Destination: Costa Rica
Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort
Many resorts around the world claim to have a dramatic setting, but in the case of Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, in the northern region of Costa Rica, it’s not just PR-lingo. The sprawling resort sits at the foot of the eastern side of the Arenal Volcano, which has been active since 1968 and continuously emits lava. Guests staying here can actually hike up the volcano to watch the sparkling red stream flow at night when it is at its most spectacular (from a safe distance, of course).
The resort itself is large and offers 114 rooms, multiple restaurants, and a spa with eight private outdoor bungalows. The hot springs, hovering around 100-degrees Fahrenheit, cascade down the base of the volcano in the form of waterfalls and small pools. Along the property, there is a maze of trails that allow you to explore the rainforest, discovering the flora and fauna, and walk through the interconnecting springs. The property is very kid-friendly and there’s even a small water slide. That (coupled with the swim-up pool bar) keeps the entire family happy.
Tabacon’s rooms fit seamlessly into the jungle setting; they are clean and comfortable and filled with local artwork. Don’t expect them to be on par with the luxury of the Four Seasons Resort, but these are by far the nicest accommodations you will find in this area. Set among the hot springs trails, the spa, too, provides an authentic sense of place. The menu offers a range of therapies, from volcanic mud treatments to a Temazcal, a curative ritual dating back to the Mesoamerican culture. Most treatments are done in the outdoor bungalows, which hover over the springs and running rivers, making for a peaceful surrounding. The staff is professional and experienced. During my stay, the ninety-minute Swedish massage was one of the best I’d ever had.
There’s plenty to do in La Fortuna, the area surrounding the volcano, including hiking in the Arenal National Park, off-roading in ATV’s through the pastures, or zip-lining through the jungle. I sampled all three tours, and while they were all great fun, the highlight was most definitely the ATV tour. After riding through shallow rivers, deep piles of mud and rocks for two hours, I was eager to return to the hot springs to soothe my aches and pains. Rooms from $300.
WHO SHOULD STAY: Couples or families who are adventurous and find activities such as white water rafting, hiking, and zip-lining in an authentic place fun.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: If you require white-glove service and a refined and sophisticated decor, this may not be the place for you. While the property has a very friendly staff and comfortable rooms, it’s not for everyone.
TIP: In planning the drive to Tabacon, whether you are coming from San Jose (south of La Fortuna) or from the north where the Four Seasons Costa Rica and Liberia Airport are, make sure to make the trip during daylight. After sundown the fog can become very thick and the roads are windy, so you are better off starting your journey in the morning. The drive to San Jose Airport takes approximately three hours, while the drive to the Liberia Airport is four hours.
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