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Noses in our books, we were lounging in a hanging, cocoon-shaped daybed in the aptly-named Shangri-La Gardens when it started to rain. But, were we bothered? Not at all.
We simply stepped into a nearby hot springs pool to float contentedly, mist rising up in clouds around us. The soft warm raindrops just made everything more romantic. A couple cuddling in another volcanic rock pool sipped glasses of waiter-served wine, only taking time out for selfies while kissing.
Romance and rainforest go hand in hand at Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa.
A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the 103-room resort spreads out in the tropical rainforest at the base of Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano. The hot springs and spa are a five-minute walk (or a shorter van ride, free for guests) away from the resort. Here — in a lush “Avatar”-like setting of flowering ginger and broad-leaf palms — the Tabacon River’s volcanically-heated mineral water flows into a network of black-sand pools, cascading waterfalls and meandering streams.
Non-guests may visit Tabacon’s hot springs with paid passes. But Tabacon hotel guests get unlimited complimentary entry, plus exclusive access to the Shangri-La Gardens. We felt like Adam and Eve in this seemingly secret adults-only Eden, complete with tented cabanas and daybeds, six natural pools and an open-air bar whipping up frothy drink temptations.
The rainforest also takes center stage in Tabacon’s guestrooms, which are clustered in two-story buildings with terra-cotta tile roofs. Orchid rooms have bathrooms with sky lights and stone-floor showers. Rainforest rooms feature expansive outdoor terraces that overlook an explosion of green.
We stayed in a spacious Tabacon suite. One big delight was the oversize bathroom, which features double blue-and-gold-flecked glass sinks on a marble counter; illuminated recessed wood alcoves displaying Balinese puppets; and a soaker tub that provides an outdoor view.
And if asked in advance, the resort will prepare special decorations for guests celebrating a romantic occasion. We returned to our room after a sunset couple’s massage to find crimson rose petals sprinkled all about and tea candles lighting a path to our bed. On the bed were long-stemmed roses, silver balloons spelling out “love” and a pair of swans made from towels. For us, it was a kiss-inducing surprise.
While the hot springs are a major draw, guests at Tabacon can also enjoy nature and adventure tours, including ziplining, canyoneering, whitewater rafting and guided tours of the rainforest. Costa Rica is known for its astonishing variety of birds and wildlife; most can be spotted in Arenal Volcano National Park and surroundings.
At the 103-room Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica, guestrooms bring the outdoors in. // © 2017 Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa
Suites are especially roomy, and their furnishings are locally made. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
On a sunny day, you can get great views of Arenal Volcano, which rises at least 5,300 feet high. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
If notified in advance, the resort can provide special decorations for those celebrating a special occasion. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
The adults-only Shangri-La Gardens is exclusively reserved for hotel guests. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
The first hot springs in the area, Tabacon limits the number of non-hotel guests who may enter with a pass. // © 2017 Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa
With so many pools at the hot springs, it’s never a problem finding one to float in all by yourself. // © 2017 Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa
A couple wanders through Tabacon Hot Springs’ lush gardens, wearing bathrobes provided for guest use. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
Go on an “Arenal Hanging Bridges” tour, and you could see an eyelash pit viper (one of the most venomous of Costa Rica’s 140 species of snakes). // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
At the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, 15 bridges allow visitors to view birds and wildlife from above the forest canopy. // © 2017 Janice Mucalov
Our first wildlife sighting was right at the resort. At breakfast the first morning, a family of white-nosed coatis (like raccoons with long tapered snouts) looked in through the glass window behind the buffet table. Suddenly, a baby squeezed through the narrow gap between the window and floor and — in a flash — snagged a muffin and scampered off.
That didn’t even begin to compare, though, to the critters and creatures we encountered on a nature tour in Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. In this 600-acre reserve, a 2-mile trail crosses 15 suspension and fixed bridges (some as high as 150 feet above the forest floor), allowing opportunities to view wildlife from above and below.
Our guide first pointed out a three-toed sloth curled high up in the branches of a tree. If she hadn’t positioned the telescope at the sloth, we wouldn’t have identified it — covered in algae, sloths blend in perfectly with the forest canopy.
Even more exciting was getting up-close with an eyelash pit viper, one of the most poisonous of Costa Ricas’s 140 species of snakes. Fortunately, the snake was peacefully curled up on twigs at the side of the trail. Then, we gingerly passed underneath the web of a Golden Orb spider, this one as big as the palm of a hand. We also came across another venomous viper and a beautiful, multicolored, broad-billed motmot bird. Finally, our guide shone her flashlight inside holes in the red mud banks of the trail, bringing into view the furry legs of tarantulas living inside.
And with that, we were ready once more for the tranquil Zen and warm embrace of Tabacon’s hot springs.