Costa Rica is a land of seismic shenanigans, and the Arenal region, a few hours north of San José, is an excellent place to get in on the action. Hot springs burble up from cracks in the earth’s crust, and very active Arenal Volcano is one of the most dramatic sights in the country. Of the many lovely hot springs, Tabacón is the best known (and the most expensive), with Ecotermales Fortuna and Baldi Hot Springs just down the road. A little farther afield and less touristy, Termales de Bosque is near Ciudad Quesada.
In this hot-spring rich territory, Tabacón Hot Springs (13 kilometers/8 miles west of La Fortuna, tel. 506/2256-1500, daily 10am- 10pm, best to make reservations, US$60 per person) is the most stunning of the bunch. A naturally warm river winds its way through beautifully landscaped grounds and is guided into a series of pools and over a small falls, which will drum the tension right out of your shoulders and neck. Their Grand Spa has won awards and offers everything from massage to volcanic mud wraps to coffee bean exfoliations. All of this and a volcano view.
There’s also a largish swimming pool (not hot) with a swim-up bar. Things can get pretty raucous at night and/or when the tour buses arrive. Up the hill from the hot pools and full-service spa in the Tabacón Resort Hotel; you can walk from one to the other. A stay at the (moderately expensive) hotel allows you free admission to the hot springs.
At Baldi Hot Springs (5 kilometers/2.5 miles west of La Fortuna, on the road to Lake Arenal, on the left side across from Ecotermales Fortuna Hot Springs, 15 minutes west is Tabacón, tel. 506/2479-9917, 10am-10pm, about US$35 per person), more than a dozen hot pools are set amid landscaped grounds at the foot of Arenal Volcano. Heated by volcanic activity, the water in the pools varies in temperature, from slightly warm to piping hot. There are decks and platforms near most of the pools, some partially covered to protect from the rain.
Massage and other spa treatments (like volcanic mud wraps) are available. There’s also a 32-room hotel and a restaurant, although the food (especially the buffet) doesn’t get high marks from most visitors.
Kids will love the three water slides (the longest is 325 feet). But watch out — you can get going really fast! Near the entryway and bar, the pounding techno music doesn’t feel too relaxing, but farther up the hill the environment is much more peaceful.
Ecotermales Fortuna (5 kilometers/3 miles west of La Fortuna, on the road to Lake Arenal, on the right side, across from Baldi Hot Springs, tel. 506/2479-8484, 10am-9pm, book ahead, US$37 per person) is the smallest and quietest of the three major hot springs near La Fortuna, in part because the spa limits the number of people they allow in. Visitors book ahead of time for one of three daily time slots: 10am-1pm, 1pm-5pm, or 5pm-9pm. A traditional Costa Rican-style lunch or dinner is included in the admission price.
Four different pools of water range 31-39°C (91-105°F); one of the pools has a cascading waterfall you can sit under for a natural back massage. There are also separate changing rooms for men and women, individual lockers, toilets, and showers. Next to the restaurant is a shaded area with hammocks.
Note that unlike Baldi and Tabacón Hot Springs, Ecotermales doesn’t have a view of Arenal Volcano.
A small place southeast of La Fortuna, pleasant and reasonably priced Termales del Bosque Hotel and Spa (7 kilometers/4.3 miles east of Ciudad Quesada, tel. 506/2460-4740, about US$12 adults and US$6 children) is a favorite of residents who want to skip the more touristy springs closer to Arenal Volcano. They also offer packages that including lodging, meals along with hot springs use.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica.