Some of the best locations with registered springs have been developed into resorts, so they act as luxurious outdoor spas with swim-up bars, while others are more laid-back with a natural feel. If you prefer the convenience of a resort-style experience, guests staying overnight will have longer access and more perks versus those who purchase day passes. Speaking of day passes, it's advised to make a reservation in advance during peak season.
If you romanticize about the natural (and free-of-charge) hot spring scenario, you have to dig a little deeper as most of these locations are found on private property or in protected areas. You need to get an invitation or at least a prior permission from owners or authorities, so befriend a local and ask for tips. Keep in mind that the harder to get to isn’t always better: During rainy season, the heated mineral water can be diluted with fresh cold water; alternatively, when the water is too low, the spring may stop running altogether. In this case, off-the-beaten-path may not always be the best bet, but we’ve added reliable options when possible.
The most famous volcano in Costa Rica provides the highest concentration of hot springs with its vast underground network of rivers and streams, leading to the rainforests and grasslands through the force of gravity. A growing number of luxury hotels around Arenal offer visitor access to their springs with several mineral pools of varying temperatures and depths. The best day passes include Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, which has a separate adults-only area, as well as Los Perdidos, part of the Springs Resort & Spa, with secluded streams and waterfalls in the jungle.
Additional options include:
Best for Families: Baldi Hot Springs is the largest hot springs in the country (and possibly the world) with 25 spring-fed pools, a few waterslides, and even a jacuzzi that can fit 60 people. This is a crowd-pleaser with reasonably-priced day passes for up to 12 hours (and yes, there's enough to do here), but it can become congested during the high season.
Best for Intimacy: Skip the crowds and head for EcoTermales Fortuna, located on a family-operated property with a limited number of guests admitted at any given time. Titokú Hot Springs is another authentic choice (max 80 people) for those who want peace and quiet. It offers eight pools of varying temperatures separated by pretty streams and gardens, though hours are limited.
Best for Budget Travelers: Next to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort runs a river called Rio Arenal (sometimes called Rio Tabacon) where locals and in-the-know travelers go to enjoy the hot springs for free. To get there, drive to Tabacón and look for resort signage. You can park along the road or in the marked spaces for free, but tip the local who is watching the cars. Alternatively, Rio Agua Caliente, near the Arenal Observatory Lodge, is free for those who want to take a warm soak. Both of these options are more natural due to open access, but keep an eye on personal belongings.
Here are a few great itineraries that include Arenal:
- Arenal Expedition - 4 Days
- Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days: Explore Jungles, Volcanoes & Beaches
- Family-Friendly Arenal and Manuel Antonio National Park - 9 Days
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano
Just 90 minutes from Liberia International Airport, the thermal hot springs around Rincón de La Vieja — the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste — may not be as well known as those in the Arenal area, so you’re likely to see fewer crowds.
Best for Authenticity: Rio Negro hot springs near the Hotel Hacienda Gauchipelin has a clear river flowing through 10 man-made pools of varying temperatures. This is a lovely and inexpensive option, and the nominal cash fee includes a towel and a locker. A short walk down a maintained trail leads you down to the pools on both sides of the river, via a suspension bridge, with a mud bath and lounge chairs. Bring a picnic lunch as there is no restaurant on-site.
Best for Active Types: Tizate hot springs are also part of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The actual pool that the thermal spring bubbles into is man-made and filled with thermal waters from the nearby volcano. Visitors can also take part in mud baths and several different organized tours (horseback riding or zip lining) as part of an all-day adventure.
Best for Families: Blue River Resort & Hot Springs is located on the north side of the volcano and across from the Rio Azul. The resort offers three hot springs and two freshwater pools with a 98-foot waterslide, butterfly garden, hummingbird sanctuary, natural mud bath, and sauna. You can head across the street for a short nature walk that will take you to a stunning blue river for swimming.
Not too far from Rincon de la Vieja (about an hour drive), is the more wild and remote Miravalles Volcano, situated near the two small towns of Fortuna (not to be confused with La Fortuna) and Guayabal. This is the best option for those seeking the least touristy destination.
Best for Romantic Couples: Rio Perdido is a 600-acre upscale resort near Fortuna with 20 bungalows, 16 miles of trails, and yoga classes. Along the riverbed, there are eight registered springs that dilute with the river water to create a series of mineral pools of varying temperatures. Day passes are available and include access to the hot springs and hiking trails.
Best for Laid-Back Atmosphere: Colinas de Miravalles is a family-owned lodge with on-site hot spring pools and five cabins spread across the scenic grounds affording awesome views of the volcano. Bring a picnic or have lunch on-site at a restaurant that focuses on quality local ingredients.
Best for Families: Thermomania is a fun waterpark for the kids with water slides that tend to attract local families. Yoko Termales is a budget-friendly option with five hot spring pools, along with a wet bar and waterslide. Las Hornillas is a private property on the base of the crater offering tours inside the actual volcano. Visitors can apply mineral-rich volcanic mud to their skin and then soak in three thermal pools afterward. Hiking trails and camping are also available.