Take it from someone who’s experienced Japan’s bathing culture firsthand: there’s nothing quite like listening to your heartbeat slowing as you are immersed in soothing waters that haven’t seen the light of day for millennia.
In general, there are two different ways hot springs occur: magma close to the Earth’s crust may come into contact with an underground water source, or water may be heated directly from the energy produced by the Earth’s core — a geothermal spring.
Hot spring culture is universal, yet the baths themselves exist in a variety of environments – not every spring is the stereotypical picture of water boiling to the surface of a stone-covered pond in the midst of a dense forest or jungle.
In fact, you can find the familiar steam in urban sprawls, near ancient ruins, and even amongst the ice of Antarctica! Where in the world should you go if you’re looking for a good soak? Here are ten places:
The hot springs culture is Japan is second to none. Onsen, as they are called, are available wherever a volcano looms on the horizon. In the west Japanese city of Beppu, there is so much hot water beneath the surface it appears small fires are constantly burning on the streets, steam releasing some pressure and providing picturesque scenes.
In northern Honshu, near Nagano, snow monkeys are clever enough to go in for a soak themselves, as Japanese tourists snap some truly original photographs.
Iceland is actually the source of the name “geyser”; the original, geysir, has longed stopped spewing hot water at regular intervals and is hardly the best place to go for a decent soak. However, if you’re looking for an impressive bath, be sure to check out the blue lagoon, floating right on a lava formation in southwestern Iceland.
Though technically a continent, Antarctica must be mentioned: Who would have thought there would be hot springs in the middle of the land of ice? There’s one place you can do it: Deception Island, close to the tip of South America. Dig your own little place to soak out of the black sand and you’re all set.
If you’ve ever hiked to Machu Picchu, then no doubt you’ve passed through the town of Aguas Calientes (guess… “Hot Waters”). Only six kilometers from the ancient ruins, these baths offer a respite for those going up or down the mountain.
Taiwanese hot springs culture was incredibly influenced by nearby Japan, and now some would say they are even surpassing their northern neighbor in quality and variety of baths. Be sure to check out Hell Valley in Beitou and enjoy the indoor pools.
6. United States
The US has a large concentration of geothermal springs in and around the Rocky Mountains and scattered around Alaska. Many of the National Parks, including Death Valley, Big Bend, and Yellowstone, have hot water rising to the surface. For a real treat, make your way to Hot Springs, Arkansas and try one of the large bathhouses.
Western Canada has hot springs too numerous to mention: in the middle of forests, next to a waterfalls, surrounded by stalactites… Liard River Hot Springs and the Fairmont Hot Springs in British Columbia are some of the more well-known areas, but there are a few pools in Alberta and the Yukon as well.
8. New Zealand
To soak like a Kiwi, stick to the north and relax in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Waiariki in New Zealand really help dissolve your pain. Check here for a comprehensive list of all the pools.
Chile also has the reputation of being a hot springs country, with over 275 places to soak and the biggest source of natural hot spring water in Liquiñe. No matter where you go, look for a “termas” sign and you’re all set for an abnormally hot bath.
10. United Kingdom
What? You thought you were born 2,000 years too late to enjoy baths that the Romans themselves built, with grand marble columns and open atria? Well, you’re half right; in the city of Bath in Somerset, one can view the perfectly preserved Roman Baths… but officials might frown on you actually jumping into the water.
For that, it might be best to try the Thermae Bath Spa; only recently opened, one can now enjoy the same waters that soothed the line of Caesar. On top of that, Bath is a sister city to Beppu, Japan.
Have you soaked in the thermal waters of the world? What are your favorite hot springs?