The La Fortuna area in northern Costa Rica has an abundance of natural and drilled hot springs piped into resortsthat are generally geared for the moneyed tourists looking to soak up the area’s recently-exploding and over-developed tourism economy; however, free access to a hot creek remains just downstream from the soaking pools at Tabacon Resort for those willing to put in a small effort to access it.
One caveat: Though the numerous expat, traveller, and local guides love to describe these “secret” hot springs, a trip to the beautiful creek reveals that this may be the worst kept secret in Costa Rica. The hot creek is often full of locals as well as travelers and tourists, and the spot is well known enough that there is often a local standing roadside at the parking area requesting a parking fee of a couple Colones from drivers (the legality of the parking fee is shady at best, but you may opt to just consider it a tourist tax and pay, or you can refuse). The crowds should not deter you from visiting this setting yourself; just be prepared to share the warm pools with gaggles of other sunburnt non-Spanish speakers visiting the area.
A short walk down a cement path leads to the Rio Chollín, where a turn to the left and passing beneath the road leads to a wall. Beyond that wall is a wide warm river, the flow of which varies in temperature relative to the sources along the way. Though the temperature can get up to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit in the warmer pools and areas further up the creek, it can also be as low as the upper 80s where the water passes beneath the bridge. Other cool streams flowing into the rio also create cooler areas.
The hot creek is family friendly, and it is not uncommon to see children in the water. While families with younger children tend to stick to the shallower areas just after the wall, it’s possible to hike through the water and further upriver to warmer pools thatf are usually cobbled together from the small boulders along the river and some carried-in sandbags. A cluster of several deeper pools about a quarter mile in tend to be at a depth where families don’t venture. These pools are a bit smaller too, so you may find yourself either sharing the space with strangers or waiting until some bathers leave the area.
The best times to visit the creek would be in the early mornings, when there are fewer others to contend with. On cool days it is possible to lay in the pools and watch the mists rise into the lush surroundings, and at sunset you can catch the surreal hot river beneath the glow of dusk and the sound of insect songs.
Finally, while it’s possible to explore along some of the edges, most of the walking you’ll be doing is in the river itself, which has a rough and stoney bottom. Wearing some type of foot covering is definitely suggested.