Local legend has it that Juan Ponce de León’s biggest (and fatal) mistake was to seek the fountain of youth in Florida, when the true source of eternal life was in Puerto Rico all along, at the Baños de Coamo (Coamo hot springs). The elderly locals hobbling down to the baths for a daily dip may appear to throw doubt on this claim, but even if you’ve been to hot springs elsewhere, the sheer novelty of scalding hot mineral pools in the Caribbean makes them all the more enticing. The water shoots out of the ground at 43°C, but cools quickly in the baths: its therapeutic qualities stem from healthy doses of carbonic and sulphuric acid combined with magnesium carbonate.
You have two choices here: the slightly smarter and larger pools within the Hotel Baños de Coamo, lined with some of the brickwork from the original nineteenth-century Spanish hotel and spa, or the public pools (daily 6am–7pm; $3) at the end of the lane that continues to the right of the hotel (park along the road). These were spruced up in 2010 and feature small but clean landscaped baths surrounded by flowers. If you visit during weekdays in “winter”, you’ll usually have them to yourself.
Hotels have been welcoming visitors to the hot springs since 1847, and though the current accommodation is basic, the Hotel Baños de Coamo (787/825-2239; $75–99) offers a bucolic setting on the Río Coamo. Rooms are set in slightly worn two-storey wooden chalets in flowery, overgrown gardens above the river, with balconies, air conditioning and basic cable TV. Some rooms are in dire need of renovation – check yours on arrival. The hot springs are at the end of PR-546 and signposted off PR-153, which runs between Coamo and the PR-52 autopista.