When hot water bubbles up through the surface of the earth, the resulting springs are some of the most amazing natural wonders you can encounter. For centuries, these mineral-rich waters have either gathered naturally into pools or have been channelled into man-made spas, both options providing therapeutic and medicinal benefits — and some good old-fashioned relaxation.
Here are 10 of the best hot springs around the world.
PAMUKKALE, DENIZLI, TURKEY
The 17-tiered pools of Pamukkale (‘cotton castle’ in Turkish) are amazingly beautiful. The hot spring overlook the city of Denizli. To protect their integrity, the pools are off-limits to people, but you can still view the site from a nearby footpath.
HUANGLONG NATIONAL PARK, SICHUAN, CHINA
The entire Huanglong valley (often called ‘Fairy Land on Earth’) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its giant panda population, snowy mountains, and travertine landscape and hot springs. The terraced pools of crystal clear water stretch for 2.2 miles, and an ancient Buddhist temple sits atop the valley. You can’t get in the waters, but you can view them from above walking up some steps or taking a short cable car ride
DECEPTION ISLAND, ANTARCTICA
Deception Island is like a literal song of ice and fire, where an active submarine volcano has formed a caldera in the middle of Antarctica’s freezing South Shetland Islands. The island keeps its heat hidden below the surface, so visitors will often dig into the black sand beaches to feel the geothermal heat after taking a polar plunge in the sea. And while there are no ‘official’ hot springs, there are thermal springs along the shoreline of Pendulum Cove that can reach temperatures of more than 70°C. When that water mixes with the cold ocean water, you have yourself a viable natural hot tub.
GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
With a diameter of 370 feet, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the third largest in the entire world. The centre of the pool is piercing blue, surrounded by rings of colour ranging from green to orange mineral-rich waters. No swimming is allowed here, for obvious reasons, but it’s still the most photographed thermal feature in the national park.
TERME DI SATURNIA, TUSCANY, ITALY
The Cascate del Mulino waterfalls and Terme di Saturnia thermal spa are a popular (and free!) attraction in southern Tuscany. The falls flow onto travertine rocks, which have formed small pools over the centuries. The spring water – which sits at about 37°C – is said to help alleviate everything from acne to tonsillitis.
TRAVERTINE HOT SPRINGS, EASTERN SIERRAS, CALIFORNIA
The Travertine Hot Springs are completely swimmable and easily accessed from Highway 395, making them one of the most popular spots in the Eastern Sierras. The pools are formed by scalding geothermal water that trickles down travertine rock and algae, settling at a comfortable 39-40°C. You may have to share your natural hot tub with other tourists, but the expansive views and epic sunsets are worth the potential crowds.
KHIR GANGA, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA
Starting from the village of Barsheni in the gorgeous Parvati Valley, it takes about three or four hours to hike up to these hot springs. But it is well worth the time and effort it takes to reach Khir Ganga – a meadow where Hindu god Shiva is said to have meditated for 3,000 years) – especially when you get to immediately bathe in the pools and take in surrounding views of the Himalayas.
CHAMPAGNE POOL, WAIOTAPU, NEW ZEALAND
Champagne Pool is one of the most popular – and most colourful – attractions in Waiotapu, a geothermal area on New Zealand’s North Island. (Waiotapu is Māori for ‘sacred waters’.). You may not be able to swim in this particular hot spring, but you can still enjoy its technicolour beauty and take in the other sites of the ‘Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland’, like boiling mud pools and the erupting Lady Knox Geyser.
BLUE LAGOON, ICELAND
The Blue Lagoon is otherworldly in appearance—black lava rock punctuated with milky blue waters, and steam billowing like clouds. The visual appeal is only part of the experience, however. A soak in the 37°C water (which comes from the output of a nearby geothermal plant) is like a spa experience, with silica mud masks and mineral salts ensuring your skin will look and feel better than it did when you got there.
KUROKAWA ONSEN, KYUSHU, JAPAN
Japan is known for its onsen, or natural hot springs. One of the prettiest is located in Kurokawa on the island of Kyushu, where you can stay overnight or get a day pass with access to three of the 24 baths. Choose from pools located in caves, surrounded by bamboo, or situated next to snowy riverbanks .