Immerse yourself in the world’s most beautiful hot springs
by Rebecca Giorgilli
A year ago
Water hypnotises us.
Humans have always been drawn to its fluid nature for the purposes of purification and its ability to soothe our aching souls. Famous historical sites from the around the world reflect this long standing love affair, showcasing ancient baths, hot springs and onsens that have stood for millenia, beckoning many mythological legends into their seemingly magical waters..
As a girl blessed with skin highly sensitive to chemicals, I would like to share with you today my favourite way of “taking to the waters”.. (without the chlorine!)
Hot Mineral Springs..
When it comes to hydrotherapy no one does it better than nature. These natural wonders bubble up from beneath the earth, providing the lucky recipient a sensory treat for both body and soul.
For me they are nature’s own super spa, with their warm soothing waters, natural landscapes and fresh air, tops my list as THE most pleasure inducing way to purify, relax and restore calm.
Indigenous tribes in North America considered these natural wonders to be power spots, aptly naming them “the place of magic waters”, utilising them for healing, purufication ceremonies, sacred gatherings and rituals.
Hot springs contain a cocktail of restorative minerals that infuse our bodies with an array of magnesium, potassium, chlorides, boron, salts, silica, sulfur, calcium, zinc, algae and sodium bicarbonate.
Balneology is the scientific study into the therapeutic benefits of naturally occuring mineral waters. Throughout Japan and Europe people are actually prescribed treatments to assist in treating many forms of disease and promoted as powerful preventative medicine.
They are known to boost blood circulation, assist with arthritis, inflammatory conditions, nervous system imbalances, skin and digestive disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and blood pressure. (Just to name a few!)
Science aside, after spending just a few mere hours in the warm waters, I emerge reincarnated, feeling like a modern day version of Cleopatra…
Here is my bucket worthy list of of the surreal, sublime and sometimes stinky power pools of wellness…
Peninsula Hot Springs, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
We must begin our journey right here in Oz. Nestled in nature, this particular spring has stolen my heart. For me, it is without question Australia’s best soak, offering mineral rich waters that flow into outdoor pools carved from natural stone, while breathing in the fresh sea side air.
Open day and night, you can soak away your troubles with waters that feed directly from an underground aquifer said to be more than 10,000 years old. Laced with magnesium, potassium, boron, chlorides, bicarbonates, sodium and natural salts, ensures your body is infused with all the right magic.
This serene scene offers more than 20 different bathing experiences, suitable for visitors of all ages, including a hilltop pool with a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape, reflexology walk, a hammam (Turkish steam bath), sauna, outdoor showers, cave pool and family friendly area.
Take it to cloud nine with their spa dreaming menu, to whisk you away from daily life. Whichever experience you choose, you can be sure it will leave you planning your next trip back.
Blue Lagoon, Grindavik Iceland
Healing power on a massive scale, this truly is one of the world’s natural wonders, and apparantly National Geographic agrees with me ☺ This geothermal plant contains luminous blue pool’s of milky water laced with the healing properties of silica, salts, minerals and algae that are so good for your skin, there is even a psariosis clinic on the grounds offering extensive spa services. (including in-water massages!).
Expect a communal pool party of Icelander’s and international guests slathering silky silica mud all over themselves, while drinking in a moonlike landscape with smiles to boot.. What more could we ask for on planet earth?!..
Tip: Also check out the pools at Landmannalaugar, a region described as “otherworldy”, Seljavallalaug, Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, the secret lagoon in Fludir or Lake Myvatn nature baths to top off your wellness experience.
Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey
Step back in time at this spectacular turkish delight. Aptly translated to “cotton castle” this panoramic scene is set below the ancient Greek-Roman city of Hierapolis.
This ancient city became a thermal spa early in the 2nd Century BC and what is now called the Cleopatra Pool (also known as the “sacred pool”) was the foundation of this ancient city. Visitors came from far and wide seeking a divine cure for their ailments from the healing mineral rich waters. Can you imagine another place on this planet where you can soak in a warm mineral spring with 2,000 year old semi-submerged Roman columns at your feet!
As you gaze down the mountain, you will set your eyes upon one of the most unique and legendary hot springs in the world. Gleaming white/turqoise pools cascading down a cliff almost 200 metres high, through petrified waterfalls, stalactites and travertine terraces, created by centuries of calcium deposits cooled into white limestone, giving the setting an undeniably etheral essence.
This UNESCO world heritage site can be visited all year long, but it is spectacular in winter (November to March), when natural pools of water form and tourists can take long soothing baths.
Tip: To avoid crowds stay nearby at Pamukkale village, then explore the formations in the morning.
Dunton Hot Springs, Dolores, Colorado
Yee-haw cowboy!! Nestled in the Colorado Rockies stands a reincarnated ghost town, now offering the most serene of soaks at 8,700 feet of elevation air in the San Juan Mountains.
Cast your imagination back to the Wild Wild West…
What was once an active mining town, in 1994 underwent extensive restoration, with most of the original buildings including the old village dance hall, Bath House and Saloon, including a wooden bar personally inscribed by the infamous Butch Cassidy and his sidekick Sundance! Converted into a cosily kitted out retreat, offering 5 star rustic luxury for those in need of some serious hot spring action.
With waters rich in calcium-bicarbonate, iron and manganese with a pinch of lithium, they offer six ways to soak. Indoor and outdoor, including one overlooking the mountains through a floor-to-ceiling window in the Bath House. Our pick (and hottest) is of course under the stars at the source.
If you are lucky enough to stay in the Well House Cabin, you will even have access to your own private hot spring and plunge pool out back. Other experiences on offer include horseback riding, helicopter skiing, hiking, mountain biking, snow shoeing, fly fishing, river rafting, kayaking, but most importantly a full service spa (in the former pony express building) specialising in holistic, natural treatments.
Tip: While in Colorado you may like to check out Yampah Hot Springs Vapour Caves, Rainbow Hot Springs, Glenwood Hot Springs, Conundrum Hot Springs, Pagosa Hot Spring Hotel & Spa, with the deepest Geothermermal hot spring in the world or Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort visited by the queen of soul herself Oprah Winfrey.
Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica
The Arenal region in Costa Rica is a tropical paradise, blessed with beauty that must be seen to be believed, coupled with an incredible array of hot springs dotted through jungle landscapes, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Eden.
Thanks to the geothermal activity bubbling up from the imposing Arenal Volcano, this area has become a global mecca for those who looovee their hot springs..
Our top pick (although all of them are stunning) are those found at The Springs Resort & Spa. Not only will you drink in magnificent views of Arenal Volcano, this resort offers 18 freeform pools to choose from, some of which feature waterfalls, forest landscapes, water slides and swim-up bars. The water is pumped in directly from their spring, containing an array of beneficial minerals including bicarbonates, calcium, potassium, boron, magnesium, iron, sulfur and sodium.
For those who like it al’ natural, Perdido Springs will be just the thing, set within a forest canyon, it can be reached through an intricate trail, lined with flowering heliconias, exotic wildlife and rainforest greenery, still within the sprawling Springs Resort Estate.
You can access the springs either by staying at the hotel or by purchasing day passes. Other activites on offer include horse riding, river kayaking, tubing, zip lining, hiking and an animal refuge centre.
Tip: Others springs highly recommended include Tabacon Thermal Resort Hot Springs (The first in Costa Rica), Rio Perdido, Eco Termales, Baldi and Rio Celeste with its very own waterfall.
Grutas de Tolantongo, Hidalgo, Mexico
Hidden in the mountains of Hidalgo, this one has it all. Spectacular scenery, waterfalls, caves, steam tunnels, pools filled to the brim with minerals and a magnificent volcanic river flowing with warm turquoise waters. Tolantongo manages to ticks all the right boxes..
This oasis of tranquility, run by a local co-operative, is set within a jaw dropping canyon, surrounded by volcanic mountains, that naturally heats the water, infusing it with minerals, as it flows down into thermal waters.
The hottest ticket at this magical water park, are the world famous mineral springs known as Grutas de Tolantongo, featuring 45 individual cliffside springs cascading down a mountainside, delivering a breathtaking landscape from every poolside position.
From here, you can walk accross a suspension bridge to La Gloria (naurally formed hot springs) or even zip line your way down into the valley below, to explore the Grottos, a wonderland of caves, waterfalls and steam tunnels before retiring in the turqoise river.
Tip: Visit on weekdays to avoid crowds and begin exploring first thing in the morning before the heat of day. Oh and remember your water shoes!
The Banjaran Malaysia
Nestled deep in a valley cradled between tropical rainforest and towering 260 million year old palaeozoic limestone hills, The Hot Springs Resort Banjaran is ideal for those seeking an exotic mineral refuge.
Here you will find a steady supply of geothermal water billowing up from the base of the surrounding hills, and because its percolated through rock, contains many minerals, dissolved ions and other goodies that are sure to be just what the doctor ordered.
Centered around a geothermal lake with its own cascading waterfall, explore a collection of natural waterholes, stylish pools and incredible steam caves that will soothe any weary soul.
Like to bathe in private? We got you covered, each villa in this resort has their very own pool and comes equipped with a supply of spring water piped into an open-air recessed tub.
Other highlights include a Spa and Wellness Centre offering over 40 different types of holistic therapies, including Ayurvedic, colonic irrigation and Reiki in a crystal studded cave! It even has its own fish pool where if you dare to dangle your legs, exotic Garra Rufa fish will remove your dead skin cells!
If like me you adore your food, then Jeff’s Cellar is for you, set within a limestone cave, making it one of the most unique wine bars in the world, with mouth watering food to match. Its no wonder this drool worthy contender came up trumps in our search for a good hot soak.
Cascate del Mulino, Saturnia, Tuscany
As if we needed another reason to visit Tuscany.. well allow me to indulge you anyway..
Set amongst rolling hills and rustic barn yards, this effortlessly picturesque oasis gives one gorgeous little soak.. With waters that spring directly from the source, showcasing a large cascading waterfall gushing out at 500 litres per second into naturally formed travertine pools, bubbling over ivory-white boulders, has earnt this natural wonder its legendary status.
The ancient story goes Saturn, God of abundance, flew into a temper because men were always fighting each other. So one day he decided to put order, took a lightning and threw it down into the earth, causing sulfurous warm water to gush out from the crater of a volcano, giving healing water that gave birth to wiser, happier men. I love a great story, and I’m sure these ancient baths, used since etruscan times would have many to tell.
Described as the devilish elixir of eternal youth, these teal coloured curative waters contain sulphur, calcium, carbon, magnesium, bicarbonates and thermal plankton that not only naturally exfoliates skin, but also deliver the body a dose of therapeutic minerals.
Apparently the best things in life are free, and this is no exception, open to the public day or night. A local recommended a nightime dip in the midst of winter, where clouds of steam float up into a sky full of stars, from your very own cocoon of warm soothing waters. Sounds like utter bliss to me…
For those who like it less rustic, visit nearby Terme di Saturnia Resort, offering four spring fed thermal pools, falls, several jacuzzi and a spa menu that will cater to any whim of wellness you desire.
Tip: Remember your water shoes! The incredible pools can be a slippery slide. While in Rome so they say, check out the secluded sulphur springs of Fosso Bianco. Set amongst stunning white limestone formations akin to a glacier, with a waterfall slipping down a calcium-carbonate rock face into several natural basins below. The mud here is also great for facials!
Yamamizuki Onsen, Japan
This article could never be complete without a formal introduction into what has to be THE world’s dream destination for hot springs, Japan.
Thanks to an overabundance of active volcanos, Japan is a vertitable hotbed of mineral-rich waters, with over 3,000 hot springs (onsens) scattered across its scenic landscape.
Bathing in an onsen has been a treasured pastime of Japanese culture for thousands of years, however there must be carefully observed etiquette, such as ensuring you wash before entry, and most do not allow bathing suits, but are seperated by gender.
Onsen baths may be either publicly run or private, often through a hotel, bed and breakfast, or ryokan (traditional inn). In the words of my Japanese sister-in-law “picking your favourite onsen is like picking your favourite Italian dish!”. Some have views of Mt Fuji, mystical forests, cherry blossoms, lakes, rivers, oceans or meticulously manicured Japanese gardens, it truly is a matter of personal preference.
But I love a challenge, and this breathtaking onsen has been chosen, not just for its stunning scenery and healing waters that were once utilised by both lords and samurai. But also for the gorgeous ryokan attached, and its proximity to the long renowned onsen town of Kurokawa, with its old world vintage streetscapes, wooden bridges, stone paths and old fashioned stores.
The ryokan of Yamamzuki offers seven hot springs, but the two most alluring outdoor pools, sit right at the edge of the Tanohara river, offering views of a waterfall enveloped by deep forest.
The waterfall is tastefully lit at night, leaving you to gaze up at a star filled sky while contemplating your zen. If you all gets too hot you can enjoy a quick cold dip in the river, before plunging back into the warm pools.
The water here has been called “kuzuyu” meaning “water which heals wounds”. The incredible food served, is sourced from local produce and most rooms come equipped with their very own partial open air tubs, where you can look out to the woods in perfect peace.
Carved out in a narrow valley surrounded by the volcanic mountain ranges of Kyushu (known to be an energetic power spot), this adorable town will charm the pants off you! What I love most about this place is that residents have rallied to keep the traditional atmosphere alive, so you will not find multi-story buildings, tour buses or neon billboards.
You can purchase a wooden pass that allows entry into the town’s traditional bathhouses, each with a different character and source of water. Some are nestled amongst japanese gardens, bamboo forests, small caves or alongside the river. Whichever you fancy, you are free to wander the streets wearing your yukata (robe) and wooden geta sandals.
At the end of your soul soaking session, you can even visit the local shrine, where shinto worshippers offer up their wooden passes, together with their prayers and wishes to Kami (spirits or gods) who are believed to receive them in the traditional practice of ema.
Tip: Sato no yu Waraku comes highly recommended, with its cave and turquoise waters. Takefu is otherwordly, tucked away amongst 32 acres of bamboo forest, also with a cave and outdoor baths, has received many accolades, and Hozantei offers another beautiful riverside bath in a refined rustic style.
Termas Geometricas, Chile
If all that volcano spotting through the Patagonian Andes have left your muscles begging for mercy, then we have found your sanctuary.
In a country that hugs the edge of the tectonic plate, located in the Chilean Lakes District, this stunning geometric spa, running through a narrow, lush green canyon is one wild jewel worthy of a serious soak.
As you meander along the asian-inspired red planked footbridge, gushing over a gorgeous mountain stream, stop off to dip in one of the 17 beautiful slate hot springs, dotted through the dense native forest of Villarrica National Park.
If you can steal yourself away from the thermal pools, there are two waterfalls you can stand underneath or three plunge pools for when you need to cool off.
If all that soul soaking makes you hungry, dine at the café where great pizzas are their thing, or find new travelling companions by the communal open fire.
This dreamy paradise with its hot therapuetic waters are well worth the aching muscles..
I must also mention the famous Puritama Hot Springs in the Atacama desert. Consisting of 8 natural geothermal pools linked by a series of wooden walkways.