Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Tabacón Hot Springs - Spa Review

The Spirit of Pura Vida

by Sylvie Greil

A rainforest setting at Tabacón Hot Springs in Costa Rica
When you think of Costa Rica spas, you think Pura Vida. But while the property bearing that name is fantastic, it does not have a monopoly on the Ticos' national sentiment, which is much like the Italians la dolce vita, except maybe with an additional deeper, spiritual element. "Pura Vida” is omnipresent in this lush Central American state. You hear it uttered from Rastafarians in Puerto Viejo, from local soda owners in the cities and waving fishermen on the rivers of Tortuguero. Pura Vida is a way of being.

We got an immersion course in it at the famed Tabacon Hot Springs, Resort & Spa, snuggled against active Arenal Volcano in the country’s Northern plains region. This resort is so famed in fact that we were a bit worried about crowds. How relaxing can a place be that draws thousands annually to its rejuvenating and soothing mineral pools? Very.


The resort's main waterfall
El Palenque Bar

As you enter the property at the base of the volcano your gaze is immediately drawn to the steaming main pool and its pool bar, where people from all over the world cool off with caipirinhas, pina coladas and margaritas while immersed in the hot soothing water on submerged stools. While the tropical bar playing dancehall reggae was tempting, we opted to explore the area first and found a vast labyrinth of hidden thermo mineral pools, cascading waterfalls and rivers to lounge in, all varying in temperature and depth, and some varying in mineral count, all fed by Costa Rica’s most active volcano, a beast that once in a while rumbles like a restless grumpy sleeper.

This natural phenomenon is beautifully landscaped with lush foliage, bright, large tropical flowers and jungle plants, and the deeper you escape into the back areas, the fewer people you encounter. The majority seems to laze around the main area and the large massaging waterfalls near the hotel structure itself. You can truly lose yourself on the property, and floating on your back in a warm, secret basin, which you have all to yourself, is close to perfection.



Stroll in the rainforest
A hot spring pool

Being from Europe, we’re very familiar with large, social co-ed thermal spas. You usually don’t need a big pocketbook, and people of all backgrounds enjoy the health benefits of these places, happily coexisting with their neighboring spa goers. Tabacon Hot Springs much reminded us of these, except that the backdrop is lush jungle and rainforest. You cannot get that kind of treat in Belgium, Germany or the Czech Republic, nor would you be able to sip cool tropical cocktails. So while the mass tourist-aspect is a major caveat to American spa lovers who may still be more used to very elitist, discreet properties, we have to emphasize that you can get lost in your own experience, because the waters are so nicely tempered, the landscaping so lovely and the jungle all around so breathtaking.

The spa proper is named Iskandria after an ancient Greek myth, about a paradise set amid luxe gardens and awesome waterfalls where gods met to relax. Most people who come crave a good old-fashioned massage. Options here range from Thai, Deep Tissue and Aromatherapy to Volcanic Stone and Couples massage. They also offer Watsu, Reiki and Shiatsu and, of course, facials, manicures, pedicures and waxing. You can book your treatment in VIP rooms or bungalows and covered areas outside.

The property doesn’t close until at 10 p.m. to visitors. After a complimentary buffet dinner (yes, we’re not in Vegas, and a buffet dinner in Costa Rica can be quite decent). with numerous options like freshly tossed pasta and an overwhelming selection of tasty desserts, we couldn't resist the siren song of the springs and plunged and soaked until the very last minute.

Tabacon Hot Springs, Resort & Spa
La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano National Park
Costa Rica
877-277-8291
www.tabacon.com

(Updated: 01/08/09 KR)


Add a little excitement to movie night with GAYOT's top action films, which feature sword-wielding women, motorcycle-riding robots and more.

Set in scenic locations across the U.S. like the Berkshires and the Red Rocks of Utah, these wellness facilities make your health a priority.