In an expanse of rainforest between Brazil and Argentina lies the majestic Iguazu Falls. Guarani legend has it that they were created when a warrior incurred the wrath of a forest god by eloping with his bride-to-be on a canoe – the god sliced the river in his rage.
While on a business trip to Buenos Aires, I decide to decamp to the Argentinian town of Puerto Iguazu at the foot of the falls for some exotic R&R – it’s only 90 minutes by plane – and some spa downtime. The town is no metropolis, but it does have four spas, including the Loi Suites, Panoramic Hotel, Iguazu Grand and the Starwood-owned Sheraton Iguazú Resort & Spa.
After a morning hike to experience the terrifying magnificence of Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat, as the falls are also known) close up, and a 15-minute speedboat ride up the river, I am hot, bothered, sweaty and ready to spa. My skin has battled the elements all today – the sun exposure and whipping wind has left it crying out for some TLC.
I head to the Sheraton’s SEDA Spa. Hiding within a tangle of jungle, this modern, lavish spa is all slick black granite tiles and hessian fabric furnishings. There are 12 treatment rooms, a steam, sauna, Vichy shower and outdoor pool (with four cabanas for treatments), relaxation room and whirlpool. While the choice of five packages includes a four-hour Jungle Energetic with massage, mud facial, chakra harmonisation and a power-boosting Tae Bo routine and tea ceremony, I choose the 80-minute Herbal Full Misionero body massage with a yerba-mate-infused mask.
My treatment takes place under one of the open-sided outdoor cabanas and begins with a gentle exfoliating massage for 15 minutes using warm oil mixed with ground yerba-mate leaves – the same found in the traditional herbal brew. When ingested it’s a natural stimulant used as a digestion aid; it has nearly twice the antioxidants of green tea. My therapist explains that when applied topically, this plant – known as the “gift from the gods” in Guarani culture – is known to have circulatory and cellulite-busting benefits.
After a thorough full-body massage using a lightly scented nut oil, a warm yerba-mate mask is worked into my skin in circular motions and left for 20 minutes. I lie here peacefully, inhaling the scent of green tea and freshly cut grass. The massage is thorough and relaxing, but the setting is what makes it really special – the exotic birds and the roar of the Garganta del Diablo in the distance are a soundtrack worth savouring.
After a morning jaunt to Puerto Iguazú’s mirror town on the Brazilian side of the falls, Foz de Iguacu, and working up a sweat walking in the Parque das Aves, I swing by the five-treatment-room spa at Hotel das Cataratas, known for interpreting ancient Amazonian therapies in a modern way.
I opt for a 90-minute Deep Andiroba – a full-body massage with scrub, heated herbal packs and restorative Andiroba oil, which has been used by generations of Amazonian tribes to treat muscular aches and pains. “As we are in the rainforest,” my therapist says, “we use authentic ingredients to suit our surroundings – and only Brazilian products.”
She explains that the oil, from the nut kernel of the Andiroba tree, is known as “miracle oil” because of its wealth of beautifying effects: it contains essential fatty acids, which promote collagen, as well as limonoids (anti-inflammatory compounds). It’s also an effective insect repellent.
I lie down on my back while the heated, sweet and earthy-smelling oil is drizzled onto my body and worked deeply into my skin in long, kneading strokes. After 30 minutes I turn over. I don’t have to ask for more pressure as her touch is strong – a relief for my aching neck and shoulders. After 20 minutes, she places heated herbal packs either side of my neck and leaves them for 10 minutes to help penetrate heat deep into the muscles. It’s sublimely soothing.
Last is a 30-minute passion-fruit exfoliating scrub with calendula and omega-6-rich sunflower oil. The emollient properties of the products leave my skin silky smooth and nourished.
The bottom line:
The USP of the Sheraton Iguazú and Hotel das Cataratas is their location inside the falls’ national park – while the treatments themselves weren’t the best I have ever had, the setting in which they took place was magnificent. Still, they were blissfully relaxing after a day of hiking and tramping the tourist trail. I also learnt rather a lot about sacred Amazonian plants – not essential knowledge, I’ll grant you, but enlightening nevertheless.