The Best Hot Springs In La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica: Baldi, Ecotermales, Tabacon, Or The Springs Resort?

So you’ve decided to take a relaxing vacation to beautiful Costa Rica. Great! What better way is there to get some much deserved rest and rejuvenation than by soaking in thermal waters heated to therapeutic temperatures by a volcano? Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Trust me, it feels even better than it sounds.

Given that Costa Rica is home to 5 active volcanoes, volcanic hot springs are a popular attraction. Although thermal water pools exist in various areas throughout the country, the majority (and certainly the most well-known) are located in the La Fortuna / Arenal region, thanks to the nearby Arenal Volcano. Since most travellers opt to include a stop in La Fortuna / Arenal throughout their trip (the area offers more to do and see than any other in the country), most travellers can easily add a visit to a local hot springs attraction to their itinerary without sacrificing precious (and often limited) vacation time.

Who wouldn't want a volcano view while relaxing in the hot springs at the swim-up bar?

Who wouldn’t want a volcano view while relaxing in the hot springs at the swim-up bar?

WHAT IS A HOT SPRINGS ATTRACTION AND WHAT DO YOU DO THERE?

Scientifically speaking, hot springs are:

Geothermally heated mineral water initially fed by rain water that seeps into the Earth through faults and fractures. As it travels into the Earth, it becomes subject to increased energy from natural geothermal heat, and is exposed to gases and an often wide variety of minerals from rock and mineral deposits. The water first adsorbs the minerals via leaching, is then heated by the geothermal heat source, and finally returns to the Earth’s surface. This is the definition of Filtration Hot Springs, the most popular type of hot springs in Costa Rica. Primary Hot Springs are geothermally heated mineral water, where direct volcanic activity plays a far greater role in the process of the hot springs formation. One of the fundamental physical distinctions between a filtration spring and a primary spring is the mineral and gas content of the water, such as radon and bromide. Primary hot springs are often “powered” by magma chambers which exist miles under the Earth’s surface, as well as in volcanically active regions. [Source: Baldi Hot Springs]

From our position as Costa Rica tourism industry representatives and avid travellers, hot spring attractions are simply popular locales offering a relaxing spa-like experience among rainforest-inspired settings. What do you do there? Not much. Don’t get me wrong – the experience is very rewarding (we recommend it highly), but it is not overly complex. Visitors sit in pools filled with thermal water, enjoying the soak. Each hot springs attraction offers a variety of pools to sit in (at varying temperatures) and visitors are free to roam about the hot springs hopping from pool to pool at their leisure. Beyond doing so, the hot spring experience encompasses little else. In fact, it downright forces travellers to sit and do absolutely nothing – something most individuals do not have time for during their everyday routine, which is part of the reason why hot spring visits are such a desired vacation treat. Of course, like any attraction, some hot spring sites offer more amenities than others, making the choice between two, three, or four different sites a challenging one. That’s what we’re here for – to help provide travellers with as much information as possible in order to inform decisions regarding which hot springs attraction would be the best to visit.

Without further ado, here’s what you should know about the four most popular hot spring options in La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica: the Baldi Hot Springs, Ecotermales Hot Springs, the Tabacon Hot Springs, and the Springs Resort Hot Springs.

Baldi Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Springs

BALDI HOT SPRINGS

Number of pools: 25
Water temperature range: 90-152 F
Additional amenities: Three waterslides to enjoy
On-site restaurant: Yes
On-site spa: Yes
On-site accommodations: Yes
On-site sauna/steam room: Yes
Operating hours: 10:00am to 10:00pm; Monday through Sunday

Ecotermales Hot Springs

Ecotermales Hot Springs

ECOTERMALES HOT SPRINGS

Number of pools: 6
Water temperature range: 98-105 F
Additional amenities: Complementary locker and towel use (no fee or deposit required)
On-site restaurant: Yes
On-site spa: No
On-site accommodations: No
On-site sauna/steam room: No
Operating hours: 11:00am to 9:00pm; Monday through Sunday

Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs

TABACON HOT SPRINGS

Number of pools: 5
Water temperature range: 77-122 F
Additional amenities: One waterslide to enjoy
On-site restaurant: Yes
On-site spa: Yes
On-site accommodations: Yes
On-site sauna/steam room: Yes
Operating hours: 10:00am to 10:00pm; Monday through Sunday

Springs Resort Hot Springs

Springs Resort Hot Springs

SPRINGS RESORT HOT SPRINGS

Number of pools: 18
Water temperature range:  83-103 F
Additional amenities: One waterslide to enjoy; the trail to the Los Perdidos Springs (called the Heliconia Walk) is lined with 150 different species of flowering Heliconias; Springs Resort hot springs pass includes access to the Springs Resort property including on-site gym
On-site restaurant: Yes
On-site spa: Yes
On-site accommodations: Yes
On-site sauna/steam room: Yes
Operating hours: The regular pools open at 8:00am and close at 11:00pm; the Los Perdidos Hot Springs open at 10:00am and close at 10:00pm; Monday through Sunday

Nikki - Springs Resort Hot Springs (Los Perdidos)

Nikki – Springs Resort Hot Springs (Los Perdidos)

SO WHICH ONE IS THE BEST?

As we’ve touched on in previous posts (The Best River For Rafting In Costa RicaWhich Costa Rica Hanging Bridges Are The Best? Comparing 4 Popular Hanging Bridge Sites In Arenal And Monteverde, and Which Costa Rica Zipline Is The Best? Comparing 6 Popular Canopy Tours In Arenal And Monteverde), choosing a tour or activity as ‘the best’ is an impossible challenge. Each traveller varies from the next in terms of interests, budget, needs, and abilities, and for this reason we cannot simply label one hot springs over another as an end all be all ‘best’ option. However, like always, we aim to provide travellers with the details needed to make smart trip planning choices. Call it what you wish – here’s where our experience, knowledge, bias, and personal voice comes into play, as we’ve developed the following valuation list to identify where we feel one (or two) hot spring attractions surpass others according to a variety of factors.

  • Which hot springs is the biggest in terms of property size?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT
  • Which hot springs is the smallest in terms of property size?
    ECOTERMALES
  • Which hot springs is the biggest in terms of pool quantity?
    BALDI
  • Which hot springs is the smallest in terms of pool quantity?
    TABACON
  • Which hot springs offers the best meal (when included)?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT
  • Which hot springs offers a hot spring river (in addition to hot spring pools)?
    TABACON
  • Which hot springs offers the greatest pool variety?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT
  • Which hot springs offers the most intimate small group setting?
    ECOTERMALES
  • Which hot springs offers the greatest value (when factoring in price and amenities)?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT
  • Which hot springs is the closest to downtown La Fortuna?
    BALDI and ECOTERMALES (the two are practically across the street from one another)
  • Which hot springs is the furthest from downtown La Fortuna?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT (followed by TABACON)
  • Which hot springs offers the highest quality experience (in terms of luxury and resort appeal)?
    THE SPRINGS RESORT (followed by TABACON)
  • Which hot springs offers the lowest quality experience (in terms of luxury and resort appeal)?
    BALDI (followed by ECOTERMALES)
  • Which hot springs offers the most authentic Costa Rican experience?
    ECOTERMALES
  • Which hot springs is the most expensive?
    TABACON (followed by the SPRINGS RESORT)
  • Which hot springs is the least expensive?
    BALDI (followed by ECOTERMALES)
Nikki & Ricky - Baldi Hot Springs

Nikki & Ricky – Baldi Hot Springs

GENERAL HOT SPRING NOTES & RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The smaller the hot springs, the faster they fill up. Smaller properties (such as Tabacon and Ecotermales) are often forced to stick to their maximum capacity limits. This is especially true during the busy high season, when availability is limited. Keep in mind that during the busiest times of year, visiting a larger hot spring property can be an advantage in order to avoid sharing small pools with a multitude of other visitors. On the other hand, during less popular times of the year (please see our related blog post When Is The Best Time Of Year To Travel To Costa Rica? for an explanation of Costa Rica’s high, low, peak, and shoulder seasons), the smaller hot spring properties can provide a more intimate setting.
  2. The majority of hot spring properties include a buffet dinner (if/when you opt to include a meal with your visit). An exception to this rule is the Springs Resort. This hot springs property offers either a buffet meal or an a la carte menu option (the decision is made by the resort on a day-to-day basis according to the number of visitors at the resort). As an extra bonus, the meal included with the hot springs pass at the Springs Resort is served at the property’s Tres Cascadas Restaurant – a breathtaking open-air dining facility providing an incredible volcano view.
  3. If you know in advance that you will love visiting the hot springs, why not consider choosing a La Fortuna / Arenal hotel that offers thermal water pools on-site? There are a number of accommodation options in the area that offer this great amenity, and although we still recommend planning a visit to one of the four hot spring attractions listed above in order to obtain the full hot springs experience, accessing thermal water pools on-site at your accommodation can be the perfect way to end an exciting (and exhausting) adventure-filled day. Some of our favourite La Fortuna / Arenal hotels that offer complimentary hot spring pool use (with a reservation for the accommodation) include the Arenal Springs Resort, El Silencio Del Campo, Arenal Manoa, Arenal Kokoro, Volcano LodgeRoyal Corin, Hotel Los Lagos, Montana De Fuego, and Arenal Kioro.
  4. Most hot spring properties will not allow visitors to eat dinner at their on-site restaurant while wearing bathing suit attire. Be sure to bring a dry change of clothes with you to use during your meal. You may also want to plan your hot spring visits around the hours that the meal is served, to avoid changing out of your bathing suit into dry clothes for the meal and then back into your bathing suit after eating (unless you wish to use the hot springs both before and afterwards).

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Since the hot springs are a staple on lists of ‘not-to-miss’ experiences to have during a Costa Rica vacation, we receive just as many questions about the attractions as we do reservations for them. To help make the decision process even simpler for travellers, we’ve comprised a summary of answers to questions that many travellers (perhaps you as well) have wondered about.

  • Do the hot springs have lockers?
    Yes. Ecotermales offers free locker use to its guests. The other three hot spring properties charge either a fee or a refundable deposit for locker use.
  • Do the hot springs provide towels?
    Yes. Ecotermales offers free towel use to its guests. The other three hot spring properties charge a either a fee or a refundable deposit for towel use. As an alternative option, guests are free to bring their own towel with them to the hot springs.
  • Are reservations / advance reservations required?
    Yes. All four hot spring attractions request that travellers make reservations in advance (this helps them plan for the amount of food to prepare during each meal). Smaller properties (such as Tabacon and Ecotermales) absolutely require advance reservations as they enforce maximum capacity limits. During the high, peak, and shoulder seasons we recommend reserving hot spring entrance passes to any/all of the hot spring attractions well in advance.
  • Can you bring food into the hot springs?
    No. Each of the hot spring properties offers food and beverages via restaurants and/or bars on-site (available for purhcase) and do not allow visitors to bring their own food onto the property.
  • Can you eat on-site at the hot springs?
    Yes. Each of the hot spring properties offers food and beverages via restaurants and bars on-site (available for purchase).
  • Are other hot spring attractions available (via a one-day pass) in the La Fortuna / Arenal region?
    Yes. The Los Lagos Hot Springs, Paradise Hot Springs, and Los Laureles Hot Springs are not far from La Fortuna / Arenal and offer thermal water pools.
  • Do all of the hot springs offer the same pool temperatures?
    No. Each hot spring attraction offers different pool temperatures (exact temperatures are listed above under each hot spring attraction’s site description).
  • I’ve heard there are free hot springs in town. Is this true?
    Somewhat. There is a river just outside of the Tabacon Resort’s property that provides run off from the Tabacon’s hot springs. Many local Costa Ricans opt to visit this site (which has come to be known within the travel community as the “mini Tabacon”) for their own personal use. Travellers (typically backpackers and/or those on a tight budget) can visit the river as well. Although free, keep in mind that the site is unsupervised. There are no change rooms, lockers, or places to put personal belongings. Given that the river is located under a bridge off a main road, there is also no lighting and the area should not be visited after dark as it is not safe to do so. For additional information regarding “mini Tabacon”, please see our related blog post Free Local Hot Springs In La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica (Mini Tabacon).
  • I’ve heard that Tabacon is the only natural hot springs. Is this true?
    No. The other three hot springs are also natural, in the sense that the water comes from (and is initially heated by) the volcano. Specifically, Baldi, Ecotermales, and the Springs Resort pump water from the volcano into their property. For this reason, the hot springs are often referred to as “pools” since the water is pumped up and contained in pool-like craters for visitors to soak in. Tabacon’s hot springs make use of pools as the other hot spring locations do, however their pools are filled via a hot spring river that flows throughout the property. Some people like to label this river as “natural” as it is free-flowing (the Tabacon Resort loves to skew travellers’ opinions by slanting the term), however each of the four hot spring attractions are natural in terms of their mineral advantages and geothermal existence.
  • Is Tabacon’s free-flowing river better or worse than the other hot springs’ pools?
    It is simply different. Regardless of the mechanisms used to fill a pool (ie. via a free-flowing river or a pump), the hot springs experience itself – in its basic form, the act of soaking in a warm body of water – is very similar across the different attractions. Some travellers prefer the river-esque experience that Tabacon offers and others dislike the slippery river bottom that can be algae-covered. To each their own, but regardless of where the hot spring experience is had, it is bound to be rewarding.
Mini Tabacon

Mini Tabacon

Have another question about the hot springs? Send it our way – we’re happy to answer it for you.

*Discounts for the hot springs are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca/

Springs Resort Hot Springs

Click here to access discounts for the Hot Springs

_________________________________________________________________

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to one of the hot spring attractions in La Fortuna / Arenal? Which one did you choose? What did you think?

Pura vida!

27 responses to “The Best Hot Springs In La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica: Baldi, Ecotermales, Tabacon, Or The Springs Resort?

  1. Pingback: Costa Rica Itinerary and Tips · 2 Cents Travel2 Cents Travel - Adventures & Tips·

  2. I visited CR about 9 years ago. At that time we stopped at a small place that had a minimal entrance fee to get into the heated river (not pools). I remember it was affordable and nice but not too fancy. They had paved sidewalks and some natural pools but it was pretty much the river…I also remember a few wooden plaques describing plants and lizzards and “Jesus lizzards” would run across the water. I’ve looked at the pics of the places you have here but they don’t seem to look like the place I visited before. Does this ring a bell? I’d like to return there if it’s still open when I visit in a few weeks. :)

    • Shay –
      Great question! Was the heated river that you stopped at in the La Fortuna/Arenal region? Or in another part of Costa Rica altogether? In this post we touch on some of the popular hot spring options in the La Fortuna/Arenal area however others do exist throughout the country so those you visited could be located in one of a number of areas. I’d love to help you narrow down the search – perhaps we can start by trying to figure out if you visited the La Fortuna/Arenal region or a different area during your last trip.
      Pura vida!

      • Thanks for the response! I thought it was this area…I remember crossing a lake in a boat to get to the town we were staying in. While there we did zip lining in Monteverde at Aventura and also visited the river I described above.

      • Just returned from our trip. I spoke with the girl at our hotel and she said there are more regulations now and the place we’d gone to before is closed (only the places you list here are open now). We decided to just get in the river below Tabacon for free and it was great!! The trail is easy to find (cab driver knew right where we wanted to go and told us where to walk down) and easy to follow to find the best place to get in. We had the place to ourselves and it was so beautiful and relaxing. I highly recommend it!!!

        • Shay –
          Thanks so much for reporting back! After receiving your second-last comment we left some messages with colleagues in the Monteverde area to ask their opinion. We are familiar with the hot spring sites/rivers in the La Fortuna/Arenal region, however after receiving your comment that explained that you had crossed the lake and visited the hot springs river while also ziplining in Monteverde, I was stumped as to where you might have had a hot spring experience there since most hot spring experiences are located in/around the La Fortuna area given that it is home to the Arenal Volcano (and/or in other areas of the country where volcanoes are present). Now that you have reported back that you visited the river by Tabacon (just outside of La Fortuna), things entirely make sense! What likely happened on your last trip was that you either visited La Fortuna/Arenal and the hot springs river there first followed by a trip across the lake on to Monteverde where you ziplined (or vice versa) and I am 99.99% sure that the river you visited was indeed in the La Fortuna (not Monteverde) area. Given the description of the specific site you visited during your most recent trip (as provided in your most recent comment), I believe I know the exact location you visited. In fact, we wrote a separate blog post about the site a few years back – was this the spot you visited during this past trip? http://costaricatravelblog.com/2011/09/02/free-local-hot-springs-in-la-fortunaarenal-mini-tabacon/
          Pura vida! :)

  3. Enjoyed your review of hot springs, check out my blog karenlethlean2014.wordpress.com, as I am about to do similar about hot or thermal pools in New Zealand.

  4. My husband and I visited El Tabacon in 2011 and absolutely loved it. The property is so lush and gorgeous; very romantic! We recommended Tabacon to a friend who visited last year and he loved it just as much. We would love to return one day.

    • indiabeeyoga –
      That is great to hear! Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your opinions with us and other Costa Rica travellers. So glad to know that you enjoyed your time at Tabacon – it does tend to be one of the favourites, so it is no surprise that your friend loved his visit too! Hope to see you back in Costa Rica one day! :)
      Pura vida!

    • JF –
      We are so glad to hear it! Love to know that we inspire others to travel to beautiful Costa Rica. Of course, the gorgeous hot springs don’t hurt the cause, ha ha. Hope to see you in CR one day! :)
      Pura vida!

  5. Pingback: The Best Hot Springs In La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica: Baldi, Ecotermales, Tabacon, Or The Springs Resort? | shadesoftheorient·

  6. Sigh. When you live in a high desert, anything with beautiful water looks like a great place to be! Here’s to travel! I may just have added Costa Rica to my list of places to go!

    • stephanieaguerrero –
      Oh my goodness! I can’t think of a better reason to escape dry New Mexico than to come visit Costa Rica’s hot springs! :) The country is great for family travel too – perhaps your family will make it down one day! On a side note, we LOVE your motto: “real life should be better than fiction.”. Couldn’t agree more. All the best to you and your writing!
      Pura vida!

    • Ajay Rana –
      Thanks so much for the comment! Would love to visit India one day. If we’re ever in the region, we’ll check out the Softel Plaza thanks to your recommendation. :)
      Pura vida!

  7. We experienced Tabacon when we were in CR. Would love to go back and experience others. :)

    • LuAnn –
      Thanks so much for chiming in! I hope your visit to Tabacon was a pleasant one. I agree – it is great to be able to experiment and try new things. Let us know if/when you make it back to Costa Rica – we’d love to hear what you think about an alternative hot spring attraction, among other vacation experiences! :)
      Pura vida!

    • Travel Notebook –
      Thanks so much for the reblog! If/when you make it to Costa Rica, the hot springs will be calling your name! ;)
      Pura vida!

  8. We suggest throwing Los Lagos resort into the mix. We’ve stayed there twice. Affordable, great views of Arenal, cold and hot pools, slides, and a cool little terraced small pools section. We also visited Tabacon, which was fab but out of our price range for a stay. It’s nice tehy let you just visit the pools, though. We did that in combo with a jungle hike expedition.

    • aweekoraweekend –
      We 100% agree! Hotel Los Lagos is one of those up-and-coming attractions. We mention Hotel Los Lagos in the article above as one of a number of hotels in the La Fortuna/Arenal area that include hot springs on-site, however over the last little while the hotel has done a great job at marketing their hot springs as a separate attraction from the hotel itself. Visitors can now purchase a “pass” to the hot springs (as travellers can do for Baldi, Ecotermales, Tabacon,and the Springs Resort), unlike other hotels that opt to limit their on-site springs for guest use only. Hotel Los Lagos also has a cute frog farm on the premise (I’m sure you’re already aware of it from your previous visits!) which is great for kids. Thanks so much for the insight and tip! :)
      Pura vida!

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