We arrived at Tabacon before they opened and decided to walk across the street to the infamous “free” hot springs (comments) often touted by budget minded travelers. Apparently, the hot water from the resort drains under the bridge, which is probably public property allowing public access. We first heard about the “free” springs while taking a tour with Red Lava out of La Fortuna in 2015. The tour ended with everyone being dropped off on the side of the road to go swimming before heading home. Unfortunately, (maybe fortunately) the night was dark and stormy, so no one on the tour wanted to chance going down the trail.
The trail to the river is easy to locate from the main road, paved and short, but that is where civilization ends. As you can see above, the trail ends at the river bank and access down is steep and slippery, so I suggest you prepare for it.
Also, there are no aesthetics at the “free” place. It looks a like like a dump with trash and graffiti.
It seems bathers need to head left under the bridge to enjoy the hot water since there appeared to be no easy access going right downstream.
Once you cross under the bridge, there is an attractive location to soak. I am not sure what the etiquette is here since there are many other people in various states of dress and embrace that make it awkward to step over them to find a private place to settle. I understand people get quite frisky here when the sun goes down. A future trip for me will be trying to see how to make the most of this place.
Here is a view down from the north side of the bridge at the people enjoying the hot water. There may even be a way to get down to the upper pool from this direction, but it was not obvious.
Here are two of my favorite CR guides documenting their trip to the “free” springs: TravelCostaRicaNow video
I could not find any public transportation from La Fortuna to this hot springs. There are no local buses except the one that runs infrequently to Tilaran which would be problematic flagging down to get back There are employee buses that travel to the springs but non-employees are not allowed on. So here is the taxi driver we used to get us from La Fortuna and back who I would recommend.