My first fish pedicure: An underwater adventure in Riviera Maya

December 18, 2013
The pedicure tank

The pedicure tank

Visitors to the Riviera Maya often go there to snorkel in the blue waters of the Caribbean. My fish pedicure was a water adventure of another sort.

Soon after entering the spa at Grand Velas resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, I noticed two large fish tanks, each one placed at the foot of an inviting pedicure chair. The sign on the glass wall separating them from me read, “Velas Fish Pedicure.”

The fish pedicure stations

The fish pedicure stations

Although this type of pedicure is available in many cities across the U.S., I knew little about it. I had first learned about fish pedicures when I spotted a similar sign outside a nail salon in Budapest. When I asked about it, our Hungarian tour guide explained that a type of fish called “garra rufa” (native to Turkey) nibble away at the dry skin on the soles of your feet leaving them as soft and silky as a baby’s.

What brought me to the spa at Grand Velas was the opportunity to experience its award-winning hydrotherapy circuit. The Water Journey included stops at a sauna, blue-tiled ice room, multiple rain showers, and a steam room; and a soak and swim in a large pool with giant jets that massaged every muscle of my body, followed by a invigorating whirlpool bath and a quick dip in a polar pool.

Reception desk at the spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Reception desk at the spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Afterwards, I felt so relaxed and dreamy that I impulsively asked to be brought back to the fish pedicure station.

The backstory

Coincidentally, I had just recovered from an awful pedicure at home in New York, which I thought might be my last. The day before a trip to Europe, about a month ago, an over-zealous pedicurist shaved so much dry skin off the heels of my feet that when I arrived at the Frankfurt airport, the insole of my right shoe was soaked in blood. Not a pretty sight.

Moreover, with a lot of walking ahead of me during that trip, I had to cushion my injured heel with a bandage each day and cover it with antiseptic cream to prevent infection.

Lessons learned: 

-Never allow a nail technician to use a blade on your feet. 

-Don’t make a pedicure appointment on the day before your trip.

The fish pedicure alternative

With 40 treatment rooms, the 90,000 square foot spa at Grand Velas Rivera Maya is so enormous it feels like a labyrinth. One of the many technicians who accompanied me on each lap of the Water Journey directed me to my first fish pedi.

Once there, after another technician cleansed my feet in a washbowl using pitchers of warm water, I ascended to one of the pedicure thrones. Hundreds of the same small fish from Turkey were swimming around in the room-temperature water when she told me to very slowly submerge my feet in the tank. (I guess so I wouldn’t step on the fish.)

The happy customer

The happy customer

The fish swarmed around both my feet, gently nibbling away at my dry skin, simultaneously providing exfoliation and massage–au natural.

I presumed that the tiny fish would confine themselves to the soles of my feet where I really needed their help most. No, I guess they felt there was food to be had on top and around my ankles as well. The hungry but toothless fish even dined on my cuticles.

Fish doing their work

Selfie: Fish doing their work from my perspective

Bottom line 

I wouldn’t say the 50-minute experience was relaxing or exhilarating. The tickling sensation fell somewhere between creepy and amusing. But the fish were sure good at their job. My pedicured feet felt soft and smooth without any abrasions!

After I returned home–given my research orientation–I decided it would be wise to investigate and learn more about the safety of fish pedicures. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), although the procedure is banned in ten states, the health risks of fish pedicures aren’t greater than those of conventional pedicures. There are no published reports of any outbreaks of illness associated with them.

Although the pedicure is a bit pricey, the fish are far gentler and kinder to the soles than is the blade!


Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Price: $105 for 50-minute Fish Pedicure

Curious about the Water Journey? Take a peek at the short video below that shows the amazing spa at Grand Velas. 


  • Reply
    December 18, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Fun! I had the procedure done while visiting Aruba. While I’ll agree it’s tough to relax when your feet are in a tank of fish, it is a unique experience.

  • Reply
    Brittany Ruth
    December 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I’ve heard about this! Not sure how I feel about it though.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I was curious to hear what you thought. I did it in Jamaica but like you say, it was hard to keep my feet still. It was a neat treat, especially since it was free.

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    December 24, 2013 at 9:51 am

    We first learned of the “fish” pedicure in Thailand, where several salons offered it. Janice has yet to try it, but it does sort of look like fun :-). Maybe worth trying once for the experience. Good to know you researched the safety of these pedicures and learned they’re no more unsafe than “normal” pedicures.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      December 24, 2013 at 11:29 am

      My husband tried it, too. His first “pedicure” ever and also liked it!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Okay. That’s a little too creepy for me. I’m impressed that you were brave enough to try it.

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