If you like your water heated by volcanoes, your inner tube powered by whitecaps and you think the best way down a cliff is by rope, the Springs Resort and Spa in Costa Rica was created for you. Yet, there’s no need to give up the special feeling of being pampered when you’re done adventuring around the Arenal volcano because the resort’s spacious spa, magnificent restaurants and exemplary decor will rejuvenate and treat you the way you appreciate.
After about a two-hour drive through tropical switchbacks, from our first stop in Costa Rica, the Peace Lodge at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Nature Reserve, we arrived at the Springs Resort and Spa. Owned by the same family that built the Peace Lodge, you’ll find a larger version of their upscale vision here with high-gloss, polished wood framing the entirety of the multilayered property and thatched roofs that feel like they’re an extension of the rainforest. Here, though, there are more adrenaline-pumping activities as well as a medley of relaxing hot springs, discovered by Hollywood when the Kardashian clan flew to land on the property’s helipad and The Bachelor took turns seducing his six bachelorettes within the 18 hot spring pools. You too can walk along the stone paths, beneath flowering fronds and tropical vines, to soak in each, with their unique mineral concentrations and temperatures, feeling yourself sink deeper into the Arenal Valley. All the thermal springs are pumped directly from the main hot springs into the crafted rock wells, otherworldly with the light tinted green through thick foliage with melodious inhabitants providing the soundtrack.
Each of the rooms and villas at the resort have walls of windows looking right onto the Arenal Volcano. Each has a private balcony with rocking chairs and hammocks. From our second floor, we could see miles of Arenal Valley, trees ranging in shades of mint to dark moss, all leading to the conical giant often shrouded by veils of clouds. Although the Springs Resort and Spa is also part of a rainforest, its lower elevation, compared to the Peace Lodge, provides a warmer ambient temperature that averages 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though rains here are also unpredictable.
The 165-acre resort is divided into four sections. The first is the main building which houses the reception area, gift shop and several sitting areas to gaze in awe at the splendor of the valley. A floor below are two of the four restaurants. The not-to-miss fine-dining restaurant Las Ventanas, or The Windows, has glass surrounding the entire dining room. Every dish we sampled lit up unexpected parts of our taste buds with the exotic flavor of local spices. All the food is sourced from Costa Rican farms and pulled from the oceans. Las Ventanas shares the level, on the other side, with a more casual eatery, Tres Cascadas, or Three Waterfalls, where we ate our breakfasts on the outdoor patio. Below that, Sanctuary Spa takes up 14,000 square feet, most of the entire floor. Its nurturing design leaves you in a suspended mental state. The Fitness Center shares some of that space and below is the conference room/game room where the kids played video games, foosball, chess and ran around chasing each other. Ginger Sushi restaurant also shares that deck space and once the kids were in bed one evening, we had dinner there, sampling fresh catches and enjoying wine with views of purple jungle shadows set against gray night. When we first arrived, we went to the lowest level of the building, an outdoor section containing one of the five resort bars, La Laguna, a swim-up bar with chairs in the actual pool. We ate a snack and enjoyed looking at the volcano as the sun set beside it, stretching the sky into shades of pink, red and purple before the light disappeared.
The next day, we wanted to explore the hot springs pools and found the first 12 were around and slightly below the main building. These Las Lagunas Springs are hidden in nooks and coves covered by overhanging tropical flowers and leaves. We took turns dipping into each pool, with temperatures that varied between 88 and 102 and water ranging from clear to murky depending on the level of mineral concentration. It was impossible not to feel like we were being kissed by nature and we wanted to make sure we’d get all the therapeutic benefits of every one.
The second section of the resort is accessible down a stone path from Las Lagunas Springs, below two buildings of guestrooms. These seven springs, called Perdido Springs, or Lost Springs, are a bit warmer than the ones in the higher elevations, ranging in temperature between 91 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe because they’re closer to the volcano. The best part of these is Piscina Celeste, a larger pool with a gentle waterfall, complete with a little alcove perfect to sit under, listen to the rushing water and take memorable Instagram photos. Los Perdidos Bar sits next to its rock steps with its few chairs. A handful of feet away is the monkey slide, a water slide built to look like the natural attrition of volcanic rock carved by rushing water. It looked tame but ended up being much faster than expected and I popped out of the receiving pool with my heart pounding, laughing at the unexpected rush.
Feeling ready for adventure after being immersed by the protective elements of the springs, we headed toward the third section of the resort, Club Rio, about a mile below the main building with shuttles operating from the lobby to take you there and back. Here, guests can engage in heart-leaping activities or learn about the rescued animals sheltered in the Wildlife Sanctuary. The Springs Resort and Spa boasts just over a half mile of Arenal River frontage within its domain. This is the centerpiece of the whole heart-thumping portion of your stay.
Once we registered with the guides and got our inner tub, we took a bus up the river, which originates at an electric dam and flows 55 miles to Nicaragua. I think our guides, Taylor and Guerrero, were nervous for us because as we threw our tubes into the water, they held tight to the ropes secured around them almost the entire time. Really, it was unnecessary but they didn’t know us. However, by the second time, they just let us float off and bump and grind onto protruding rocks as we bobbed along the gurlges. We ended at a placid curvature along the rushing water, where underwater volcanic heat popped bubbles to the surface.
Next, we rode horses around the vast property, through jungle and grass fields, seeing white-tailed deer, bright flocks of birds and a family of raccoons that crossed our path before disappearing into the trees. The best was when we rode across the river. I have to admit I was a little nervous as my horse stepped gingerly through the rocky bottom, stopping and occasionally skidding but it was exciting and something I’ll never forget.
A nature trail around the river leads to waterfalls and ancient trees with more hot springs to enjoy. It was a great way to regroup and reconnect after our wild experiences. When you stay at a hotel, you’re not just paying for your room, you’re also buying access to all the amenities the property offers. However, non-guests can also take part in the magic of the Springs Resort with day passes to the springs, Club Rio, the spa and restaurants.
The next day, we ventured away from the resort when Costa Rica Pure Trek Canyoning picked us up and we headed to a collection of waterfalls on a rappelling tour. It sounded fun when we booked it but I have to admit, stepping backwards off a cliff, attached to a rope, when I wasn’t quite sure it would hold, was more scary than I anticipated. There may have been a little focused breathing that sounded like labor pain. As we hiked to our first rappel, the metal gear, tubiners and ropes around our waist clanking against our legs, I trailed behind. That made me the last to jump. This was not good as by the time it was my turn, everyone had left and all I had to stare at was the gorge 165 feet below. Also, on my left, a huge blanket of water forced its way toward the earth. I turned my back to the ground and held on to the rope suspended to a pole above my head, left hand up and right hand gripping the rope trailing behind me. What I really wanted to do was choke the rope with both hands above my head and inch my way down, eyes closed. But the right hand below was supposed to control the speed of my descent and, initially, my descent barely happened. Once I pushed off and back, and waited for my feet to land on solid cliff rock, I was about a half inch from where I started. I pulled to make sure the rope was holding, but then I lurched to the right and my right foot went into a hole in the rock and I tried to correct myself by dropping a little lower and pushing to the left and then I was circling and not feeling at all like this was supposed to happen in this very awkward way. Down I kept going as my right hand released a bit and my left hand gripped above and my feet tried to balance on the uneven, slippery rocks that were progressively getting less stable with the proximity of the waterfall to my right. Then, I ran out of rock, as it receded into a cave, and it was just me and the rope and the waterfall, freely spraying itself all over and then the guy holding the lower part of the rope thought it would be funny to swing me into the waterfall and then drop me into the pool on the ground. I jumped when I landed, laughing and hollering and feeling like I did it, despite all the stories in my head, and that was enough to give me the courage to do the next four drops.
When Pure Trek Canyoning dropped us back off at the resort, we walked back to our room, located in the fourth and newest section of the resort. Guests can take golf carts, if they choose, anywhere around. We seldom did that, though. Instead, we enjoyed the expansive, open view of the Arenal Valley and its awe-inspiring volcano. The chestnut-colored wooden bridges, connecting the buildings and protecting against rainforest rain also provided a walkway to the inhabitants of the jungle in which the resort rests. A family of monkeys crossed my path and climbed into the tree beside the covered walkway. They foraged for bananas and I laughed as they lived their lives in front of me, oblivious of my presence.
Our last night, we celebrated our physical accomplishments in fluffy, terry-cloth robes in the Sanctuary Spa. From eucalyptus-scented dry wood saunas to fat, dewy drops falling on our heads in shadowy steam rooms, we finished our day having a variety of scented oils rubbed into our skin and muscles. After asking our bodies to throw themselves off cliffs, immerse themselves in rivers and walk around hunting for volcanic springs, it was the least we could do to reward them.
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Updated April 1, 2020