How would you react if a friend invited you to visit a fish spa? Excited, nervous or scared? I’ll admit I sensed all those feelings recently.
I was traveling through central Turkey last weekend when I stopped to visit friends in the city of Sivas. Not knowing much about the region, my friend Levent suggested a trip to experience the natural warm springs an hour’s drive south near Kangal.
Fish in a Warm Spring?
While there are many places around the world with warm or hot springs, very few support much aquatic life because of the higher temperatures. However, a special species of fish found in the Euphrates River basin of Turkey somehow manages to thrive. And because of the scarcity of natural food sources in warmer waters, these toothless garra rufa fish have developed a unique ability to feed on dead skin cells.
The healing powers of these fish are now well documented. People with skin diseases such as psoriasis and even muscle, joint and nerve disorders have seen health benefits from soaking in fish-infested waters.
What’s It Like?
Although not suffering from an illness, I simply had to try it. Upon arrival, we were shown to one of four active pools which are filled with continuously circulating water from the nearby spring-fed stream. The fish inhabit both the stream and pools.
After changing into a swimsuit and grabbing a towel, I stepped gingerly down the steps into the men’s treatment pool. I expected to be swarmed and attacked immediately by something like a school of piranhas, but nothing like that happened. Instead, the fish stayed strangely away, barely noticeable as I slid to take a seat on the wraparound underwater bench.
As I relaxed and sat very still, a few small fish began to gently nibble at my feet. Soon others began grazing on my legs and hands. Staying very still drew even more and larger fish. Since they are toothless with a comb-like mouth, there is no pain or sting as they crawl along you. It even feels a bit like a massage!
If you stirred slightly, the fish would scatter, so there really was nothing to fear. Unlike jacuzzi spas that have much hotter temperatures, the pool was about 37 degrees Celsius (close to normal body temperature). Therefore, you can sit and enjoy the healing effects of the fish as long as you want.
Some guests immersed their entire body except for their face, lying down and extending their arms and legs. I was content, though, to just sit and relax on the bench and watch the different size fish do their work. Most are small and tickle as they brush your skin, but a few larger fish gently poke and prod their way around.
An Unexpected Result!
Usually, you visit a spa to look and feel younger. The day before our visit, my host’s teenage daughter had guessed my age to be about 30. A nice compliment, I thought, as I will soon turn 55.
However, after visiting the fish spa we took a drive that same afternoon to the historic city of Divriği, the site of an amazing 13th century mosque and hospital. While eating a late lunch of grilled meatballs (Turkish köfte), we were chatting with the cafe owner who also tried to guess our ages. He thought my friend Levent was about 55 (right on). He then guessed that I must be older, somewhere around 60!
I guess I need a few more treatments…
Have you visited a fish spa or something similar? Please share where!
If You Go:
The fish spa is located about an hour’s drive south of the major city of Sivas in central Turkey. There are daily local train services to Kangal from Sivas, as well as local buses to Kangal. Tours can be arranged from Sivas that visit the spa along with other nearby sites including the beautiful 13th century great mosque and hospital at Divriği.
Sivas city is accessible by train via the East Express and other train routes originating in Ankara.
The cost to enter and bathe is a reasonable 15 Turkish lira, and there is a hotel at the site for overnight or longer stays. Towels, slippers and other supplies are available for purchase if you forget to bring your own!