Several entities make the most of the hot springs that pour from the base of Volcán Arenal. Most famous and largest of the balnearios (bathing resorts) is Balneario Tabacón (Tabacón Hot Springs, tel. 506/2519-1999, U.S. tel. 877-277-8291, 10am-10pm daily, full-day pass with lunch or dinner adults $85, children $30), 13 kilometers (8 miles) west of La Fortuna. It taps the steaming waters of the Río Tabacón tumbling from the lava fields to cascade alongside the road.
This Spanish colonial-style balneario features five natural mineral pools fed by natural hot springs set in exotic, beautifully landscaped gardens, where steam rises moodily amid thick foliage. You can sit beneath waterfalls—like taking a hot shower—and lean back inside, where it feels like a sauna. The complex also has a restaurant and three bars, including a swim-up bar in the main pool. Towels, lockers, and showers are available. You’ll fall in love with Tabacón by night too, when a dip becomes a romantic indulgence. I recommend the Temazcal treatment, based on an ancient indigenous steam room, at the deluxe full-service Grand Spa (tel. 506/2479-2028), perhaps the country’s most sumptuous spa. It offers complete services in a gorgeous facility that includes open-air treatment rooms in the lush gardens. Note that Tabacón is in a high-risk zone. The former community of Tabacón was destroyed in 1968 by an eruption that killed 78 people, and in June 1975 an eruptive lava flow passed over the site of today’s springs. Visitors assume their own risk.You can sit beneath waterfalls—like taking a hot shower—and lean back inside, where it feels like a sauna.Baldi Termae Spa (tel. 506/2479-2190, 10am-10pm daily, day pass $31, with lunch and dinner $51), five kilometers (3 miles) west of La Fortuna, features 25 hot mineral pools, ranging 20°C to 35°C (69-95°F), lined with natural stone and landscaped with cascades and foliage. However, this Disneyesque success story can get packed—the huge spiral waterslide is a major draw, although several visitors report that it is too fast and risky. One pool has its own restaurant and deluxe hotel, two have bars, and there’s a small snack bar and lockers.
I much prefer the more tranquil and tasteful Titokú Hot Springs (tel. 506/2479-1700, adults $43, children $15), immediately west of Baldi Termae. Its eight stone-lined pools vary in temperature. It has a full-service bar and buffet restaurant.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.