surreal, always sublime, and occasionally stinky, these 10 steaming pools of
wellness are worth a dip.
I’m not sure if
it was the water’s otherworldly milky blue or the enormous plumes of cumulous-cloud
steam that made me hesitant to take a dip in Iceland’s
Blue Lagoon. Something about the scene—swimsuited bodies
of all shapes, sizes, and ages bobbing blissfully while sipping blue liquid
from plastic martini glasses—screamed Cocoon. And yet, as I lowered
myself into the seductive brine, which is actually runoff from a geothermal
power plant, I felt stress melt away.
From the icy
tundra of Alaska to the arid desert of the
Atacama, our molten-to-the-core planet is laced with underground plumbing that
regularly springs a surface leak. And visiting these hot springs can be a
therapeutic addition to any vacation.
mineral-rich tonic begins as rain that seeps miles underground, gathering
concentrations of everything from sulphate (which is why many springs smell
like rotten eggs) to magnesium. The water is heated for hundreds or even
thousands of years before percolating to the surface via rock fissures at
temperatures ranging from 90°F to 212°F (that’s boiling, folks).
But be warned:
since our bodies can withstand only about 108°F without scalding, the vast
majority of unsupervised hot springs are not suitable for swimming (20 people
have died and dozens more have been injured in mishaps in Yellowstone
National Park alone).
Lucky for us,
wellness enthusiasts and entrepreneurs have spent years taming many of our
planet’s hot-water faucets and turning them into destination spas with thermal
pools regulated at the ideal temperature—generally from 98°F to 104°F. Popular
spots include Banff Upper Hot Springs in
Canada’s Alberta province and Calistoga Hot Springs in California’s Napa Valley;
others have tongue-twister names such as Pamukkale in Turkey,
where you can soak atop millennia-old Greek and Roman ruins.
There is even an
official name, balneology, to describe the therapeutic use of thermal
baths. While the medicinal magic of “taking the waters”—touted in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries as a cure-all—no longer holds water, a hot springs dip
is often advised for people with sore muscles, rheumatism, and arthritis, says
Melissa Taylor, assistant marketing coordinator for Canadian Rockies Hot
Springs, which include Banff Upper Hot Springs. “Naturopaths also suggest that
soaking in hot mineral water is a good way to detoxify the body, ” she adds.
Bottom line: an
hour or two in a thermal pool—especially one surrounded by natural beauty and