Geothermal Therapy: Who Wins?

Despite having completely different environments and cultures, Iceland and Fiji have one surprising attraction in common: the use of geothermal therapy. Both countries utilize geothermal energy in similar ways, but still fascinatingly retain strong cultural ties. Fijian mud baths and heated pools are set mountainside, in the middle of lush rural communities. Iceland’s Blue Lagoon resort is in a remote, barren area of the country, roughly 40 minutes from Reykjavik.

(For brevity’s sake, for the rest of the post I’ll refer to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon as simply “Blue Lagoon”, despite recognizing that there are other Blue Lagoons in other countries)

My experience in Fiji was genuinely relaxing, at a deep, level. The winding dirt path to the resort was off the path off the beaten path: we were certain we were driving into pure wilderness, even with GPS and a physical map in hand. After several concerning minutes, we found a handmade sign pointing to the geothermal mud bath and spa. Our host, who was casually lounging on the side of the road as we drove in, was delighted to not only see new guests, but American guests at that!

Modern Vs. Organic

Both resorts were somewhat remote for the respective environments. While the Fijian mud baths were a mere 20 minutes from Nadi, they truly felt like they could have been on another island entirely: surrounded by farmland and the monumental Sleeping Giant mountain, there was little proof urban civilization ever made it to the country.

It was perfect! Isolated, quiet, geothermal pools with natural ambiance are perfect for taking the time you need to take a step back and truly escape the real world. Without a care, or even a time we had to leave by, it was hard to not deeply embrace the tranquility surrounding us. Coated in drying mud, I felt my entire body tighten up, symbolizing the stresses and obligations of everyday life. As soon as I melted into the geothermal pools, those nagging thoughts disappeared as well. I became one with the island, and could focus on myself.

Iceland, on the other hand, capitalized on isolation in a completely different direction. Traveling to Blue Lagoon from the Reykjavik bus terminal was a 45 minute ordeal that most on our crowded bus slept through. If you managed to stay awake on the uneventful trip, you weren’t rewarded with stunning geography. Rural Iceland features palettes more than view: from shorelines to lava fields, you could relax your eyes and take in the subtle but brilliant hues of blue, grey, and orange across the vast landscape.

The distance to Blue Lagoon didn’t give the same sense of isolation as Fiji did: from the beginning of our journey and throughout the entirety of the spa experience, we were surrounded with dozens, if not hundreds, of other visitors. Although we managed to find a relatively unused area of the geothermal pools, the cacophony of international conversations made it impossible to feel deeply relaxed. The hot water and frigid air was physically relaxing, but without a true sense of isolation and peace, it would be impossible for one to truly meditate and re-energize there. I can’t speak for those who stay at the resort section of Blue Lagoon; perhaps extended-stay guests are able to access more secluded areas of the spa for more isolated experiences.

In terms of the actual treatment, the two locations couldn’t be more different. In Blue Lagoon, you enter a modern building, perpetually full of people. On one side there’s a cafe and high-end restaurant. On the other, there’s a gift shop and cash registers for admission. Unless you booked online, expect to wait a substantial amount of time to even get through the main entryway. If you’re a premium guest, you are given a robe and towel for the day, and a pair of flip-flops to keep as a souvenir. The whole experience is very modern, and very commercial. The lagoon itself has merchandise stands for beverages and facial scrubs, and all guests wear RFID bracelets for payment processing. Despite being densely surrounded with distractions and commercial opportunities, Blue Lagoon is a beacon of capitalism in an uniquely remote part of the world.

Fiji: A Personal Favorite

In Fiji, we arrived in swimwear, ready to go. While Blue Lagoon spoke about the benefits of geothermal energy in great detail, Fiji wasn’t interested in luring in tourists with the novelty of naturally heated pools. The resort was small, but dense: five pools of varying clarity were tightly packed around a shack to keep personal belongings in. The first pool, completely opaque, had an accompanying 55-gallon drum of mud next to it. We were told to begin the process by coating ourselves, head to toe, in a thick layer of mud: this would quickly dry in the hot Fijian sun and tighten our skin while absorbing surface toxins. As the mud dried, we watched animals on a neighboring farm: some chickens freely walked around the resort! Maybe they were jealous?

Once the mud dried, we slowly submerged ourselves in the first pool. The slimy and irregular floor was a bit unnerving, but we had to remember that it was essentially just a muddy hole: only the third and forth pools had tiling and filtration systems. Each pool also had an increasingly large connection to a geothermal pool on-site, which wasn’t for direct guest use (the water was estimated 190 degrees Fahrenheit, which would have quickly ended our adventure).

The first pool, around 90-something degrees, was thick and a little unnerving, in all honesty! We stepped out after ten minutes and moved to the second pool. Next on our list was another pit, slightly less opaque, about 10 degrees warmer, and significantly larger than the first pool. As we became more comfortable, the nervousness of unfamiliar sensations slipped away, and true relaxing began. The third and forth pools were nearly perfectly clear, and around 110 degrees, which felt shockingly good in the hot Fijian sun. At this point, we were truly relaxed.

Geothermal Energy is Pure Meditation

As the mud faded from the water, so did the concerns and stress we brought with us. The sound of bubbling water and tropical birds was all we needed to hear. The lush, towering mountains in front of us were all we needed to see. We were coated in mud, floating in pools heated by the Earth, staring at untouched natural landscapes. It was truly a humbling, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I couldn’t recommend strongly enough.

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