As the weather gets colder in New York, I try to warm myself up by thinking of the hottest places that I've been to this year. While Cappodocia, Turkey, in June came close, I still think my hottest day of 2009 was in Jaco, Costa Rica in late March. This post, however, is about La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, which isn't quite as warm as Jaco but if you stay immersed in the Tabacon hot springs (pictured above) then it just might be.
The main reason to visit La Fortuna de San Carlos is to see Arenal Volcano, a rumbling, conical structure that looks like it was plucked from a cartoon, and its accompanying lake. The volcano is visible from most parts of town, and if you want to get really close you can go for a hike around part of it, which we did. But the secondary reason to visit the area is for its fabulous hot springs, whose water is warmed by the volcano.
There are a couple of different hot springs, but I only visited the most famous (and reputedly the best): Tabacon. That's because I was staying at the Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort and unlimited visits to the hot springs are included in the room rate. The rooms at Tabacon aren't cheap, but we got a great deal by calling the hotel and asking what their lowest rate was. As this was in March and their occupancy was suffering from the recession, they gave it to us at $200 a night. (I'm not sure how much tourism has picked up there since then.) When you consider that a day pass to the Tabacon hot springs is $85 per adult (including dinner), staying at the hotel can seem almost economical. Not to mention luxurious, as we were lucky enough to get one of the newer rooms.
If you don't stay at the Tabacon hotel, I still recommend spending time at the hot springs. A lot of the tours sold in town included a stop at Tabacon hot springs, and the cost of the whole tour was often less than a day or evening pass on its own. Tabacon stays open until 10 PM and takes on a romantic feeling at night as it gets quite dark there.
I can't compare Tabacon to the other local springs, such as Baldi and The Springs, which is a fairly new addition to the spa scene. I do know that some people complain that Tabacon is "like Disney" because of the clearly manmade landscaping. But I thought that the landscaping was gorgeous and would liken it more to a botanical garden with exquisite flowers, trees, plants and waterfalls. Also, I never experienced it with crowds and I'm sure that would detract from the experience.