A Backpacker's (Free!) Hot Springs in Costa Rica

06 August 2015

I typically do a fair amount of research about my destination before any trip I take. When you have limited vacation time every year, you need to do a certain amount of preparation to get the most out of your time away. So, as I was perusing the interwebs for things to do in the Arenal region of Costa Rica, one thing kept hijacking my attention: hot springs!

I’d like to think (read: pretend) that I have a moderately active travel style. Although I’d pick kayaking or biking over shopping every time, I can still get behind a bit of R&R just as much as the next girl. But a daytrip to the hot springs in Costa Rica can set you back over $100, which isn’t exactly a budget-friendly experience. In fact, the ones that most travelers hear of are really more of a spa, and some of them don’t even come from a natural source.  I tried to imagine the hole in my wallet as an attempt to squash my interest, but every time I stumbled across a photo of perfectly euphoric ladies frolicking in the streams, I could hear a shrill chorus of angels ringing in my ears. I wanted that. I wanted to lean back, carefree, into a waterfall plummeting down majestically over my head and shoulders. And Instagram it, obviously.

Naturally, I was elated when my friend told me she’d read about some local springs in La Fortuna not that far from our hostel. According to the reviews, these were somewhat hidden springs though easy to get to and really only frequented by ticos, or Costa Ricans, in the area. But here’s the real kicker: these were free! FREE!

We decided to go for a dip in the hot springs on our first day in La Fortuna after our four hour bus ride from San Jose. We checked into our room at Arenal Backpacker’s Resort, quickly changed, and hopped in a cab. To our surprise, the entrance to the local springs was just outside the parking lot of Tabacon, one of the most luxurious – and expensive – hot springs experiences in Arenal. Kind of funny, right?

Across the street from Tabacon, there is a yellow, triangular shaped gate, which marks the path down to the local hot springs. The path itself is paved and descends gradually to what looks like nowhere. We could hear rushing waters as soon as we approached the end, and climbed down some muddy steps to find ourselves literally standing in them. 

There were only a handful of people wading in the springs when we arrived. We crossed them to take the path on the other side just a short walk down a slow sloping hill and found a giant rock to which we could swim out and hang on. The springs were warm and inviting, especially after a long day, but the current was pretty quick, so we found ourselves clinging to that rock! We really enjoyed the soak! 

After a while, we decided to venture back up the hill and through the under side of the bridge that the springs ran through. We found the other side to be much more crowded, but the current was slower, making it much easier to hang out. Just on the other side of the bridge, you'll find a small pool that acts almost as a hot tub with a small waterfall pouring in, which really looked quite lovely. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for us to join in. 

Working a 9-to-5 makes you appreciate nature in ways you never thought it could. If you ever find yourself in La Fortuna, ditch the expensive hot springs and take a dip in the local one instead. 

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