I was on a concrete slab of a table with a tile top, a sheet underneath me, a thin, folded towel under the back of my head. The room was steamy. I was surrounded by nude or nearly nude women wearing only underwear, including the woman scrubbing my wet skin. She was a large, strong woman and when she bent over me in certain ways for my exfoliation treatment, I felt her belly lightly brush against my leg, my arm, my side. I was in a bathhouse for women in Oaxaca City, Mexico.
I have to say, I cannot believe the amount of dead skin the woman removed from my body. I’d been going to the gym nearly every day while in Oaxaca, and thought I scrubbed myself well with my own at-home scrubbie. Wrong, judging by what she removed from me! Not only was it a fabulous removal of dead skin, but oddly, having my skin scraped felt good.
All around the center table where I was laid out for my treatment women sat on stools and watched me as they waited for their turn, or they milled about and waited for their beer or soda to be delivered. Some women stood under shower sprays at faucets that lined the perimeter of the room to cool off from the intense sauna heat or the more relaxed wet steam room, both adjacent to the main room where the treatments are given.
Before my exfoliation, I had sat in the sauna for a good while. I couldn’t handle more than five minutes before I needed sips of water. Every ten minutes or so, I had to leave for a few moments to breathe in fresh, cooler air. The steam room was just as enjoyable – wet and hot and ultimately relaxing.
Public or private packages; women’s side vs. men’s side
When you pay for the exfoliation package at La Fuente Banos de Vapor (also known by locals as Banos la Fuente), you have the option for the treatment out in the open in the main room, or in a “private” room for about $11 more. I chose the public option because I’m not such a prude. Note, you will be watched. And I wasn’t watched because I was a novelty as the only gringa there, but the women all watch any woman getting the treatment in the middle of the room. It’s really no big deal.
If you are not comfortable with that, be aware the “private” room doesn’t have a door. The private room is adjacent to the main room, and it is small enough so that women cannot set up stools around the center table, as they do in the main room, but you don’t really have complete privacy. Also, you are going to be nude – or nearly naked – in the public showers, sauna, and steam rooms anyway. But hey, to each her own.
The women’s rooms are in a separate wing from where the men go. Obviously, I have no experience with that end of things, and my spouse Tedly said he wasn’t interested in checking out the men’s side. Bathhouses have a negative, male gay and bisexual hook-up sex connotation. In the U.S., bathhouses are where men can find fun with no strings attached.
While I was in the lobby talking to the attendant, I saw men come and go, and it didn’t appear they were buying any treatment package. I can only speak to my experiences on the women’s side of things – and I would go back in a heartbeat.
In the lobby, there are small lock boxes for your valuables. The attendant will give you a key on a necklace. When I went, I didn’t bring any valuables, as a personal preference.
Package details and tips for your visit
My treatment was the main package in the public area for 441 pesos (less than $26 USD), and it included unlimited use of the sauna, steam room, showers. It came with the exfoliation treatment, which was the hand-scrubbing, and a massage with oatmeal. I declined her offer to stand on my back and crack my neck during the massage. I saw other women before me have that done, but it looked a little risky to me. (The massage was good, but the title for best massage of my life still belongs to my friend Margo.)
After my massage, I was invited to stay as long as I wanted in the rest area, where some women bring eye masks and take naps. You get the same package deal for the private room, only it costs 636 pesos at the time of this writing.
Depending on when you go, you may have a long wait to get the treatment. I went on a Saturday evening, and there were six women getting treatments before me. This was not a problem at first, because I was happy to use the sauna, steam room, and showers. However, my spouse didn’t want me alone outside the bathhouse at night, and said he would return after 90 minutes to walk me home. The problem was, after 90 minutes, I still hadn’t had my treatment, and I knew he would be waiting. The attendant told the woman giving treatments (there is only one) to move me up in the line. I ended up being number three instead of number seven.
My actual treatment took about 45 minutes – for the exfoliation and the massage. Because I knew Tedly had been waiting, unfortunately I skipped the relaxation time on the couches after my treatment. So the bottom line: don’t expect to be in and out of there for your treatment with the public package. Go when you have plenty of time, and go when it’s not likely to be crowded.
A few more tips:
- You might want to bring your own washcloth/pumice/etc. to start exfoliating after sauna visits
- A plastic bag may be helpful to carry your eyeglasses, since glasses are useless in the sauna and steam room and you take them off for the exfoliation and massage
- Flip flops are more comfortable than sport sandals (I wouldn’t go barefoot unless I was on the exfoliation / massage table)
- Bring tip money. There are two teens who works as ‘waitresses’ for getting drinks or soap or whatever for the women in the main shower room. Yes, they also are nude, because it’s damn hot in there.
You can review current ads for services on the La Fuente Banos de Vapor Facebook page. The address is 20 De Noviembre 1021, in the southwest section of the city.
I have no pictures to share from inside because, duh, everyone was nude. Since I didn’t bring my phone, I don’t even have a shot of the lobby. There are some pictures of the how it looks from the street on Google reviews.
Life is what you make it. You can be a prude and shy away from an experience with bunch of strange women wearing nothing, or you can relax and enjoy an amazing service for hours, for much less money than you would spend at a typical spa in the U.S. or another country. Of course, I was the only gringa in there, and my pinkish pale skin and body shape were entirely different from the Mexican women. But, we’re all women – and I felt comfortable and welcomed.
Now you have the inside scoop on what it’s like to visit a bathhouse for women in Oaxaca City – a fabulous city with so much to offer. (*Hat tip and hugs to my new friend K.T. who lives in Oaxaca and told me about this cool place.)