The most spectacular hot springs around the world

Coming in hot and steamy, we bring you the world’s best natural hot springs from the South American wilderness to the mountainous regions of Tibet. For when a hotel pool just doesn’t cut it, we must head to the source of heated mineral springs, hidden amongst pristine natural landscapes and away from the stresses of the modern world. What better way to help ease into your vacation than these bubbling beauties?

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Cascate del Mulino, Tuscany, Italy | Photo: Spencer Davis

1. Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey

If you wanted to know how the royals bathed back in Ancient Egyptian times, there are few places better equipped than the UNESCO World Heritage village of Pamukkale, based in the Menderes River valley a little while from western Turkey’s city of Denizli. Of the 17 hot springs and pools that collect on the way down the hillside, the most famed is Cleopatra Pool, which – legend has it – was gifted to the pharaoh queen by Roman general Marc Antony. A gift these hot spring baths certainly are, despite being closed to bathers and all too hot (at 36°C) anyway. Instead, visitors can but marvel at blinding white travertine terraces filled with crystalline blue water, walking barefoot between each to find ancient sculptures, columns and a museum before dunking in the overlooking swimming pool. Nearby, the ancient Roman spa town of Hierapolis awaits with more thermal historical discoveries.

Pamukkale, Turkey | Photo: Vladyslav Cherkasenko

Pamukkale, Turkey | Photo: Varvara Grabova

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The geothermal heat source blends with icy waters and rises to the surface to create the perfect temperature for a healing bath, made all the more powerful by the water’s silica, algae and mineral components

2. Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Iceland

Bigger and more conducive to group bathing is Iceland’s Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, which cuts into the volcanic moonscape surrounding with a mix of 70 per cent seawater and 30 per cent fresh. Originating at a depth of 1.9 kilometres, the geothermal heat source blends with icy waters and rises to the surface to create the perfect temperature for a healing bath, made all the more powerful by the water’s silica, algae and mineral components. The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa lies just 50 minutes from Reykjavik, built upon by a number of spa hotels allowing visitors to relax in the best conditions, with access to beauty treatments and swim-up mud bars in view of distant black rock mountains. To avoid disappointment on arrival, pre-book a day ticket (at comfort, premium and luxury price points) choosing to stay at either of two on-site hotels; Silica Hotel for minimalist stays or Retreat Hotel for a more luxe haven.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland | Photo: Jeff Sheldon

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa | Photo: Frank Denney

3. Uunartoq Island, Greenland

While Iceland warms us with its volcanic activity, on Greenland’s Uunartoq Island we feel the heat of tectonic grinding instead. Verdant and arctic on the southernmost tip of the nation, bathing on Uunartoq Island is a world away from anything you’ve experienced before, most easily accessible on a private boat tour from Quaqortaq or Nanortalik. Though the uninhabited island is said to be haunted, the 33-37°C waters are sure to keep the chills at bay as you bathe and watch over the natural landscape even in the dead of winter. Aside from the magnificent mountain peaks rising up all around the springs, breaching whales may also be spotted in the distance beyond floating icebergs.

4. Cascate del Mulino, Tuscany, Italy

Cascate del Mulino is Tuscany’s answer to communal bathing, free for all on the outskirts of the small village of Saturnia. The waters here are full of sulphur and minerals, said to help heal ailments since Roman times. In keeping with old-world Italy, the Cascate del Mulino hot springs hot tubs bubble up from underground springs and run through fields to settle in naturally carved tubs at the base of an old country house miles from the stress of the city. Come here to soak at any time of day or night, avoiding the height of summer. You can also consider staying overnight at an on-site resort to enjoy extra time in the Tuscan countryside, taking spa treatments and teeing off on the resort’s golf course.

Cascate del Mulino | Photo: Spencer Davis

Cascate del Mulino, Tuscany | Photo: Tristan Mimet

5. Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, US

Bringing the spa to the great American outdoors is easier than it sounds at Yellowstone National Park, a site home to the largest hot spring in the US, Grand Prismatic Spring. Going north from Old Faithful, you’ll find a huge open area centred on the 370-foot Grand Prismatic with Opal Pool, sided by Excelsior Geyser and Turquoise Pool. There’s much to see here but the kaleidoscopic colours of Grand Prismatic, a circle of deep blue ringed by orange and yellow, really take the breath away. Thermophile bacteria cause these colours, thriving in the hot water that emerges from deep cracks in the earth below and changing colour at different depths. What with the heat and the sulphur content, Grand Prismatic is not for bathing, though visitors can stay amused by hopping between the pools on the Firehole River boardwalks, moving out thereafter the explore the many wonders of Yellowstone and Wyoming.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone | Photo: Mike Goad

6. Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, US

A couple of gold-mining brothers stumbled upon this Alaskan beauty back in 1905, about 100 kilometres northeast of Fairbank, introducing hot springs aurora gazing to the public. At 41°C yet regularly ensconced in thick snow, Chena Hot Springs is the perfect addition to the frigid landscape, allowing visitors to baths, lie back and see the aurora through rising steam. Chena Hot Springs is both accessible and well developed, an easy day trip from Fairbank with its own hot spring resort running the Aurora Ice Museum and Ice Bar, most happening during the aurora-hunting season from August through April.

7. Travertine Hot Springs, California, US

Equally stark beauty in a wholly different climate presents itself at California’s Travertine Hot Springs near Bridgeport where magma-heated waters pool in several spots on a sliding temperature scale as they trickle down the Eastern Sierras. As well as being based in a pristine camping spot, the view from the pools is pretty blissful too, especially when watching the sunset over Sawtooth Ridge. If you fancy camping, come prepared for a complete lack of facilities, though very elemental cooking – boiled eggs, anyone? – can be done on the boiling hot earth beside the pools!  Those looking for more of a party vibe, can trade Travertine for any number of hot springs in Palm Springs (some six hours south), surrounding Cali’s most lively desert town.

Photo: Logan Fisher

Photo: Ian Liberry

8. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, New Mexico, US

Prestigious on two counts, the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs have been naturally occurring for thousands of years in the southwestern wilderness, also home to one of the oldest health resorts in the US. Springing from an underground aquifer, the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs contains a variety of minerals – lithia, iron, soda and arsenic (in low levels) – said to benefit the body and provide relief for conditions such as arthritis, stomach ulcers, skin conditions and more. Sacred to the indigenous communities of New Mexico, Ojo Caliente is a tranquil escape from Santa Fe, where the long-standing resort offers a night-time pool experience and mud area alongside a range of nurturing body treatments.

Though we had to limit our US mentions here, we can’t vouch for Colorado enough when it comes to hot springs travel. Several rugged mountain towns in the state are well known for their natural bathing potential, including hot springs in steamboat springs and Idaho Springs as well as the hot springs Pagosa Springs, backed by famed ski resorts and national forest.

Crab Cooker Hot Springs, California, USA | Photo: Levan Badzgaradze

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Too hot to swim in, Champagne Pool is best for gazing at in all its fluorescent glory, before exploring the other sites across Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

9. Termas Geométricas, Pucon, Chile

Embedded in the lush greenery of Parque Nacional Villarice Sur near Pucon in southern Chile, Termas Geométricas is continents away from what you might expect. Here, a Japanese theme plays out amidst the Chilean jungle, leading expectant bathers over red-painted walkways and a fast-flowing river to reach any of 11 steaming pools. Designed by architect German del Sol, Termas Geométricas’ facilities harmonise with the natural environment, providing a maze among crashing waterfalls and untamed scenery to energise the soul. There’s even an on-site restaurant, El Quicho, helping refuel visitors on fajitas and pumpkin soup after a long soak.

Termas Geométricas, Pucon | Photo: J. Balla Photography

Termas Geométricas, Pucon, Chile | Photo: J. Balla Photography

10. Champagne Pool, Waiotapu, New Zealand

Suckers as we are for some mid-morning bubbles, we pop the cork on Waiotapu’s Champagne Pool over on New Zealand’s stunning North Island. Just over 30 kilometres from Rotorua, Champagne Pool is part of a larger geothermal complex formed some 900 years ago, notable for its yellow-green hues and precious metal deposits made so by extreme temperatures and carbon dioxide fizzing from the ground in the style of our favourite beverage. Too hot to swim in, Champagne Pool is best for gazing at in all its fluorescent glory, before exploring the other sites across Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland such as the bubbling mud pools and the explosive Lady Knox Geyser.

Champagne Pool, Waiotapu, New Zealand | Photo Oliver Lechner

11. Khir Ganga, Himachal Pradesh, India

Another contender among the world’s best hot springs is India’s Khir Ganga, the stream of which you can follow all the way up to the source from Barsheni village in the Parvati Valley. The four-hour hike to Khir Ganga will eventually lead you to what is considered a holy place for Hindus, a meadow flanked by a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, on land where Shiva is said to have meditated some 3,000 years ago. Whether you’re a believer or not, the profound religious heritage of Khir Ganga is something to behold, as is the blissful experience of bathing in its milky waters surrounded by Himalayan panoramas. The nearby Pin Valley National Park and its snow leopards – as well as the area’s infamous marijuana farms – make for a very full India itinerary indeed.

12. Huanglong National Park, China

Continuing in Asia for the rest of our travels, our next hot springs bath lies in northwest China’s Sichuan province in an elevated valley carved out by the Minahan mountains. The valley runs several kilometres, its entirety strewn with rainbow-coloured pools, streams and waterfalls, made all the more intriguing by caves and woodlands beyond. As this valley is protected within Huanglong National Park, visitors must travel on foot to all the best spots, including Lotus Waterfall and Flying Waterfall, but beware of altitude sickness during the journey. At 9,800 feet above sea level, the area is best explored slowly in summer or fall, sticking close to the visitor centres for oxygen supplies if necessary. Besides following the back of the golden dragon past 3,400 ponds, hikes in the wider region can also introduce visitors to endangered species like the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.

Huanglong National Park, China | Photo: Ohmynickle

Huanglong National Park, China | Photo: 晓菲 陈

13. Yangpachen Hot Springs, Tibet

The first geothermal development in Tibet, based on the slopes of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains around ninety kilometres from Lhasa, Yangpachen Hot Springs allows intrepid travellers to experience Tibetan scenery from behind a vast veil of steam, itself also visible from quite some distance. Up close, the Yangpachen Hot Springs bubble away, its power harnessed to light up the city of Lhasa and beyond. Despite industry, Yangpachen remains a tranquil setting, home to the Holy Medical Spring Resort where several pools – indoor and out – supposedly hold the key to strength and longevity.

14. Takaragawa Onsen, Japan

Sat within a dense forest north of Gunma and flanked by the peaks of Joshin’etsukogen and Oze National Parks, Takaragawa Onsen couldn’t get any more quintessential. Its dazzling beauty makes it one of the leading tourist attractions in Japan, despite there being more than 3,000 onsen across the country. Its proximity to Tokyo helps keep Takaragawa Onsen popular, with the wider Minakami Onsen Resort easily accessible on a day trip from the capital. As you may know, the Japanese do things slightly differently when it comes to bathing, having gender-segregated baths where bathers are usually expected to go naked (although mixed baths do allow for a discretionary towel). If you have tattoos, you may also be denied entry to certain baths, though you can always hang out at a traditional ryokan hotel nearby to dine on kaiseki instead.

Japan | Photo: Romeo A

Japan | Photo: Romeo A

15. Banjar Hot Springs, Bali, Indonesia

Last up is Banjar Hot Springs on Indonesia’s ever-popular Bali island, a destination noted for exotic scenery of palm-laden jungle cut forth with volcanoes and never-ending beaches. Amongst it all, less than two kilometres from the Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist monastery in northern Bali, Banjar Hot Springs treats achy (and itchy) travellers with sulphur-rich springs across three pools, a hot tub area and spa. Fusion food is also served on-site from the abutting restaurant, allowing for a full day of R&R away from the crowds of Ubud.

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Blue Lagoon, Iceland | Photo: Peter Stewart

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