I gotta be honest with you. I’ve never really understood the popularity of hot springs in the tropics. With the thermometer sitting at 85° and the air laden with moisture at 98% humidity. Why on earth would you want to dunk yourself in hot water to push that to 99° and 100%?…except for the swim up bars…maybe margaritas are the key.
Up near Monteverde in the cool of the high altitude cloud forest thermal pools might be more appealing. Unfortunately the natural springs up there are all either too small or too hot to soak in and no one has thought to build a resort and mix in some cool water. Instead thermal bathing options are sprouting like mushrooms in the lowlands around Arenal Volcano.
Hot spring alley on the road from Fortuna around the north side volcano to the lake is home to a couple dozen springs, spas, mini-waterparks and resorts with thermal pools – including the original Tabacon. New levels of luxury are being introduced every year and it’s possible to spend over $1,000 a night for a room including access to a spring. Day trip options range from $25 bus in combos complete with beer and loud music sold to backpackers from the kiosks in town to elegant pool, dinner, wine and massage packages for the grown ups.
There are even still a couple of free natural options in the Arenal area. Tabaconcito is on the hot water Río Tabacón just past the famous resort and the Río Agua Caliente (at the turn to the Observatory Lodge) has been protected from development by its inclusion in Arenal Volcano national park.
The romantic appeal of relaxing under the stars as a warm waterfall massages your shoulders then toweling off and walking a rain forest path back to a bungalow has driven the growth in hot springs lodges and mini-resorts. The Springs and Nayara Springs are the latest entries in the luxury category. Arenal Springs Resort is a perennial favorite and the inspiration for the description of the night sky and little waterfall in the first sentence. Other like the Royal Corin have more of a luxury hotel atmosphere and instead of the path you can just hop in the elevator.
Tabacón oddly enough requires either a walk or golf cart ride across and then along the highway since the lodge and the springs are on opposites sides about an eighth of a mile apart.
One of the best new destination resort and spa entries is another hot water river in Guanacaste – Río Perdido (also previously know as Río Agua Caliente). Only about an hour from the Liberia airport it’s much faster to access from the northern beaches if you want to exchange the sand and surf for thermal pools.
Natural Hot Springs
Although we’ve been to all the resorts and spas over the years, by far the best hot water we’ve ever enjoyed were the natural springs in Tenorio national park. We hiked the loop from the then new Nayara group luxury eco-resort – Celeste Hideaway to the west park entrance, up to the waterfall, past the tenederios and out towards the east exit. It was the green season, cool, misty, and raining intermittently so by the time we reached the natural pools we were ready for a soak.