Travelers can choose from a long list of appealing reasons to travel to Costa Rica. Some will be drawn by the picture-perfect beaches while others will want to immerse themselves in outdoor adventure activities. While I was intrigued by the beaches, there was one place up in the mountains that had seized my attention: The Tabacon Grand Spa Resort. Located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, this member of the Leading Hotels of the World is known for its incredible hot springs. In between dips in the mineral waters, I also planned to do some horseback riding and maybe embark on a hike or two.
Traveling to Tabacon
Before I could soak in these mineral waters, I had to make the journey to the Arenal Volcano National Park in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest. With a little bit of Costa Rica slang at the ready, we flew into the International Airport in San Jose and stayed overnight to begin the 150-kilometer drive (approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours) the next morning. I followed the hotel’s instructions to drive in the morning (or early afternoon), and to drive by daylight, to avoid a fog that can sometimes roll in during the afternoon. After passing through the town of San Ramon de Alajuela and following the excellent and frequent signs for the Tabacon Resort, I had arrived at my rainforest retreat.
The Hot Springs
After checking into my room, I dropped my bags and headed straight for the hot springs. These were not the first hot springs I have visited, but are certainly some of the most impressive. Some hot springs resorts rely on wells and pumps, but not Tabacon. The hot springs here are completely natural, heated by the looming Arenal Volcano. Throughout the hot springs area, water flows naturally by gravity, forming pools, waterfalls, and cascades that are all available for visitors to swim and splash in. The soothing waters offer a range of temperatures, from 77 degrees all the way up to 122 degrees. If you’re averse to very hot water, be sure to read the signs in each area before stepping in.
This range of temperatures and a number of other features makes this the most acclaimed hot spring resort in the country. I was pleasantly surprised at the absence of any sort of sulfur odor. Instead, I spent the day wandering along fragrant, lush paths finding pool after pool and cascade after cascade to go for a dip. Some areas are lively and appropriate for families while others are secluded and romantic, perfect for a honeymoon or anniversary celebration. Mineral waters flow over rocks providing natural waterfalls that were perfect for restoring alertness after a lengthy drive from San Jose.
The mineral waters are so soothing, you won’t need to book a spa treatment to relax. On the other hand, the Grand Spa elevates this rainforest atmosphere to new heights with its treatments. The spa here is determined to bring nature into your spa treatments. Instead of treatment rooms, you will enjoy your massage in an open-air bungalow surrounded by the tropical rainforest. Guests can choose between listening to music, or instead, letting nature provide the background music. From the sounds of the river to the rain to the wildlife, the sounds are relaxing.
Guests can choose from a long list of treatments, including massages, facials, and body treatments. Many treatments utilize indigenous ingredients such as volcanic mud, making your spa treatment here one-of-a-kind to Costa Rica.
There was another reason I was drawn to the Tabacon Grand Resort: this carbon-neutral resort has a distinct eco-friendly attitude. Located in the center of the rainforest, it was important to me to feel immersed in the local landscapes, without my visit causing detriment to the natural resources that drew me there in the first place. Those travelers that are interested in the flora of the rainforest will be thrilled to discover the fact that there are over 500 species of plants and flowers to be found throughout the resort.
Beyond the hot springs and the spa, the resort is also a great launching point for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. I set off one afternoon on a wildlife hike, an experienced guide leading the way through the rainforest in search of howler monkeys and toucans. On another day, I slipped into the saddle on a beautiful black and white horse, cantering through the valleys and cooling off beneath a waterfall in a deep, cool swimming hole. The long list of activities on offer by the resort also includes white water rafting, rappeling down waterfalls, and hiking over the hardened lava flows.
For me, the best part of my Costa Rica adventure was the ability to choose my activities depending on what suited my mood each day. If I woke and felt like lazing in the hot springs and enjoying an afternoon spa treatment, the focus of the day could be relaxation. If I woke invigorated and ready for adventure, I could choose from many expert-led excursions and activities.
Beyond the activities is a stunning landscape. Whether soaking in the mineral waters or on the back of a horse, the Arenal Volcano captured my attention each and every time I laid eyes on it.
- Room types range from forest rooms to superior rooms to deluxe premium rooms to the Honeymoon Suite
- Rooms start at $195 a night and vary depending on season and availability. Packages can be a good source of value; one example is a 4th-night free package from $1700 per couple including 4 nights accommodation, daily breakfast, a $100 spa coupon per person, Internet, and more.
Photo Credit: Tabacon hot springs by tostie14 on Flickr, Arenal Volcano by Wha’ppen on Flickr, Tabacon hot springs 2 by tostie14 on Flickr
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Jessica Colley is a freelance travel and food writer based in New York City. She proudly called Dublin home from 2008 – 2010 and writes frequently about the city and Ireland. Three of Jessica’s favorite travel destinations are Ireland, Italy, and Berlin. Find her online at www.thegreatamericantraveldream.com and on Twitter @jessicacolley.