Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica
Where the volcano views are as stunning as the waters are relaxing.
Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes and 61 more that are dormant or extinct. Thanks to all this geothermal activity, the country also boasts several hot springs sites, most notably around the Arenal Volcano in the northwest. Technically still active (it's said to be "resting"), Arenal's heat and minerals infuse streams that flow through the marshes and grasslands at its base. Several hotels offer access to the springs, but the original-and the gold standard-is the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, opened in 1993.
The Benefits: Tabacón's hot springs are 97 percent rainwater that has sunk to the earth's core and been heated, and the remaining three percent is magma-based. As the mixture rises back to the surface, it brings with it the minerals imbedded in the earth. The springs are naturally heated to a muscle-relaxing 77 to 122 degrees and the high levels of hydrothermal flora and fauna strengthen the skin's defense system and repair surface damage. Even better, the springs are low in sulfur. Meaning you won't stink after taking a dip.
How to Soak: If staying at the luxury resort is not in the budget, buy a day pass to enjoy the dozen mineral pools (including one with thermal water slide and another with a swim-up bar), three thermal waterfalls, and sweeping volcano views. tabacon.com; from $60 for a day pass.
Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado
An old mining town is reborn as a spa haven.
Back in the early 1500s the Ute Indians enjoyed these southwest Colorado hot springs, which sit about 8,600 feet above sea level. Ore miners (and speculators) came to the region in the 1880s, and a private homestead was established on the land that's now Dunton. The owners recognized the hot springs' moneymaking potential and started charging a nickel to take a dip. The first "hot tub" was built in a log-lined pit, followed by various shack bathhouses. By 1918, though, the mining boom was bust and the town deserted. The current owners took over in 994 and spent seven years turning the whole town into an upscale resort.
The Benefits: Controlled by tectonic forces, the naturally heated Dunton springs are high in iron and magnesium, with trace amounts of lithium. Along with the therapeutic benefits of the minerals and heat (temps range from 85 to 106 degrees), soakers get the added bonus of calcium bicarbonate, which helps open peripheral blood vessels and improve circulation.
How to Soak: Dunton's deluxe cabins start at $550, but day passes are available for travelers who aren't spending the night or booked in the spa (treatments are $185). Once on site, you can choose to soak in one of several pools, including the renovated 19th Century bathhouse, two outdoor pools, or directly at the source. duntonhotsprings.com; $115 for a day pass, including lunch.
Thank the gods for these healing waters.
Legend has it that hilltop Saturnia's thermal springs bubble up at the exact spot where Jupiter's thunderbolt fell in a battle with Saturn. The Bronze Age Etruscans were the first to partake of the waters, and even built a temple on the site to thank the gods for this gift; later, the Romans constructed what some say was the world's first public bathhouse. After getting a bad rep in the more puritanical 14th century (some thought the hot waters marked the gates of Hell), the springs were re-discovered in the 1800s and continue to be the Tuscan town's claim to fame.
The Benefits: The waters originate from Monte Amiata, a dormant volcano that still pumps water from its craters and rivers. Along with a mineral mix including sulfur, bicarbonate, and alkaline, the water contains plankton, known for its ability to calm and strengthen skin. The combination has also proven beneficial for muscle, joint, cardiovascular and respiratory issues.
How to Soak: The stunning Cascate del Mulino, just outside of town, is a series of thermal waterfalls that cascade into natural pools of travertine rock. The water bubbles up at about 99 degrees year-round, making this a popular relaxation spot even in the winter, and at night (access is available 24/7, at your own risk.) There aren't any facilities at the park-just strip down to your bathing suit and hop in. cascate-del-mulino.info; free.
Continue a tradition that dates back to the 2nd century.
The mountain town of Kusatsu in central Japan is one of the oldest hot springs sites in the country, with claims of travelers soaking here as early as the 2nd century. Samurai came in the 1600s, looking to heal their wounds. By the 1700s Kusatsu was a booming resort destination for those suffering from red light district illnesses like syphilis. The interest became scientific in 1876 when a German doctor began researching the healing powers of the waters, and helped create more targeted medical treatments using the springs.
The Benefits: Kusatsu's location near one active volcano and two dormant ones means there are more than 100 springs and baths, called onsen. Full of sulfur and healing minerals from the volcanic earth, the waters treat bruises, sprains, stiff muscles, and burns, as well as chronic indigestion. Temperatures can reach a scalding 129 degrees, so bathing is not allowed in the hottest pools.
How to Soak: There are several public bathhouses in Kusatsu, one of the most popular being Sainokawara Rotenburo. This open-air bath in Sainokawara Park can accommodate up to 100 bathers and is open year-round (japan-guide.com; $6 entrance fee). Otakinoyu has outdoor pools and a wooden bathhouse with seven tubs of varying temperatures (japan-guide.com; $10 entrance fee). Located near a source spring, Shirohatanoyu, one of the eighteen free local communal baths, has two small tubs (japan-guide.com; free).
Soak in some of the world's most picturesque springs—if you can get there.
Tibet can be a complicated country to get to (see our advice here). Once there, you can visit numerous hot spring sites, with Yambajan easily being the most picturesque. Glaciers, ancient forests, and snow-capped hills surround the town, which sits on a cold plateau at the base of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains. There are eight springs here, all with evocative names like Bread-Steaming Hot Spring (where bread can be cooked over the steam heat), Vinegar Boiling Spring, and Fish-Cooking River (which runs so hot, fish get boiled and float to the surface).
The Benefits: Yambajan is home to several types of thermal waters, including geysers and springs ranging from warm to boiling (the water in the main bathing pools is cooled in open-air cisterns before it is deemed safe for soaking). While the springs are high in sulfur and other minerals thought to be therapeutic, most travelers come to soak up the muscle-relaxing heat and peaceful atmosphere. Note that because of the high-altitude, long soaks and vigorous exercise in the hot waters are not recommended and you should drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
How to Soak: The safest place for soaking is in one of the indoor and open-air bathing and swimming pools that have been built along the geothermal field. For the best views, come in the early morning, when the steam rising off the pools seems to melt into the snow-capped mountains in the background. Yambajan is accessible via public bus from Lhasa. tibettravel.info; $5 entrance fee.
Take the cure among Roman ruins.
Archeological evidence suggests activity around these springs in southwest England as far back as 8,000 B.C. Those water-crazy Romans constructed the first formal baths in the first century AD (visitors can tour the remains today) and the baths' popularity didn't wane in the centuries that followed. As Jane Austen fans know, the waters were popular throughout the 1700s and 1800s with travelers looking to "take the waters." In 2006, after more than a decade of renovations, the Thermae Bath Spa complex opened in some of the most historic bath sites.
The Benefits: The three wellheads under the center of Bath are sourced by ancient rainwater that has made its way up through the region's limestone faults. The waters (which can be as warm as 117 degrees) contain more than 42 minerals, including sulphate, calcium, silica, iron, and chloride. Doctors have sent patients here for centuries to treat rheumatism, psoriasis, gout, and even infertility; injured WWII servicemen also came here for rehab. These days, most soakers seek relaxation and relief from skin issues.
How to Soak: The Thermae Bath Complex is right in the center of Bath, about a 15-minute walk from the railway station. The main building houses the largest of the thermal baths, the New Royal Bath, has a whirlpool as well as a "lazy river," a heated rooftop pool, aromatherapy steam rooms, and a full-service spa (thermaebathspa.com; entrance fees from $34). Across the street, the smaller (and very basic) thermal Cross Bath stands at the site where ancient Celts and Romans honored their respective goddesses (thermaebathspa.com; $21 for 90 minutes).
See the hot springs