12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For
Before the days of high-tech spa treatments, wellness seekers headed for the hot springs—and modern-day soakers can, too. From an ancient pool near the Dead Sea to the picturesque American West, join us on a world tour of the most stunning spots to take a dip.
In the world of spa treatments, it all goes back to water-and travel. After all, the word "spa" itself comes from Spa, Belgium, a popular watering spot back in the 1600s. In the centuries since, cultures all over the globe turned to natural, mineral-rich waters to treat a wide array of concerns, from the medical (sinus issues, muscle and joint pain) to cosmetic (skin clarity, psoriasis). The ancient Romans turned soaking into an art form-and a part of daily life-and as the Roman Empire grew, baths known as thermae were established wherever mineral springs were discovered. Over the years, many of these ancient hot spring towns grew into wellness resorts, particularly once European doctors started recommending "water cures" in the 18th century. With so many steamy spots to choose from in the world, we've narrowed our list down to natural hot, mineral, and geothermal springs in historic, picturesque locations, including two right here in the U.S. Here are some of the prettiest places to jump in and say "ahhh."
Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Soak in the Rockies at this national park.
Surrounded by dramatic alpine views, these hot springs in western Canada were considered a sacred healing site by the area's native residents. In 1882, workers building the Canadian Pacific Railway happened upon two of the spring pools at the base of Sulphur Mountain-and the news quickly spread. The first European visitors arrived in 1884, and two years later construction on a bathhouse begun. The Banff Upper Hot Springs bathhouse, completed in the mid-1930s, has been declared a protected Heritage Building.
The Benefits: Located at 5,200 feet above sea level, Canada's highest natural springs are rich in key minerals like sodium, magnesium, bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, which have skin healing and muscle-relaxing properties. Despite their long journey from the center of the earth, these waters are also the hottest in the Rocky Mountain range, clocking in at up to a muscle-warming 104 degrees.
How to Soak: The Banff Upper Hot Springs complex-which includes one large pool and a bathhouse-is located about a mile and a half south of the town center, and is accessible by public Banff Roam Bus service; buses run every 40 minutes. The pool is fed by water directly from the spring source, which lies in a protected part of the National Park. www.hotsprings.ca, $7.30 entrance fee.
Ma'In Hot Springs, Jordan
A spa with biblical roots.
Like those of their neighbor, the Dead Sea, the healing powers of these desert oasis springs are biblical: King Herod would travel here often for medical treatment and legend has it that Salome did her famous dance in his nearby villa. Since then, kings, queens, and commoners of all types have come to enjoy the hot and cold springs, many of which tumble down from picturesque waterfalls.
The Benefits: Known locally as Hammamat Ma'in, the springs originate from winter rainfalls in Jordan's highland plains. As the water makes its way through the Wadi Zarqa Ma'in valley, underground lava fissures help heat them (temps range from 104 to 145 degrees) and infuse them with skin-healing minerals like hydrogen sulfide, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Stand under one of the hyperthermal waterfalls for a natural deep-tissue massage.
How to Soak: The springs are located in a desert valley near the Dead Sea, about 866 feet below sea level; it's around a 20-minute drive from the town of Madaba and one hour from capital city Amman. The public bathing complex at Hammamat Ma'in includes Roman baths at the base of a waterfall (visitjordan.com; $14 entrance fee). The facility is popular with local families and can get crowded on weekends. For a more private experience, check-in to the Evason Ma'In Hot Springs resort next door, where guests enjoy after-hours entry to the main springs, as well as access to falls and pools located on the hotel grounds. (011-962-5-324-5500; sixsenses.com/Evason-Ma-In; from $207 per night).
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Discover balnearios popular with emperors-and movie stars.
Modern-day Mexico is home to hundreds of mineral spring sites, and it's said that the tradition of soaking in these balnearios can be traced far back as the Aztecs (16th-century emperor Montezuma was a fan). Today, some of the most popular, and prettiest, sites lay just outside San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. Though native peoples were surely making use of these thermal waters for centuries, it wasn't until the town's "re-discovery" by artists and Mexican movie stars in the 1950s that formal spas and baths were constructed.