Healing Waters: The Planet’s Best Hot Springs

Some of the best natural springs are hidden in the wilderness, reachable only by foot, while other healing waters are more accessible, contained in modern pools in developed areas. Whether you prefer a natural swimming hole outside Yellowstone or Aspen or a tranquil, spa-like environment in Costa Rica or Japan, here we have listed our favorite places to take a soothing dip.

Highlights
Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
Iceland’s largest and most famous geothermal spa lies around an hour outside Reykjavik, quite close to Keflavik Airport. With a dramatic setting amidst large black lava boulders, the steam-filled, creamy-blue pool area is a striking and surreal sight. The Blue Lagoon has been open since the 1980s and today draws some 700,000 visitors a year. The pools are actually created by heated seawater that flows from the adjacent geothermal power station. The waters allegedly cure all manner of skin-related ailments (eczema, psoriasis), but whether these claims are true or not, it’s certainly an atmospheric place to unwind, with very comfortable (99 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures. The complex includes a small bar that dispenses healthy juices and beer, as well as a spa area for massages andbeauty treatments, and a very good restaurant; there’s also an upscale hotel if you wish to stay overnight.
39171 Tassajara Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, USA
In 1967, Tassajara (already a storied hot springs resort) became the first Zen monastery outside Japan. Run by the San Francisco Zen Center, the monastery is open to the public from May through September and closed the rest of the year for monastic study. The only vehicle access to Tassajara is via the 14-mile dirt road that starts in Carmel Valley. Those without four-wheel drive should arrange for shuttle pick-up.
1 Chome-31-1 Asamaonsen, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano-ken 390-0303, Japan
At the new Kai Matsumoto inn, located in the historic town of Matsumoto in the Japanese Alps, the spa offers 13 different traditional Japanese bathing rituals in its eight baths. The alkaline water is drawn from nearby Asama Hot Springs, which once fed the private bathhouse of the Lord of Matsumoto Castle, and is believed to boost metabolism. Guests stay in minimalist rooms, sleep on tatami (straw mats) topped with pillowy bedding, and dine on authentic kaiseki (multicourse Japanese meals) that might include Wagyu beef with local herbs. From $570. This appeared in the March/April 2014 issue.
No. 18, Zhongbu Cross-island highway, Xiulin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan 972
These beautiful hot springs are located several kilometres into the gorge. To get there you must drive or cycle to the parking lot and then walk down a long wooden staircase built into the cliffside. At the bottom you’ll find a quaint Japanese-style changing room. From there you cross the river on a suspension bridge and then walk down to an open marble basin filled with flowing hot water. The view from the bottom of the gorge is spectacular, the water is blisteringly hot, and the river is near enough to jump in to cool off. And the best part: it’s free.
Ruta Provincial 82, Km 38, M5507 Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
If you’re looking for a day of grape-free respite in Mendoza, head off-the-grid to the hot springs of Cacheuta. The Terma Spa welcomes guests with an assemblage of thermal baths overlooking the scenic Mendoza River flowing downstream from the Andes. The indoor/outdoor thermal spa circuit winds through waters ranging in temperature from 73 to 105 degrees. Bubble beds, a water volcano and foot baths are strategically placed throughout the circuit to knead tense muscles. The Natural Solarium has a basin of therapeutic mud for slathering all over your body and baking on the pool deck. Scrub yourself clean in the bithermal hydrojet shower and kick back on the flowering Andaluz patio. Next, head underground to the vaporarium and detoxify in its natural steam. Relax in the verdant garden until you’re ready for an afternoon spa treatment or another convalescing soak in Cacheuta’s healing mineral waters.
61 North Entrance Road
Three miles into Yellowstone from the North Entrance and before you reach Mammoth Hot Springs is a small parking lot on your left. Park and walk down the trail (400m). At the confluence of the Gardiner and Boiling rivers is a fun swimming hole. Mostly known by locals, you’ll enjoy the sensation of hot thermal waters from the Boiling River mixing with the icy water of the Gardiner. Take 30 minutes and enjoy.
Take in views of a hot spring–fed waterfall, a dramatic ravine, and the Dead Sea from a resort that sits more than 800 feet below sea level. A cliff-top outdoor restaurant serves organic greens from the garden. Evason Ma’In, (800) 591-7480, from $300. This appeared in the December/January 2010 issue.
Guanacaste Province, Liberia, Costa Rica
The thermal hot springs in Rincón de La Vieja at Rio Negro (Black River) may not be as well known as those in the Arenal area, but we had the pools and surrounding forest to ourselves. From where we stayed at the Hacienda Guachipelin Rincón de La Vieja, the springs were accessible by horseback or vehicle, followed by a short hike and crossing a rather dubious hanging bridge. The pools are heated by the Rincón de La Vieja Volcano, so you definitely want to test the steaming water. There are seven pools to sample of different shapes, sizes and temperatures. The first pool was too hot to plunge more than our toes into. And the pool that was “just right” was the last one, which happened to be ideally situated next to the churning river. After two days of horseback riding, hiking, canyon ziplining and rappelling, it was great to unwind at this private oasis. If a rainforest/volcano adventure beckons you, I recommend staying at Hacienda Guachipelin Rincón de La Vieja and getting an adventure pass from Adventure Tours--both are at Rincón de La Vieja National Park.
52068 W Fork Rd #38, Dolores, CO 81323, USA
Among the most lauded hotel openings in recent years, Dunton Hot Springs is a glitterati mainstay, with its batch of former mining community cabins that look straight out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue. You don’t have to book a pricey stay at this Relais & Chateaux property to be part of the experience, however—the spa is open to the public. Make an appointment for the indulgent, only-in-Colorado Dolores hot-stone massage, which uses heated stones culled from the Dolores River to work out your kinks. Then, take a soak in the on-site sulfuric hot springs, which were once a restorative playground for the Ute Indians.
Loc. Follonata
The Maremma region of southern Tuscany, about an hour south of Siena, is an area of olive groves, wooded valleys, and ancient legends. One such tale, dating from the days of the Etruscans and Romans, chronicles an epic battle in which Jupiter threw lightning bolts at Saturn—and missed. As the story goes, when the bolts landed on the ground, they formed the bubbling hot springs now known as the Terme di Saturnia. Full of therapeutic minerals, the hot springs feed a variety of pools throughout the valley that have warmed and healed centuries of bathers. Today, you can soak up the goodness at the luxury Terme di Saturnia Hotel & Spa, which offers therapies performed with the waters, or at a free public bathing spot. To find the main one, head down a dirt path just outside of town, past a parking lot and changing area, until you spy a waterfall feeding a series of natural pools, each turned white by the mineral-rich water.
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