While a relaxing soak in a luxury spa with lots of attentive pampering is nothing to turn your nose up at, on occasion the human soul requires something a little more exotic, or off the beaten path.
If you’re someone who needs to exert a bit of effort, or even go on a nature quest before your body gives you permission to unravel and let your sinewy tensions melt away, this list of natural thermal baths and hot springs—ranging from spots located deep within lush forests, next to chilly bays, or near the summits of mountains—should put a big, relaxing smile on your face as you meditate on how your next thermal soak will whisk all of your anxiety away.
Uunartoq Hot Springs
If you want to get away from the maddening rush of modern life, Greenland, with a population of fewer than 60,000 people, is the destination for you. And what better place to let your troubles evaporate into the nippy air than at Uunartoq Hot Springs, situated on a small island in southeastern Greenland. Uunartoq Island (near the remote town of Qaqortoq) is enveloped by stark pastoral surroundings, passing icebergs and pods of spouting whales. The island is also home to a natural thermal pool, where you can take a comforting dip all year long.
Want to get wet with the local wildlife (and we’re not talking about other Homo sapiens)? Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan, nestled up against the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, affords travelers and locals alike the opportunity to get up close to Japanese Macaque monkeys—also known as “snow monkeys.” Bathe in rock pools while highland snows gently fall down atop your head, and on the heads of your furry simian hot spring neighbors, who seem to enjoy the steam almost as much humans do—or perhaps even more, as the monkeys don’t have a toasty inn to return to after their thermal jaunts.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
Ainsworth Hot Springs, on the western shores of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia, offers would-be soakers a sublime environment for a mineral bath. This modest complex, with its massive horseshoe-shaped thermal water cave, has a history dating back to the late 1800s. When the local mining industry went into decline, the restorative hot springs (frequented by the Ktunaxa people before European settlers moved in) became the big draw here, breathing plumes of steam and new life into the tiny town of Ainsworth, surrounded on all sides by the wild arboreal beauty of British Columbia.
Aguas Termales de Polques
The Aguas Termales de Polques, located in southwest Bolivia in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve (Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa), takes a bit of work to get to. Better known as the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni), this gargantuan volcanic salt flat is a high-altitude sea of stunning white, home to spectacular geological formations and hearty fauna, including stark volcanoes and flocks of the pinkest flamencos you’ll ever see, as well as the mineral-rich Polques Hot Springs. Nothing fancy here in the way of infrastructure, but while you’re on a jeep tour across the flats, a morning soak in these healing waters, accompanied by the spectacular vistas that surround, will make this a bathing experience you’ll likely never forget.
Jhinu Danda Hot Springs
If you’d like to earn your hot springtime with some pre-soak scrambling, the Jhinu Danda Hot Springs, along the shores of Nepal’s glacial-fed Modi Khola River, should do the trick. This spot, which you’ll pass by (about half an hour detour off the main route) on your way to Anapurna Base Camp, was built next to the rushing waters of the Modi Khola. While some trekking outfits give these thermal pools a miss, if you’d like to unwind next to a thundering Nepalese river as you prepare for the rest of your alpine journey, the Jhinu Danda Hot Springs are sure to soothe and satisfy.
Hveravellir Hot Springs
Iceland’s Hveravellir Geothermal Area, resting between two glaciers (Hofsjökull and Langjökull), and near an ancient lava flow, is an austere-looking yet strikingly gorgeous highlands nature reserve full of steam vents and hot springs. To reach this thermal oasis, you’ll need a jeep or some kind of 4×4 vehicle to cover the three-plus hours it takes to cut across the highlands. Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with a thermal bathing experience (assuming you can stand the frosty air outside before you plunge into the hot water) that will mollify your soul while steaming your rosy cheeks even redder in one of the best thermal baths you’ll have in your life.
Bains De Dorres
The Roman Bains De Dorres, located in the French Pyrenees Mountains, near the French and Spanish border, offer visitors a chance to relax inside an unassuming public bathing complex with two outdoor “sulfurous water” pools, surrounded by a sublime mountain setting. The water is piping hot (around 39° Celsius, or 102° Fahrenheit), and the views of the Pyrenees are hard to beat. Both of these facts make a great excuse for an extended stay, which will allow you to immerse your body in the pool for hours on end while you enjoy the panoramas spread out before you like some kind of landscape painting.
Wenshan Hot Springs
While Taiwan’s Wenshan Hot Springs are often closed of late (danger from rock falls), the Wenshan Trail snaking down into the narrow Taroko Gorge is a hike that’s well worth the trouble. The hot springs themselves, wedged in between the Liwu River and a cliff face, were never overly developed. If they officially reopen someday (bathers have been known to sneak in on occasion, but we don’t recommend that), you’ll be treated to hot water pools just on the edge of a formidable river, deep inside a verdant canyon. Until then, you’ll have to make do with the hike—if and when the trail is open—and the lovely views of Taroko Gorge.
Te Rata Bay Hot Water Beach
WHERE: New Zealand
Te Rata Bay Hot Water Beach, next to Lake Tarawera on New Zealand’s North Island, can be reached by boat, or via a vigorous day hike along the Tarawera Trail. This volcanic region has given birth to Te Rata Bay Hot Water Beach, which stems from hot springs streaming down into the lake. Bathers can build lakeside rock pools and enjoy a dip at the Hot Water Beach campground, or if they feel a rumble of hunger in their bellies, catch a fish, then dig a sand hole, let it fill up with hot spring water, and use the makeshift hole (now a cooking pot) to cook their fish before they slip back into their cozy rock pools.
Zuar Hot Springs
WHERE: Republic of Artsakh (Azerbaijan)
Want to meander down a seldom trodden path on your way to a haven of pure hot spring bliss? The remote Zuar Hot Springs, near the village of Zulfuqarli, in the Armenian-populated Republic of Artsakh (formerly the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with disputed borders inside Azerbaijan and a very complicated political history), should provide you with all the adventure you seek. While these isolated hot springs take some effort to get to, including a hike or drive along the rugged Janapar Trail, the extremely hot geyser-fed springs (perhaps too hot for some) will gift intrepid travelers with a boiling soak at the end of their journey. The intense thermal heat can be mitigated with occasional plunges into the cold river flowing nearby.
Bagni Vecchi Thermal Baths
The Bagni Vecchi (Old Baths), in the town of Bormio, serve up a mountainside destination overflowing with near-blistering spring water. It’s a great place to visit come winter (especially for skiers), or in the bloom of spring or heat of summer. Bormio’s thermal Roman baths boast an outdoor panoramic pool, with enchanting views of the pristine Italian Alps, as well as a long and cavernous grotto (the Sweating Grotto of San Martino), plus an indoor thermal spring. With a storied history and tons of charm, these springs area delight for skiers and snowboarders looking for muscular relief after a long day on the slopes, or travelers come for a healing thermal marinade.
Puente del Inca Hot Springs
The Puente del Inca Hot Springs in Argentina’s Aconcagua Provincial Park are more for looking at than bathing in, as the thermal spa, in addition to the railway that once led there, were abandoned after a landslide in the 1970s. Still, at almost 9,000 feet above sea level, the Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge) geological arch spanning the Mendoza River, plus the mineral springs, which have coated this ghostly resort with layers of hardened minerals, are well worth the trip, if for the eerie spectacle alone. During the resort’s heyday, throngs of tourists, and even the likes of Charles Darwin, dropped by this fascinating spot for a visit.
Ponta da Ferraria
WHERE: Azores, Portugal
In the Portuguese Azores Islands, on the island of São Miguel, at the bottom of a precipitous road that essentially winds down a cliff face, you’ll stumble across the Ponta da Ferraria therapeutic springs, butted up against the rocks and the crashing Atlantic waves. This difficult-to-reach locale, apart from the main spa area, serves up a low tide thermal pool right next to the turbulent ocean surf. We say “low tide,” because when the tide rises, the pool disappears beneath the waves—as would any swimmer foolish enough to remain here as the mighty Atlantic comes pounding back in. In other words, plunge into these thermal waters at your own risk.
Conundrum Hot Springs
If elevation and a strenuous climb factor into your thermal bathing game, Conundrum Hot Springs, at over 11,000 feet, should provide you with the hard ascent you desire. Located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado, this protected natural area offers up a cornucopia of alpine beauty. Hikers will have to apply for a permit to trek up to these hot springs (2,500 feet of elevation gain), where they’ll be able to chat with other ramblers unwinding in a pool of steamy H2O, surrounded by magnificent mountain views.
Valley of Geysers
WHERE: Siberia, Russia
If you have money to spare and don’t mind a chopper rider into your next far-flung hot springs target, you’ll be thrilled by the prospect of flying to (and over) the Valley of Geysers. The Valley of Geysers is located inside the Kronotskiy Preserve, on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in eastern Siberia. This ecologically-popping area, brimming over with dozens of active geysers, thermal lakes, and mud volcanoes, is also home to several thermal hot springs that won’t boil human flesh off the bone. As part of your tour (solo travel is a big no-no here), you can take a dip in the hot springs located inside the Nalychevo Nature Park before (or after) you take in the Valley of Geysers’ gurgling geothermal wonders.