5 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For
From an ancient pool near the Dead Sea to the picturesque American West, join us on a world tour of the most stunning spots to take a dip.
In the world of spa treatments, it all goes back to water-and travel. After all, the word “spa” itself comes from Spa, Belgium, a popular watering spot back in the 1600s. In the centuries since, cultures all over the globe turned to natural, mineral-rich waters to treat a wide array of concerns, from the medical (sinus issues, muscle and joint pain) to cosmetic (skin clarity, psoriasis). The ancient Romans turned soaking into an art form-and a part of daily life-and as the Roman Empire grew, baths known as thermae were established wherever mineral springs were discovered. Over the years, many of these ancient hot spring towns grew into wellness resorts, particularly once European doctors started recommending “water cures” in the 18th century. With so many steamy spots to choose from in the world, we’ve narrowed our list down to natural hot, mineral, and geothermal springs in historic, picturesque locations, including two right here in the U.S. Here are some of the prettiest places to jump in and say “ahhh.”
1. Szechenyi Bath, Budapest, Hungary
Drinking the water is as healing as soaking in it.
Ancient Celtic settlers were the first to make use of the therapeutic waters (they named the area Ak-Ink, or “ample water”), followed by the Romans, who built the first official baths and re-dubbed the place Aquincum. Though the bathing culture continued through centuries of Hungarian and Turkish rule, the traditions floundered in the 18th century-until the re-discovery of some thermal springs in the 1800s. A scientific interest in the benefits led to the construction of some of the city’s most famous bathhouses, some which remain today.
The Benefits: The thermal waters are rich in a variety of minerals, including fluoride, calcium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, magnesium, sulphate, and metabolic acid. The combination has proved effective in treating chronic arthritis and other joint illnesses and orthopedic issues. The water from drinking wells is also high in similar minerals, and is good for treating gastric ulcers and various internal inflammations.
How to Soak: There are enough mineral springs under the city of Budapest to feed more than 50 public baths and pools, numerous private spas, and countless drinking fountains. We suggest the stunning Szechenyi Bath, which opened in 1913. The complex includes three large outdoor pools, heated to varying degrees, plus several pools with jets and waterfalls, saunas, and spots for aqua-aerobics and other therapies. szechenyibath.com; entrance fee from $12.50.
2. Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Soak in the Rockies at this national park.
Surrounded by dramatic alpine views, these hot springs in western Canada were considered a sacred healing site by the area’s native residents. In 1882, workers building the Canadian Pacific Railway happened upon two of the spring pools at the base of Sulphur Mountain-and the news quickly spread. The first European visitors arrived in 1884, and two years later construction on a bathhouse begun. The Banff Upper Hot Springs bathhouse, completed in the mid-1930s, has been declared a protected Heritage Building.
The Benefits: Located at 5,200 feet above sea level, Canada’s highest natural springs are rich in key minerals like sodium, magnesium, bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, which have skin healing and muscle-relaxing properties. Despite their long journey from the center of the earth, these waters are also the hottest in the Rocky Mountain range, clocking in at up to a muscle-warming 104 degrees.
How to Soak: The Banff Upper Hot Springs complex-which includes one large pool and a bathhouse-is located about a mile and a half south of the town center, and is accessible by public Banff Roam Bus service; buses run every 40 minutes. The pool is fed by water directly from the spring source, which lies in a protected part of the National Park. www.hotsprings.ca, $7.30 entrance fee.
3. Ma’In Hot Springs, Jordan
A spa with biblical roots.
Like those of their neighbor, the Dead Sea, the healing powers of these desert oasis springs are biblical: King Herod would travel here often for medical treatment and legend has it that Salome did her famous dance in his nearby villa. Since then, kings, queens, and commoners of all types have come to enjoy the hot and cold springs, many of which tumble down from picturesque waterfalls.
The Benefits: Known locally as Hammamat Ma’in, the springs originate from winter rainfalls in Jordan’s highland plains. As the water makes its way through the Wadi Zarqa Ma’in valley, underground lava fissures help heat them (temps range from 104 to 145 degrees) and infuse them with skin-healing minerals like hydrogen sulfide, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Stand under one of the hyperthermal waterfalls for a natural deep-tissue massage.
How to Soak: The springs are located in a desert valley near the Dead Sea, about 866 feet below sea level; it’s around a 20-minute drive from the town of Madaba and one hour from capital city Amman. The public bathing complex at Hammamat Ma’in includes Roman baths at the base of a waterfall (visitjordan.com; $14 entrance fee). The facility is popular with local families and can get crowded on weekends. For a more private experience, check-in to the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs resort next door, where guests enjoy after-hours entry to the main springs, as well as access to falls and pools located on the hotel grounds. (011-962-5-324-5500; sixsenses.com/Evason-Ma-In; from $207 per night).
4. Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The scenery, and the effects, are otherworldly.
A heating company formed the lagoon (which holds 1.5 million gallons of sea- and freshwater) to explore geothermal heating methods in the late 1970s. By 1981, people were bathing in the lagoon-and noticing marked improvements in skin conditions. The site became a popular tourist attraction, with official public facilities opening in 1987 and a full spa in 1999.
The Benefits: With its volcanic rocks, electric green moss, and steaming waters, the area around the Blue Lagoon looks like something from another planet. Fans of the waters agree that the results are otherworldly. High amounts of silica help exfoliate skin, strengthen its barrier function, and heal inflammation, while minerals from the seawater revitalize skin. Microorganisms found here also help reduce signs of UV damage and stimulate collagen production. Skin care products made with the therapeutic waters make great souvenirs.
How to Soak: The facility, 40 minutes from the center of Reykjavik, includes steam baths, sauna, relaxation areas, and lagoon pools. Enjoy the massaging waterfalls and lather on some pure geothermal silica mud (provided free of charge). In-water massages and other spa treatments are available for an additional fee. bluelagoon.com; $39 entrance fee.
5. Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica
Where the volcano views are as stunning as the waters are relaxing.
Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes and 61 more that are dormant or extinct. Thanks to all this geothermal activity, the country also boasts several hot springs sites, most notably around the Arenal Volcano in the northwest. Technically still active (it’s said to be “resting”), Arenal’s heat and minerals infuse streams that flow through the marshes and grasslands at its base. Several hotels offer access to the springs, but the original-and the gold standard-is the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, opened in 1993.
The Benefits: Tabacón’s hot springs are 97 percent rainwater that has sunk to the earth’s core and been heated, and the remaining three percent is magma-based. As the mixture rises back to the surface, it brings with it the minerals imbedded in the earth. The springs are naturally heated to a muscle-relaxing 77 to 122 degrees and the high levels of hydrothermal flora and fauna strengthen the skin’s defense system and repair surface damage. Even better, the springs are low in sulfur. Meaning you won’t stink after taking a dip.
How to Soak: If staying at the luxury resort is not in the budget, buy a day pass to enjoy the dozen mineral pools (including one with thermal water slide and another with a swim-up bar), three thermal waterfalls, and sweeping volcano views. tabacon.com; from $60 for a day pass.
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