This review of Bota Bota spa in Montreal is part of the series 100 Baths, my search for the world’s best spas and public bathing rituals. Read more and see the list here!
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The appeal of this Montreal day spa is right in its French name: “Bota Bota spa-sur-l’eau.” That doesn’t mean spa near the water or by the water. It means spa on the water. As in: Bota Bota is a boat. A boat that is also a spa.
Floating on the St. Lawrence River in the port of Old Montreal, Bota Bota is basically an urban water park for adults. It offers a hydrotherapy circuit of hot tubs, cold plunge pools, steam rooms and dry saunas, gardens with lots of hammocks and loungers, as well as massage, face and body treatments and a nice restaurant. All of this with perfect views of Canada’s sexiest city.
I first visited this water circuit alone on a solo trip to Montreal. In fact, it was a major reason to visit Montreal in the first place. I hopped a Via Rail train across the border into Quebec to get my dose of hydrotherapy at this unique floating spa.
My plan was simple: use every one of the spa’s many hot tubs
Bota Bota is conveniently located a short walk from hotels in Old Montreal, or easily accessed by bike or public transit from the city centre. Which means that unlike Quebec’s more remote mountain resort spas this place is a popular hangout for Montrealers. You just need to look it up on Instagram to know you’re not going to a meditation retreat.
But as someone looking to unwind, not be seen in a bikini, I chose the latest timeslot of the day when I hoped it would be a bit quieter. And hoping for clear skies so that I could watch the sun set over Montreal while soaking in a hot tub with panoramic views of the city.
I quickly notice that everything here is a bit different than at a landlocked spa.
The architects made excellent use of the small spaces of this converted 1950s ferry boat, creating cozy nooks, sweeping glass window views, and turning claustrophobic portholes into sophisticated design elements. But change rooms in the basement feel like crew quarters—basic and cramped. And there are a lot of stairs to climb in search of all the water circuit spots, which aren’t necessarily arranged in a typical layout, or particularly well signed.
I head straight for the top deck to what I’d already sussed out as the prime location, a fairly large kidney-shaped hot tub with waterfall fountain. I found absolute joy in floating in a body of water built on top another body of water. When other guests came, I found a second hot tub all to myself in the back of the boat. Dunked in the cold plunge. Relaxed in a hammock, and waited for sunset.
But then I turn around and see that Bota Bota is not just a converted boat. There’s a whole other section in the adjoining gardens, with more hot pools, more saunas, and more places to lounge. I found this surprise very exciting! Like, who doesn’t want more than they expected? I felt like I was getting two spa visits for the price of one.
Officially, there’s a policy of silence on the boat, and quiet conversation in the gardens.
They also have a no cell phones / photos policy – much like any spa promoting relaxation and respecting the privacy of all guests. But there’s just no way to have enough staff to monitor this all the time.
On my visit, most of the other guests were straight couples. And almost every one of the women had her partner take multiple photos, in multiple locations, all the while “looking out” for staff, trying not to get caught. I get it. The place is gorgeous. The people are gorgeous. But it’s really distracting.
As for silence…since most people are there with partners, there’s going to be conversation. Not the kind of group socializing you get in Scandinavian spas either. Private conversations you feel awkward overhearing.
I always managed to find a quiet cozy spot to peace out, and had the garden sauna all to myself at one point, but I suspect only because of the pandemic-era reduced capacity. Honestly, I think management should just embrace it. It’s a boat. People in swimsuits on boats want to be seen in their swimsuits on a boat. Maybe they should have dedicated quiet days and photo shoot days. Give everybody what they want?
As sunset approached, I reluctantly peeled myself off a very comfortable beanbag chair overlooking the river and made my way back to the prime viewing hot tub. Score. So the sky was a bit overcast, that’s the unpredictability of nature for you. I still got to watch the Montreal skyline slowly darken while relaxing in one of the best hot tubs I’ve ever had the pleasure to soak in.
I can’t show you a picture of my perfect hot tub view. Because I feel like a jerk taking photos at a no-cameras spa, so I don’t.
I do have one photo, taken after the fact. My skin is soft. The smile is real. A few hours at Bota Bota turned back months of pandemic stress and I floated back to my hotel with just one thought in mind: when can I get my girl gang to Montreal for a spa party on this boat?
My last visit was June 2021. Always check the spa’s official website for the latest updates: https://botabota.ca/.
Know Before You Go
Where: Old-Port of Montreal, near the corner of De la Commune and McGill. Walking distance from Square Victoria-OACI metro station. Follow signs across a footbridge, under an underpass until you see the gardens.
When: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 9pm. Closed on Sundays.
What to bring: Swimsuits are mandatory. So are flip-flops/sandals – but they don’t rent/sell there so you must bring. You must use their robes – the cost is included. Optional but handy: a water bottle you can fill up and plastic bag for your wet suit (they do not provide). Locker, towels and basic shampoo/conditioner, etc is included.
How Much: Three hours in the water circuits costs from $70 (low season, during the week) to $85 (high season, weekend.) The price for 2 hours starting at dusk is $60 any day of the week. Packages with food are available. They sometimes offer discounts for locals, 55+, education or health workers, or others so check the website for special offers.
Want more spa inspiration? Lonely Planet’s Wellness Escapes is a lovely hardcover filled with eye candy photos of hot springs, saunas, spas and other wellness resorts from around the world. These are expensive and often remote destinations, but even if you never get there, you can use this as a starting point for researching dream trips.
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