your clothes. There is also a small restaurant that sometimes serves fried trout, as well as snacks and soft drinks.
ConeccAbout 10 minutes from Cotahuasi, on the main road going up to Alca, before reaching Tomepampa, there is a small road going off to the left. This is the road to Mungi and Pampamarca. It crosses the Cotahuasi River on a small bridge, and just after that there is a fork in the road. Straight ahead goes to Mungi and Pampamarca, turn right to go to Taurisma. It is a narrow rough road that follows the river. Just before reaching Taurisma, is a small pool on the right side of the road, with a small building there, this is the hot springs. Really I should say warm springs, I find the water too cool unless it is a hot day and I have been riding bike and am very hot.
Whichever one(s) you chose, enjoy your soak!