Buff in the Costa Rican Rainforest – A Tabacon Adventure

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Buff in the Costa Rican rainforest wasn’t how I imagined this spa treatment at Tabacon.

I stand naked on a warm January day in the open-air bungalow, stripped from my robe and about to slip beneath the massage table’s cool sheets. Tabacon’s hot springs spilling down nearby rock piles carve out a natural acoustic and I’m walled in by tropical foliage on the other side. Nobody can see me, nor can I see anyone else.

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is tucked into the lush and wild Arenal district, marked by the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Volcano National Park and near the town of La Fortuna. While most travelers to this Central American country seek pura vida in a beach town, inland regions within the costa rican rainforest are worth seeking out for cultural excursions.

One day, during my trip, I couldn’t have been further from commercialism when I floated down a local river on a raft with Jacamar’s tour guides, who pointed out howling monkeys and decoding bird-calls, followed by a vegetarian lunch at a local family’s home.

This region’s authenticity includes the spa and thermal hot springs on Tabacon’s 900 acres. Guests in each of the 103 rooms receive access to the area’s largest network of thermal hot-springs. This includes exclusive access to the adults-only Shangri-la, a community high up in the cliffs with cabanas and cocktails.

Back at the thatched-hut bungalow in the rainforest, in lieu of recorded music to accompany my spa treatment, I opt for the most au natural option: Costa Rica’s melodic birds and howling monkeys. I’m instructed to cling the finger cymbals once I’m ready to begin the Idyllic Massage 95-minute treatment. Kicking off the calm is a slow inhalation of citrus oil, followed by a choice of oil (I go for cherry, an aroma often used to attract love) for the 60-minute massage.

This isn’t your standard massage, however. One’s feet are exfoliated using Costa Rican clay and a facial is folded in, too. Thanks to the bungalow’s open walls, I can gaze out at a pretty blue sky while lying on my back.

To conclude the treatment, which is designed for couples but also a calming retreat for solo travelers like me, is a 25-minute soak in a Jacuzzi brimming with bubbles. Within arm’s reach is a small wooden tray piled with red and green grapes, plus slices of kiwi and apples. A small bottle of Freixenet sparkling wine from Spain is thoughtfully included, with a flute glass.

Post-treatment, the spa is a sweet spot to linger, with Balinese-style décor featuring Buddhas, dark woods, and bright hues like tangerine-orange, red and sky-blue. Dimly lit sconces and open walls allow nature’s sounds and natural light to sail in.

In the relaxation area, chaises and flickering candles encircle a plunge pool and a wall sculpture cradles lit candles. (Even the locker room feels like posh-meets-the-jungle, with sinks carved out of boulders.) A smoothie menu is focused on wellness, using ingredients like strawberries and tomatoes, and spa attendants will kindly bring you hot lavender tea and a heated herbal neck wrap.

After I’ve relaxed a bit, I walk up the paths to Shangri-la, lined with tropical foliage. Only the journey isn’t as simple to ease into as the spa treatment. Twisting paths of stones bring me back to the place I’ve started—more than once. My eyebrows knot in frustration until I have no choice to laugh: is this perhaps the perfect conclusion to a spa treatment? How sometimes the path to relaxation is to succumb to the journey? Perhaps, yes.

Written by Kristine Hansen

Kristine Hansen

As a food, wine and travel journalist she feel honored to dig deeper into her passions. For Travel + Leisure, Shermans Travel and Conde Nast Traveler’s websites — plus Rhapsody Magazine, for United Airlines’ first-class passengers; and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons — she covers wine, food and travel trends. As wine editor for FSR Magazine she’s tasked with tracking wine and sommelier trends, and reporting back to readers who are restaurateurs.

Before getting into wine, she co-authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea (Alpha Books, 2006). What she likes best is an opportunity to immerse herself in a community, whether it’s lunch with Mennonites in Belize or hanging out with winemakers in Bordeaux.

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