Going to a fish spa might be very popular in the East, but living in Africa has deprived me of the opportunity to experience the luxury of tiny fish nibbling at my feet. Some might feel a bit squirmish about the idea it but at a recent trip to Sudwala near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, South Africa, I got to enjoy the experience with a friend.
We were asked to take off our shoes before they sprayed our feet and calves with a disinfectant. We then waddled through some water before making our way up the stairs to to the ponds where hundreds of little fish were swimming around.
The moment you put your feet in the water they cower and hide (I know, I was expecting Piranhas too!). If you sit really still they slowly come from their hiding places and carefully come to your feet. At first it might tickle – especially if you are as ticklish as my friend Charlotte who burst out laughing and scared off all the fish! You really need to sit still and be quiet. Slowly the fish started to flutter around our feet and gently nibbled at the skin. It is so gentle that you can hardly feel it – it is more like a soft brushing sensation.
We sat there and stared at the beautiful view of the ravine below as all the tension and stress melted from our bodies. Normally the sessions last 30 minutes, but I could have sat there for the rest of the day. We talked and (quietly) laughed and simply relaxed, which is something I don’t get to do very often.
We learned that the fish are called Garra rufa medical fish which comes from the river basins of Northern and Central Middle East (mainly in Turkey, Syria and Iran) – so your goldfish at home won’t do the trick. They are legally protected from commercial exploitation in Turkey due to concerns of over harvesting for export. The fish at Sudwala come from Singapore where they are bred for export. They exfoliate the skin with a sucking action that stimulates pressure points and improves circulation which leaves your skin feeling exceptionally soft and revitalized.
The water in the fish baths is constantly filtered through bio-filters and UHF rays are used to kill any bacteria in the water. It is important that your feet are washed and clean of all soaps and body lotions which can be toxic to fish, prior to dipping your feet in the fish bath. Your hands carry a myriad of bacteria and nicotine which is harmful to the fish so remember to keep your hands out of the water.
The shop at Sudwala has the coolest t-shirts for sale and at the same spot is the stunning Sudwala caves that you can explore as well as a dinosaur park. If you are thinking about a vacation in the Lowveld then this is a stop you have to make!
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