Few things in this world feel better than soothing, perfect-temperature hot springs after a grueling bike trip in a ninety-degree tropical rain forest. When I visited the Arenal Volcano area in Costa Rica, I discovered one of those “few better things”: FREE hot springs.
When I was planning my Costa Rican adventure, I was bombarded with dozens of search results for hot spring resorts throughout the country. Hot springs have been popular since the 1800’s for their therapeutic and relaxation benefits. Many people claim that our minds and bodies react positively with the heat and minerals contained in natural hot springs. The mysterious waters’ sulfate, bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and lithium components supposedly heal everything from chronic pain to skin disease to depression.
Thanks to an abundance of volcanoes, Costa Rica’s landscape is riddled with underground hot springs that can be found in every size, shape, and temperature imaginable. Unfortunately, the tourism industry has commercialized the hell out of these rare and natural phenomenons. High-end resorts have channeled the warm, flowing waters onto their properties to offer luxurious packages with private nooks and martini bars. Kid-friendly water parks have installed enormous water slides to cater towards families looking to shut the kids up for awhile.
But those fruity martinis and quiet kids don’t come without a price. Many of Costa Rica’s hot springs resorts start with a sticker price of over $100 per person. Sure, La Fortuna’s Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa boasts of twenty-five natural mineral water pools at twelve different temperatures under exuberant waterfalls. However, a day pass to simply take a dip drains $104 from your wallet. A day pass for the first commercial hot springs to be established in the Arenal Volcano area, Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, will set you back a whopping $126.
As a traveler on a writer’s budget, I began to think that hot springs were simply out of my reach. Then much to my delight, I received a tip from the owner of Hotel Villas Vista Arenal, where I had made reservations for a couple days. The tip was that if you walk across the road from the fancy Tabacón resort, you could walk down a hill and access the hot springs for free. After an uphill-both-ways style bike ride around the Arenal Volcano, we parked our bikes by a gate along the road and went to scope it out for ourselves.
As you walk along an unassuming path down a gentle hill, you begin to hear the rush of water and see the steam rising into the air. There were a few tourists and a couple locals hanging around nearby, but I can’t say that the area was crowded in the least. Since this was my very first hot springs experience, I was surprised to find that the temperature of the water was perfect. Cooler than the hot tub at the Xport Fitness, yet warmer than any outdoor body of water I’d ever encountered.
Another perk to these free “secret” hot springs is that it’s totally unregulated. Living in the U.S., I’m used to my every move being policed. But if you want to crack open a couple Imperials while taking a dip here, no problemo.
We full immersed ourselves in the water after discretely changing into bathing suits behind a bush. The current flowed at a moderate pace, but the waters felt nonthreatening and as sanitary as you could hope for in nature.
I’m sure the fancy resorts are nice and all, but I’d recommend these nameless, free public hot springs to anyone visiting the volcano area. The best way to get to them is by finding Tabacón and walking across the street. If you’re reading my blog, then I automatically like you, you deserve to get this insider tip, and I hope you take advantage of it. Although I cannot confirm with any degree of certainty that Costa Rica’s hot springs stimulated my circulation, boosted my immune system, or detoxified my poor liver, it sure was relaxing and unforgettable.