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Steam Rooms Mexican Style--El Vapor--Modern Temazcal--Steam Bath

Updated on August 5, 2017

In Oaxaca, a well known ancient tradition, as well as a tourist trap is the temazcal. Temazcal means literally in the Nahuatl language, house of vapor (casa del vapor). I attended a temazcal once, and it was not the best experience. The temazcalera, the guide, she passed out from what I believe was carbon monoxide poisoning and we all left with headaches.

Traditional Temazcal

I prefer Oaxaca’s lesser known, more modern version of the temazcal, “el vapor.” Los Vapores are steam room/shower houses where for 70 pesos/ 6 dollars, individual(a little less then double that for a couple). You rent not just one steam room but three little rooms for an hour.

At the entrance to the steam rooms you can buy, if you didn’t bring with you; water, soap, razors, beer, even mescal (a more earthy wonderful version of tequila)!  A beer in a steam room?  You bet ya, can't do that at twenty hour fitness!  After you pay, the cashier hands you two incredibly crisp, clean white sheets and a towel, then rings a bell. A man appears and shows you to your private rooms. He leaves and you lock the door to prepare for your deep cleaning.

The rooms are covered in ceramic tiles. The first has a sink and a massage table, where one of your sheets can be put to use. You open another door to the shower room. There are two different showers: the first operated by a chain with a handle, you feel like Darwin doing hydrotherapy, an industrial washing, incredibly powerful, large quantities of cold water shower down. The other shower has a hot water option. You stand on a metal platform like you would a scale and piping hot water rushes out.

But the real reason to go to el vapor is the last room, the steam room. This business of banos/vapores are often a side-business run in conjunction with a dry cleaning place to share the huge industrial boilers.

You open the door into the steam room and there are some pipes with a lever in the corner. You crack the lever and there is a throaty gurgle and then like a locomotive’s whistle hot steam hisses into the room.

The first time I went to a vapor I naively opened this valve all the way. The steam came bellowing out so fast that I when I sat down, I was disoriented and could not even see the valve I had just opened. I felt my way along the wall, eyes burning and lungs full of steam. I eventually shut the steam off, more respectful of the industrial boiler powering the impressive steam.

I think this potential for self injury, the piping hot pipes, the scalding steam, prevents this type of business from being feasible in the United States. Insurance companies wouldn’t allow it. But the control of how much steam you want and when you want it is what I like about these places

El Vapor in Oaxaca, Mexico

Here are some tips if this deep cleaning, pore opening experience appeals to you. Bring a huge bottle of water. Bring your expensive toiletries. Buy a little bit of eucalyptus oil (not sold there) or bring some fresh eucayptus leaves with you to open your lungs. Going as a couple? Bring a little massage oil!

There are two vapores that I know of in the city. One downtown on Reforma, and another one near the Periferico. Both have similar hours 6am- 6pm.

I hope you enjoy and please leave comments and advice. I am intrested in feed-back.

Here is a convenient link to another interesting article on: Language Mixed With Love: How To Really Learn A Foreign Language


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    • PaulStaley1 profile image

      PaulStaley1 6 years ago from With the wind---(or against it)

      Hey Clare....yeah no Fortunas in the near future. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Clare-Louise profile image

      Clare-Louise 6 years ago from Birmingham UK

      Hi Paul, thanks for the entertaining account of this Mexican tradition. sounds invigorating and dangerous! Looks like you'll be laying off the Fortunas now too... good luck! ps i'm an ex-smoker, it can be done!