Discover the World’s Best Natural Hot Springs
These Exotic Natural Hot Springs will Make You Want to Go to There Today
Today, of course, you can drive to the spa for a day of relaxation, or simply jump in the outdoor hot tub in your backyard. But in times gone by natural hot springs were the indulgence of choice for those looking to feel cleansed, refreshed, and healed.
Bathing in natural hot spring water was a part of everyday life for the ancient Romans. The act of bathing was a sacred, yet public affair: romantic relationships were cultivated in these waters, as well as business deals and political alliances. The Romans knew that the natural springs where they built their bathhouses – called thermae – had healing properties. The central role that bathing played in Roman society was grounded firmly by this knowledge. All things done while bathing would be enhanced by the powers of the springs. They were blessed by the gods.
Such was the luxury of living in ancient Rome (never mind the lack of modern day conveniences). These bathhouses were available to the public for a small fee affordable to most, and some were quite large. The most spacious of all known bathhouses, the Baths of Diocletian (pictured above), could hold up to 3,000 people. As the Roman Empire expanded, so did their concept of bathing in natural hot springs. Enhanced for the modern pleasure-seeker, many springs across the world are now the center of lavish hot spring spas and vacation resorts. For the most part, these retreats are simply visited for deep relaxation, though some go for the express purpose of treating personal ailments. These hot springs tend to be located in rural or wild areas that are protected and less developed, surrounded by nature and a tranquil environment.
Mother Nature has cultivated two qualities in her natural springs to be used for our benefit: geothermal heat and mineral infusion. Water in a hot spring is heated by geothermal energy from the mantle beneath the Earth’s crust. “Hot” is considered by most experts to be 98 degrees or higher (anything lower than that is called a “warm” spring, though the distinction is nominal). Hot springs are therapeutic for ailments like arthritis and sore muscles. These springs also naturally contain nourishing minerals that have been infused in the water as it traveled through underground aquifers. Many different types of salts, like lithium, as well as other saline compounds like sulfur are often found dissolved in the spring water.
Traveling abroad to visit one of the world’s well-known hot springs makes for an exotic experience that transcends even sitting in a rejuvenating hot tub or sauna. Cultural and natural wonders, along with real peace, can be found in these places. Most of them offer a mix of placid simplicity (breathtaking scenery and communing with nature) and high-end luxury (spa treatments and massages). At these natural springs sites, visitors see new sights while indulging in a tradition that has endured thousands of years.
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon draws in tourists and Icelandic natives alike. With its haunting blue waters and mystic steam rising up from the surface, Blue Lagoon truly takes its bathers to another world. The water is a mix of sea and fresh water – and is naturally filled with beneficial minerals. The heat comes from a geothermal power plant, owned by a heating company that created the lagoon to test heating methods in the 1970s.
Expect water temperatures of 98 to 102 F in these geothermal springs – on the lower end as far as hot springs go, although compared to the cool Icelandic air, it’s quite hot. The 1.5 million gallons of water in the springs contains silica minerals as well as sulfur. These minerals are what draw in many people suffering from psoriasis to seek the healing properties of Blue Lagoon, as it purportedly reduces their symptoms. The thing to do at Blue Lagoon is to scoop up the silica mud and rub it on your face – instant exfoliation.
Aside from the lagoon itself, the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa also includes saunas, steam baths, spa treatments, massaging waterfalls, and other luxuries both natural and man-made. The breathtaking, expansive volcanic landscape makes it an icy-hot paradise. And you can take some of it with you: they sell the silica mud packaged and ready to apply.
If you go:
Blue Lagoon website: www.bluelagoon.com
Getting There: Drive 50 minutes southwest from Reykjavik or 20 minutes southeast from the International Airport. Transfers are also available to Reykjavik and/or the International Airport.
Cost: $39 entrance fee
Travel Tip: Peak times of day are from around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To avoid large crowds, aim for late afternoon or evening.
Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica
One of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes, the Arenal Volcano (in Spanish, Volcán Arenal) is an active volcano that heats and mineralizes several streams that flow at its base. These streams feed into a series of hot springs that have been cultivated by the local tourism industry. Don’t worry, you won’t catch fire – the volcano is “dormant,” meaning it is not currently erupting, and it geologists have observed that its volcanic activity has been declining in recent years. The volcano is the heart of the Arenal Volcano National Park.
Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort was the first facility to open the springs to the public in a luxury setting, and remains the most popular. The hot springs that serve its clientele come primarily from rainwater that has dripped to the Earth’s core and been geothermally heated. The hot spring temperature ranges from 77 to 122 F in some spots so be sure to be aware of where you can enter. Most of the water is right in the 100 to 104 F range, perfect for soothing achy muscles and joints. Many species of plants and microorganisms also populate the water, and they are said to have a therapeutic effect on the skin.
Arenal Volcano has a powerful presence that adds a sense of majesty to the experience. At night, watch for lava flowing down and lighting up the dark landscape. You need not spend an entire vacation stay at Tabacón – day passes are available for access to the dozen or so mineral pools on the resort grounds. Relax under the three thermal waterfalls, take a stroll through the gardens or hitch a ride on the water slide.
If you go:
Getting There: The shortest way to Tabacón from the capital city of San José is also the most scenic. The drive, which winds through miles of rainforest, takes about 3 hours.
Cost: $60 for a day pass
Travel Tip: If buying a day pass, make your reservation far in advance. The number of guests permitted in the springs is limited.
Ma’In Hot Springs, Jordan
You may already know about the great River Jordan from the Biblical accounts. A series of hot springs in that same country also have Bible-era roots. It was said that King Herod and others sought the natural hot springs of Jordan whenever he was ailing. The springs are a respite surrounded by mountains, valleys, and waterfalls, which are located near the Dead Sea.
A little on the hotter side of natural hot springs, the water at Ma’In Hot Springs can reach up to 145 degrees F. Minerals collected by migrating rainwaters in the valley include potassium, magnesium, calcium, and hydrogen sulfide, all of which nourish the skin. Flowing hot springs waterfalls provide a soothing, natural massage. The public bathing complex is a hotspot for locals, with Roman baths located at the base of the waterfall. The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs is an elite resort located at the springs, providing more privacy and a variety of spa treatments at Six Senses Spa.
The springs and surrounding areas are as rich in history as they are in minerals. A nearby attraction is a field of dolmen, prehistoric chamber tombs commonly found in Israel, Syria, and Jordan. The “lost city” of Petra, with its rosy, stone-cut architecture, is a popular side trip for visitors to the springs.
If you go:
Evason Ma’In Hot Springs website: www.sixsenses.com/evason-resorts/ma-in/destination
Getting There: Driving takes 20 minutes from Madaba, or about 1 hour from the capital city of Amman.
Cost: Public bathing – $14 entry fee. Evason Ma’In Hot Springs – from $207 per night.
Travel Tip: Evason offers seasonal deals on accommodations and spa treatments during their less busy times.
Hot Springs at Yambajan, Tibet
Nestled at the bottom of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains, the hot springs of Yambajan offer high temperatures and high altitudes. The eight springs in this region were all aptly named in Chinese – like Fish-Cooking River – so hot that fish that swim into it get boiled – and Bread-Steaming Hot Spring, where apparently, some people bake bread over the hot steam on the water’s surface.
When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a striking picture of beauty: glaciers, snow-covered hills, and lush forest are a constant backdrop. This, along with the hot temperatures and rich mineral and sulfur content of the water, combine to make a luxurious hot springs therapy experience. Some of the springs are literally boiling and must be collected and cooled before they can be used for bathing.
While you won’t bake or boil, you will get very hot in these springs. The high altitude of the Yambajan hot springs site makes it easy to get dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and take breaks between short soaks in the springs. There are many pools at the site built expressly for bathing – stick to those, which are at appropriate temperatures. Soak safely, and you can find true peace in Tibet’s little corner of heaven.
If you go:
Tibet Travel Information: tibettravel.info
Getting There: Public bus transit is available from Lhasa.
Cost: $5 entry fee
Travel Tip: Traveling to Tibet can be complicated– there are some hoops you’ll have to jump through. Plan your trip carefully, and be sure to obtain a Tibet travel permit in adequate time.
Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Located southeast of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a popular tourist attraction that is home to scenic views and ecological sites. Known locally as “the peninsula,” many of the visitors are natives of Melbourne, so a visit here is an opportunity to get an authentic Australian experience. Sunny beaches (best in Australia’s summer), expansive golf courses, and a wildlife conservation park make for a winning combination of exotic and familiar.
And of course, there are the peninsula’s hot springs. The natural thermal mineral waters can be enjoyed in a public or private setting. The social and family-friendly bathhouses feature access to the water pools – which range from 98 to nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit – as well as cold plunge pools for when guests need a break from the heat. Steam baths, hydrotherapy, and an underground sauna, as well as spa treatments, will keep you there for hours.
The outdoor private pools and indoor baths are designed for one to five people, for 30-60 minutes at a time. Private mineral baths are also available – try a skin soak in mud or lavender vanilla milk. All of the spring waters contain restorative minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium that regenerate the mind and body.
There is no lodging at the springs themselves, however accommodations are located not too far from the complex in the town of Rye. Packages are available with several hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and caravan parks, all within short driving distance of the springs.
If you go:
Peninsula Hot Springs website: www.peninsulahotsprings.com
Getting There: The Morningside Peninsula is just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.
Cost: $A20-$A40 for public baths, depending on time of day. $A63–$A70 for private bath use.
Travel Tip: The cost of admission for bathing early (7:30–9:30 a.m.) or late (7–10 p.m.) is less than at peak times.
Of course, it’s important you know the safety recommendations around soaking in hot water. If you suffer from health conditions or are pregnant, consult your doctor about best practices for soaking in warm water.