A therapeutic lounge in mineral-rich water...
A natural steam exfoliator...
A mountainside pool built into incandescent white limestone
Generally being somewhere far, far away...
No, you're not daydreaming of some swanky spa; these are the wondrous elements of natural hot springs, most of which require a modicum of effort (beyond swiping a credit card) to reach.
Of course, they’re well worth it. Hot springs are hailed for healing all sorts of ailments, touted for increasing blood circulation, ridding the body of toxins and aiding cell oxygenation and regeneration. For those who can handle the heat...
(You can handle the heat.)
92.3 Degrees: Puritama Hot Springs, Atacama Desert, Chile
Turns out swimming isn’t only feasible in the world’s driest place on earth, but it’s also encouraged (by us, anyway). The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a 622-mile belt of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. And amidst the sea of orange, below a canyon, is a series of eight large pools of geothermal spring water linked by a quaint wooden walking bridge. The springs face desert weather and sit some 11,483 feet above sea level, so temperature oscillation between day and night is to be expected. The medicinal waters are worth a splash, followed by a visit to the area surrounding the springs, like the historically significant town of San Pedro de Atacama.
99.5 Degrees: Cascate di Mulino, Saturnia, Italy
The bubbling natural springs in Saturnia (just outside of Tuscany) are the best known in Italy, and their name comes from the Roman god, Saturn. The hot springs certainly do appear otherworldly, with cascading waterfalls of sulphur-rich waters. The Etruscans and, later, the Romans believed the baths were a gift from the gods and could cure all ailments. Legend has it that the springs were born in the exact location where Jupiter's thunderbolt fell while battling Saturn, and the scars from the bolt were the portals to hell, which would explain the steamy and smelly water spurting from the earth. Be that as it may, the superstitions have faded over the years, and visitors still flock to this place for a more—how do we put this?—"heavenly" experience.
104 Degrees: The Blue Lagoon, Grindavík, Iceland
The heat of the Blue Lagoon is intense at 104 degrees—after all, it plunges almost five feet into earth amid a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula. A nearby geothermal plant actually filters runoff water into the lagoon, heated by natural landscape. That means both fresh water and sea water blend into the Blue Lagoon, seething with silica to exfoliate and strengthen the skin and settle inflammation. Meanwhile, the water’s microorganisms stimulate collagen production and facilitate the reduction of signs of UV damage. But one can only last so long in the lands of lava.
104 Degrees: Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada
The historic Banff Upper Hot Springs, first used by indigenous people, but discovered by the Canadians in 1884, are set against the backdrop of Banff National Park’s spectacular alpine scenery. At 5,200 feet, the Banff Upper Hot Springs is the highest in Canada, and the waters are considered a healing site by the area’s natives because of the rich minerals—calcium, sulfate, magnesium, sodium and bicarbonate—that soothe the skin and relax the muscles.
185 Degrees: El Tatio, Andes Mountains, Chile
El Tatio, the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, sits in the middle of the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 13,780 feet. The climatic conditions and high altitude make the more than 80 active geysers especially unique—the cold air is in stark contrast with the 185-degree water. Don't worry, though: the water in the natural hot spring there doesn't get nearly as hot.
212 Degrees: Pamukkale Springs, Denizli, Turkey
In Turkish, Pamukkale means “cotton castle”—and it’s easy to see why. The natural site in Denizili in Turkey’s River Mederes valley is known for the carbonate mineral the flowing water builds—legend has it that the formations are actually solidified cotton, the area’s principal crop, that giants left out to dry. But the apt nickname actually refers to the surface of the shimmering white limestone shaped over millennia by calcium-rich springs that flow down the mountainside. The water foams in terraces that spill over cascades of stalactites and into opaque pools below. In this area, there are 17 hot water springs, only some of which are swimmable, as the temperature ranges from 95 to 212 degrees. With over two million visitors annually, Pamukkale Springs is Turkey’s single most visited attraction, so get there early in the morning for less crowds at the swimmable springs.