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What is A Wellness Retreat? An In-Depth Travel Guide

Becky Hart | Nov 4, 2022

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Ocean views, and blue skies.

If you’ve read many British period dramas, you probably remember characters going to “take the waters.” Or maybe you recall someone in American Western movies being prescribed the dry air of Arizona to treat their tuberculosis. Wellness travel isn’t new, but the idea of wellness retreats has (thankfully, if you ask us) transformed into something more modern and effective when it comes to actually improving one’s health. It’s time to skip foul-tasting sulfuric spring water and follow this travel guide to wellness retreats instead.

What Is a Wellness Retreat?

Breath work by a native Hawaiian.

The purpose of a wellness retreat is to learn a skill or grow through self-discovery in a way that makes us healthier individuals. When you go to a wellness retreat, you intentionally seek activities for physical, psychological, or spiritual improvement, usually through workshops or other guided lessons from an expert.

We’re firm believers that travel of any kind provides valuable lessons, but when you travel for a wellness retreat, your exploration can take on a more uniquely personal quality. You choose your destination and activities with focused intent. Based on your own goals, your wellness retreat can help you decompress, or connect with other people or nature (or both) in deeper ways. It can help you process difficult experiences and emotions, or build skills and habits that help you achieve a healthier lifestyle. We each choose wellness retreats for different reasons and bring our own perspectives to the experience, meaning that what we get out of a retreat is as unique as we are.

What Do You Do At a Wellness Retreat?

As we said, there are wellness retreats for nearly any interest, need, and desire. So what can you expect in a retreat?

  • Healthy eating: Some retreats tout body composition scans and highly analytical methods to determine your ideal diet, while others simply focus on providing healthy meals using locally sourced ingredients. It’s especially important to do due diligence before choosing a wellness retreat in this category. Beware the retreat that promises magic weight loss solutions or methods not founded in proven medical research.
  • Physical fitness: Some retreats and resorts will develop full training regimens to help you build stamina and strength. But physical fitness isn’t just about working out. Others focus on sleep therapy, bone and joint health, and general mobility, for example.
  • Yoga: There’s so much variety even within this category — couples’ yoga, meditative yoga, intensive training for experienced yogis — you might have trouble choosing.
  • Time in nature: As we note below, spending time outdoors can be extremely restorative mentally and physically. Retreats that help connect us with nature may do so by organizing nature walks or hiking, foraging expeditions, surfing lessons, fishing trips, even paragliding.
  • Meditation and spiritual practice: Mindfulness or deepening a connection to a higher being can help us heal and become better versions of our present selves. Doing this on our own is difficult, so wellness retreats often pair us with professionals who can guide us and the restful environments we need to get the most out of our practice.
  • Special interest: When your wellness journey is more about learning something new just for the sake of gaining knowledge or growing a hobby, there are plenty of retreats that cater to specific interests. You’ll find a reading retreat for book lovers below, but there are also opportunities to practice organic cooking, pottery and painting, sailing … the list goes on.

Are Wellness Retreats Worth It?

Group doing sunrise yoga.

It’s easy to feel stuck in life. Everyday responsibilities can weigh on us, and with that constant pressure, it’s difficult to make a change. Getting away from those everyday responsibilities is one of the benefits of a wellness retreat. You can create physical and mental separation from your “normal,” giving yourself the space to focus on your goal.

To decide, “Are wellness retreats worth it?” ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need time away from home and my daily routine?
  • Do I keep making excuses — I don’t have the time; I don’t have the know-how — for not making a healthy change I desire?
  • Do I want to be more intentional about how I live my life?
  • Do I need to unplug and learn how to live with less dependence on technology?
  • Have I made changes in the past that didn’t stick or become a healthy habit?
  • Do I feel burned out or stressed?
  • Do I lack motivation or no longer find enjoyment in activities I used to look forward to?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s likely that a wellness retreat would be worth it to you.

Research your retreat to find true value.

When choosing a wellness retreat, it’s important to do your research. Some will make big promises about how they’ll make you healthier, smarter, and more balanced, but they have little evidence to support their claims. They might not have scientific backing for their “treatments.” If a retreat is unable to successfully answer your questions about how they’ll achieve results, then you have your answer for whether that retreat is truly worth it. However, if the wellness retreat can genuinely guide you through your journey, we say go for it.

Make slow travel part of your wellness retreat.

One of the biggest challenges of wellness retreats can be slowing down. We equate busyness with value. As a result, any downtime or unstructured activity can be seen as a waste of time and, therefore, trigger our brains to think the wellness retreat was not worth the money and effort.

This is a myth. To get the most out of our wellness retreats, we often need quiet space to reflect and meditate. If we’re trying a digital detox, just sitting — and not scrolling — is hugely important. If we’re trying to deal with emotional trauma so that we can be more present for our families, we need the quiet time to adequately process and name what we feel. If we’re trying to replenish our energy, that often means we need to stop filling every waking moment with mindless activity.

Wellness retreats can be a form of slow travel, where instead of hopping from one activity to the next and stuffing our itineraries as full as possible, we immerse ourselves in a single location and a singular intention. We experience a place to its fullest, interacting in meaningful ways with the people around us, whether it’s members of the local community, other retreat participants, or the experts at the retreat. If you’re seeking richer, fuller experiences through travel, know that it’s worth it to embrace the slower pace of travel that comes with wellness retreats.

Best Wellness Retreats

Eating good meal packed with omega-3s.

For solo travelers

When you want to get away for a wellness retreat, sometimes that also means getting away from the people you see every day. Here are some of our picks for the best wellness retreats for solo travelers.

  • Pura Vida Adventures (Costa Rica): Spend your mornings with yoga and surf instruction, your afternoons relaxing and visiting Costa Rica’s gorgeous beaches, and the evenings embracing nightlife or more restorative yoga. This week-long retreat is all-inclusive, so you’ll get delicious, healthy meals while you’re there. Women’s only retreats are also available, so if you’re a lady looking to live the pura vida (pure or simple life), this might be for you.
  • Capturing Joy in Todos Santos (Mexico): Just because you’re a solo traveler doesn’t mean you have to journey alone. With this wellness retreat, you’ll develop mindfulness skills that can help build resiliency, reduce stress, and boost positivity and self-compassion. There’s coaching and workshops, but you’ll also explore the Baja with new friends who are doing the same self-improvement work you are.

For couples

We’re not talking couples’ counseling. These top destinations for duos are all about reconnecting and returning home feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the world as a team.

  • Ojo Santa Fe (New Mexico): When it needs to be just the two of you, having a cozy casita is the way to go. When, and if, you venture out, you’ll find a full fitness studio with fresh air and nature views, secluded hikes on private trails, a meditation garden, and adoptable puppies to play with. All the services are complimentary for overnight guests. If soaking in spring-fed thermal pools with your SO sounds like a good way to spend your time together, make your way to Santa Fe.
  • Firelight Camps (New York): Go glamping with your sweetie and enjoy quality time being both outdoorsy and luxurious. With direct access to Buttermilk Falls State Park, the two of you can reconnect with nature and each other, or join a group for foraging hikes. There are also food and wine tours, boat tours, kayak rentals, and plenty of couples’ outdoor yoga.

For mental health

Woman reading book on a mental retreat.

There’s an increasing number of wellness retreats for mental and emotional health, according to Women’s Health. As we continue to re-evaluate what we want out of life, work to heal from past traumas, or simply need a sabbatical, many are seeking the guidance of a wellness retreat.

  • Black Women Healing Retreats (Costa Rica and Jamaica): Founded by a woman looking to break free from the rush, racism, and sexism of big-city America, these retreats were “birthed … out of the desire to connect Black Women to nature and themselves.” Experts lead the women through wellness workshops to help them heal from trauma inflicted by systemic bias.
  • Fogo Island Inn (Canada): Perhaps it’s not what you were thinking when we said “mental health,” but fellow bibliophiles will know how re-energizing a good book can be for the heart and soul. Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and Labrador hosts a reading retreat in partnership with Penguin Random House Canada. You’ll get autographed books and plenty of chances to escape either into the pages of a book or into the island’s northern landscape. When you look up from your book, look way up and go stargazing from a rooftop hot tub.

For physical health

Physical wellness can mean a lot of things. Your wellness retreat might focus on healthy eating, or it could be about physical activity. It could be a spa with frequent massages that help you ease those stress-knotted muscles. Or it could be all of the above.

  • Dolce Vitality (Italy): Perhaps the most exclusive wellness retreat on this list, Le Sirenuse in Positano, Italy, welcomes just 24 guests when the hotel is closed to other visitors. Start off with a body composition assessment, then enjoy mountain hikes, daily yoga and Pilates, massages, swimming, saunas, pescatarian menus made from local ingredients, and more to get you feeling your best.
  • Six Senses Zighy Bay (Oman): Combine physical training — high- and low-intensity — with recovery treatments, meditation, and sleep, and you have the fitness regimen at this desert retreat. Their three-, five-, and seven-day programs get you personalized training sessions based on your goals and fitness level, a variety of massages, and even stretching sessions. Staying in one the retreat’s gorgeous villas won’t hurt your wellness goals, either.

For relaxation

In a rat-race society, sometimes what we need most is to just breathe. For relaxation and decompression, check out these wellness retreats that promise calming and rejuvenation.

  • Castle Hot Springs (Arizona): This one is frequently named one of the best wellness retreats in the U.S. Even Travel + Leisure put it on their list and gave it one of their World’s Best Awards in 2022. As the resort’s name hints at, there are mineral-rich hot springs sure to leave your muscles and mind feeling refreshed. You’ll also find a full menu of massages, body rituals, and energy therapies.
  • Nové Lázně (Czechia): This hotel spa has two big claims to fame. First, it was considered a royal spa as England’s King Edward VII and other aristocrats often visited for spa cures. And second, its location in Karlovy Vary helped the region earn UNESCO World Heritage status for its impact on European spa culture. With pedigree like that, it has to be good. Relax in the “healing” waters, which the hotel says can help with ailments for everything from muscles and joints to the nervous system and digestive disorders.

For getting away from technology

Greek yogurt with granola.

Technology can be supremely helpful in our daily lives, or it can trap us into thinking we always have to be “on.” If the latter describes you, a digital detox might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

  • Black Tomato’s Get Lost (parts unknown): To find yourself, sometimes you have to get lost. Or at least that’s what Black Tomato says. This retreat (and we might use that term loosely in this instance) drops you at an unknown destination with the gear you need to find your way out. There’s no Google Maps to consult, no Siri to ask for advice, no “Alexa, where am I?” This could be perfect for the adventurer who wants to disconnect and see what they’re made of.
  • Miraval Austin (Texas): Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 picked Miraval Austin as one of the top destination spa resorts in the U.S. This Hyatt-owned hotel is a digital device-free site, and “Miraval Mode” is all about unplugging to be present. We’re not sure why you’d try to resist that with all they have to offer. Miraval Austin has many of the typical wellness activities you might expect, along with opportunities to learn about sustainable farming and beekeeping, building self-awareness and healing at the equine center, and tapping into your creativity.  You can even combine some of those activities by painting on a horse.

For connecting with nature

Tuning into nature can be a truly revitalizing experience. The American Psychological Association, among others, has shown that spending time outdoors can have health benefits such as improving cognition, reducing stress, improving attention and focus, and restoring energy to our minds. Retreats like the ones below rely on a connection with nature to help you in your wellness journey.

  • Kamalaya Koh Samui (Thailand): Self-described as a wellness sanctuary and holistic spa, Kamalaya is designed — from the therapies to the architecture — for your well-being. It even features a cave that was once used by Buddhist monks for meditation but is now available to you. While Kamalaya welcomes guests to simply relax and be, the sanctuary also offers a variety of wellness programs for yoga, sleep, stress and burnout, and emotional harmony. This retreat was a Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards winner in 2022.
  • Aqua Oceanfront Resort (Nicaragua): If your wellness goals include a tropical forest on a private beach, then this is the resort for you. In addition to yoga and spa treatments, you’ll come face-to-face with local fauna like howler monkeys, sea turtles, and butterflies. You might also try your hand at fishing, surfing, and other water sports. Stay in the eco-friendly luxury tree houses, that not only reduce impact on the local ecosystem by not being on the jungle floor, but also put you at eye level with some amazing sunsets.

Travel Insurance for Wellness Retreats

Wellness retreats can be expensive. A week-long workshop at an idyllic resort can cost thousands of dollars. That’s not to say that you should de-prioritize your health, though. When you book your wellness retreat, consider protecting your trip with travel insurance. Trip protection can reimburse you for your prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses if you need to cancel your getaway for a covered reason. If your wellness retreat takes you overseas, travel medical insurance can also help if you get sick or hurt while traveling — something you certainly want to avoid when the whole point of travel is improving your health.

Talk to our licensed travel insurance agents to find out what kind of travel insurance is best for your wellness getaway.

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