Our love of baths runs at least as deep as an old-fashioned clawfoot tub—whether they be mermaid inspired, infused with magnesium crystal salts, or just hot, detoxifying sweat sessions. A good soak is a great way to relax, recharge, and even burn some calories.
Perhaps ironically though, if you really want to take yours to the next level when it comes to self-care, you might want to shun water—yes, water—and, instead, turn to a material people all over the world have used for thousands of years to cleanse with: mud.
Mud baths utilize wet dirt originating from a variety of sources including hot springs, volcanic ash, and saltwater, each offering a variety of health benefits based on its unique composition. These natural muds, when used for therapeutic purposes, are thought to be anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, and just plain relaxing (at the very least).
Next time you feel like cleansing yourself by getting a little dirty, book a trip to one of these 10 natural mud baths.
1. Cartagena, Colombia
The El Totumo volcano mud bath is located about 45 minutes from Cartagena, Colombia. Local legend has it that a priest tamed this once-active volcano, and ever since, it’s been setup to accommodate tourists. So, while the mud is authentic, the experience may feel slightly less so.
This bath itself is 50-feet tall and 15-feet in diameter. Upon arrival, you’ll be sent down into this natural “tub” with other tourists, whom you’ll soon get to know pretty well given the close quarters. There, you’ll be slathered in mud by attendants and offered a massage. When you’ve finished, they will then usher you to a nearby body of water, where local women will help you to cleanse the mud from your body (again, expect to get familiar, fast).
As for the volcanic ash-based mud, it’s said to be mineral-rich and lists calcium, magnesium, and aluminum among its healing ingredients.
2. Calistoga, California
This city is located in Napa Valley, so if you like having a glass of wine when you soak, Calistoga might just be the jackpot. Its mud baths are as much a draw as its vineyards—the area is rich in both mineralized, 212-degree-Fahrenheit hot springs water and volcanic ash (which feature in numerous spas across Calistoga).
Although local Wapoo Indians are said to have used the area as a place of healing, the first known person to charge for the experience was, allegedly, Dr. Wilkinson of Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort. His spa’s now considered Calistoga’s OG, having been in the family for over 60 years.
Local mud baths are said to exfoliate, improve circulation, and relieve muscle tension and body aches. Other spots that offer the service include Indian Springs, which uses 100-percent volcanic ash taken from the property, and Golden Haven, where the couples mud bath is the resort’s most-popular treatment.
3. Hell’s Gate, New Zealand
The Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Bath Spa, which is located near Rotoroa City, an hour ferry ride from Auckland, is rich in story. It’s the only thermal park in New Zealand owned by the Maori, a native tribe of people who’ve lived on the site for over 700 years and have used its resources to heal after battle.
This is no small, man-made spa. Instead, it’s a 50-acre geothermal reserve that includes pools of boiling mud, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall, and the country’s largest mud volcano. The property features three types of mud: White mud is used to relieve burns, black mud is used to treat arthritis, and grey mud is used to exfoliate. A full day on the property includes a tour, a mud bath, and a dip in the sulphur spa. Plus, you can have your pick of treatment add-ons such as a soothing massage.
4. Boryeong, South Korea
This one isn’t so much a relaxing spa situation as it is a massive party. Every year, in July, there’s a giant mud festival in Boryeong, which is attended by literally millions of people and as a result, considered to be the most popular festival in South Korea.
Think beyond the bath, as Boryeong offers mud pools, mud slides, and fashion contests based on costumes painted on in mud. There’s also, perhaps inexplicably, a portion of the program that involves throwing mud and tomatoes at one other—just for fun!
The mud being flung, BTW, is rich in minerals, such as geranium and bentonite, and purportedly has benefits including softened skin, improved circulation, and detoxification of the body. To enjoy these pros in a more tranquil spa setting, visit the Boryeong Mud Skincare Center any time of year.
5. The Milky Way Lagoon, Palau
Palau may be largely unknown to you, but the Micronesian island chain is very popular with a certain subset of adventurers, as its incredible underwater ecosystem makes for what is agreed to be one of the best dive spots in the world.
You’ll be diving for something different, however, when your boat stops at what’s known as the Milky Way Lagoon in the Rock Islands of Palau. Here, white limestone mud is within easy reach for swimmers, and tour guides encourage slathering it all over your body as a longevity practice and exfoliator for an otherworldly glow.
6. Marmaris, Turkey
On the Southwest coast of Turkey, you’ll find the Dalyan Mud Bath. There, you can cover yourself in the soft, wet dirt—and then jump into a pungent sulphur pool to cleanse once you’ve let the minerals soak into your system under the sun.
Legend has it that the queen of natural beauty treatments herself, Cleopatra, would visit this area. Modern visits usually center around a boat tour. Typically it includes hitting the mud bath and thermal spring, a visit to the turtle rehabilitation center at nearby İztuzu Beach, plus, a stop at Lycien rock tombs, which date back to 400 B.C.
7. The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is considered one of the world’s first health resorts and has been used as such for thousands of years. It’s nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean and carries 21 minerals—nearly half of which are found nowhere else in the world. It’s also the lowest place on Earth in terms of elevation, a feature that brings its own benefits: Oxygen levels are higher here than they are elsewhere in the world, and UV rays are weaker, given they have farther to travel.
Local mud baths promise the benefits of said minerals, which they’ve absorbed from the supercharged Dead Sea water and can be enjoyed directly on the beach or in a more official spa setting found in a variety of nearby resorts.
8. Lake Techirghiol, Romania
The waters of this lake are five-times saltier than the Black Sea surrounding it and have been used, along with the area’s rich, dark mud, to heal everything from arthritis to skin conditions and beyond for generations. Here, nothing is formally organized—you can just dip into the mud at your own discretion—although spas can be found in the nearby resort town of Eforie Nord if you want to make it more official.
9. Hveragerði, Iceland
This thermal park, located outside of Reykjavik, offers a more authentic (albeit less photo-friendly) experience than the more famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, where mud is secondary to the picturesque soak. Here, you can dunk your feet into the area’s healing clay before cleansing them in a hot spring—the newest of which broke ground in 2008 after an earthquake. After, bake black bread with locals using the naturally-heated ground as an oven.
10. Santorini, Greece
Much like the Turkish mud bath detailed above, this attraction—on the island of Palea Kameni—is often enjoyed as part of a larger tour that includes a visit to the Santorini volcano. The water here is supercharged by past eruptions, and boasts, as a result, high levels of iron and manganese. Most likely, your boat will drop you a short swim from the shore so that you can slather yourself in this curative mud, bake on the sand, and then cleanse off with a swim back to the boat when it’s time to set sail again.
If you can’t wait for your next passport stamp to get muddy, try this mud shampoo in the interim. And if bath tourism is your jam, check out this etiquette guide to Japan’s famous onsens.
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