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The culture of hot spring baths is about so much more than just relaxation. It’s about healing your mind and body, whether that means restoring weary muscles, treating irritated skin, or embracing the spiritual element of bathing in the same natural resources ancient civilizations once flocked to. The restorative properties of these natural geothermal baths have been documented for centuries, from the ancient Romans reveling in the Turkish baths to Native American tribes enjoying the hot springs in the American northwest. For the traveler who wants to embrace the local culture while soaking in all-natural mineral baths, these are the world’s very best hot springs:
Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido
Hokkaido is the northernmost prefecture of Japan and home to the famed Noboribetsu Onsen. While there are no fewer than 3,000 natural hot springs in Japan, Noboribetsu Onsen is touted as one of the very best. Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Noboribetsu’s hot spring water comes from the volcanic valley of Jigokudani or “Hell Valley.” The valley is supposedly home to Japanese demons and ogres, called “oni.” The hot springs have 11 different kinds of water said to cure various ailments. Stay in a Japanese ryokan (or hotel) with direct access to the hot spring baths, like Ryotei Hanayura.
Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado
Not far from Telluride, Dunton Hot Springs is an 1800s mining town situated in the San Juan Mountains of the Colorado Rockies. Originally used by the Ute Native Americans, the Dunton Hot Springs later became a stomping ground for the Dunton miners. The miners redirected the flow of hot water from the original spring to the town’s bathhouse. Today, the hot springs are best experienced at luxury resort Dunton Hot Springs, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, where guests can stay in restored 19th-century western cabins and spend their days languishing in the hot spring bathhouse.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools, Turkey
Sometimes called the “land of thermal pools,” Pamukkale is as Instagrammable as ever with its pristine white limestone terraces and clear, light blue hot spring baths. Pamukkale means “cotton castle,” which stands to reason visually, and has been a spa town since the Greco-Roman city Hierapolis was specifically built in close proximity to the baths. The closest city to Pamukkale is Denizli—travelers can stay there or in Pamukkale village. There are three entrances to the pools, and it’s best to arrive early in the day before the crowds, which is easiest if you’ve spent the previous night in Pamukkale village.
Mývatn Nature Baths, Iceland
Mývatn Nature Baths are an alkaline bathing lagoon sourced from the geothermal Lake Mývatn. The popular hot spring area is about 55 miles from Akureyri. And while it’s still 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle, it’s a known northern lights viewing area. In addition to bathing in the all-natural hot baths, you can bathe in geothermal steam while at Mývatn. Mývatn Nature Baths are open year-round with varying hours depending on the season—in the summer, they stay open as late as midnight.
Air Panas Banjar, Bali
Just inland from the Lovina coast in northern Bali, Banjar Hot Springs have 26 percent sulfur content and their temperature typically hovers around 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The holy hot springs are referred to locally as “Air Panas Banjar” and the sulfuric water is considered healing for your skin. The three pools—a swimming pool, a shower pool where fountains spout hot spring water for a natural massage, and a children’s pool—sit amidst tropical gardens. The hot springs are open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Kerosene Creek, New Zealand
Kerosene Creek in Rotorua is a natural geothermal stream with stunning pools and a six-foot waterfall cascading onto bathers keen on a Mother Nature-provided shoulder massage. Kerosene Creek is actually the intersection of fresh and geothermal waters—the creek itself is freshwater, but hot water from a natural spring beneath bubbles in. The result is lovely warm pools surrounded by wilderness. Kerosene Creek is open to the public—there's no admission fee.
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano is surrounded by natural hot springs thanks to the geothermally heated underground river. These springs are best enjoyed at the local hotels near Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, because the hotels are able to tap into the geothermal river to create natural, mineral-rich hot spring baths on property. The Springs Resort & Spa is a luxury hotel that allows guests access to their hot springs and offers non-guests the option to buy a hot spring day pass.