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Stories from our Travelers

An Unexpected Spa Retreat in Mexico

Ixtapan cat

The author by the pool

Attending church in Ixtapan
by Jeanne Tasker

[From Spring 2009]

My sister asked me if I would like to join her and a group of women from Atlanta, Georgia, for an all-inclusive, week long spa package at the Hotel Spa Ixtapan, in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. This would be a real departure from my usual adventure travel - backpacking into the Escalante/Grand Staircase wilderness, hiking town to town in Europe carrying everything in a day pack, hiking/climbing in the Rockies - but my 70+ year-old knees were starting to rebel and maybe it was time for a little pampering.

So, I swallowed my “tough old babe” pride and signed on for the 7-day spa package. The Hotel Spa Ixtapan de la Sal (Ixtapan means “Place over the Salt” in Aztec) is 65 miles southwest of Mexico City, about a two hour drive in the hotel vans, which pick you up at the airport and return you there at the end of your stay, comforting for security concerns in Mexico today. We were met at immigration and shepherded to the hotel vans like a flock of docile sheep.

This is a very reasonably priced spa experience and is quite low key. Daily massages, and three facials with added foot reflexology are part of the week long program. Manicure and pedicure and two hair treatments are yours during the week along with one hair styling. A 900-calorie per day spa diet (there is extra food available and one can eat in the regular hotel dining room) is included. Aerobics, Pilates, salsa and yoga classes, pools for water aerobics, and scheduled 50-minute morning walks, fast and slow, are offered every day. But it is evident that this is not a spa that is meant to turn out perfectly buff bodies. A giveaway is that the rooms tout “unusually good reading lights,” an important amenity for the reading glasses set. And, recommended workout attire is stretch shorts and over-sized t-shirts. So much for midriff baring, low rise pants and plunging neckline, halter tops!

We arrived at the Spa mid Sunday afternoon to a welcome of snacks and margaritas (little or no tequila). We had our orientation meeting, at which we were given our schedule of spa services for the week. Then we went on to our first “Spa Diet” dinner: Soup (frequently served at lunch and dinner - it fills you up!), fresh green salad, snapper with sautéed peppers and onions, and cantaloupe over peach yogurt for dessert. Always served is the ubiquitous red “hibiscus tea”, which my sister and I determined is a major diuretic, probably responsible for a large part of weight loss. This was typical of the dinners through the week, with changes of entrée to chicken, turkey, and shrimp.

I consider myself a more than reasonably fit person, but I had never done yoga or Pilates. By day three, my abs were screaming and it was clear that my flexibility was down the tubes. I formed a resolve to do a regular yoga class and treat myself to a monthly facial.

Impressions I came away with: all of the Spa guests traipsing about in their white terry cloth robes, reminiscent of an asylum (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?); the “feral” cats who waited for treats outside of the dining room every day, one of whom did very well on just three legs; the man whom I dubbed the “Reeking Russian“, doused in cologne, who tried always to be second in line on the daily hike. One could not hike behind him without experiencing respiratory shut down! Yes, there were some hard bodies here, but many more large ladies are clients. I only saw two men, in white robes, who were Spa clients.

The little city of Ixtapan de la Sal is delightful, with a colorful central market teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and sausages, colorful textiles, jewelry, handbags, and much more. There are also elegant shops and restaurants.

Would we go back another year? In a heartbeat!

We paid $1300 per person for a double room, a group rate because of the large group that has been going for many years. The regular rate, without some built in perks of the group rate, was $1600 this season, still a bargain for a spa.

In January 2009, round-trip airfare between Albuquerque, NM, and Mexico City was $503.10, with taxes, economy class. Non-stop flights to Mexico City are available from most major U.S. hub cities. Check with American, United, Delta, USAir, or Aeromexico. The Spa is located about 1 ½ hours from Mexico City. Transfers may be arranged with the resort.

For more information, visit or call 1.800.683.7950.

Story photographs by Jeanne Tasker. Preview photograph © Jim Young,

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