Wellness isn't just about eating kale, hitting the gym, or jogging with your dog. It can be your vessel for traveling to the grandest places.
Imagine your stresses evaporating in a steamy Moroccan hammam, check off that New Year's fitness resolution in the mountains of Peru, or choose a destination closer to home. Use your needs as a guide and celebrate rejuvenation through vacation with some of our favorite ideas for relaxation, fitness, and discovery.
The list of places to go for spa treatments runs long, but pampering is not exclusive to luxury resorts. Travel, after all, often rewards the bold.
Our favorite stops for a "get well" travel adventure include the mineral-rich hot springs of Alaska, where a wintertime soak in a steaming pool offers a chance to catch the aurora borealis swirling in the sky above. You also can spot the aurora in Iceland, another top hot springs locale. Travelers can indulge in treatments and massages in the most famous geothermal pool in the country, the man-made Blue Lagoon.
If the frigid outdoors isn't your thing, try visiting a destination with worthy indoor alternatives, such as Morocco. Its tradition of hammams, or steam baths, dates back to the Ottoman and Roman empires, and the famous Turkish baths became popular in Europe during the Victorian era.
For Moroccans, both traditionally and today, a visit to a hammam is a social institution. Though travelers often wear bathing suits, locals strip bare for intense body exfoliation and steam treatments in the gender-segregated bathhouses, just as their ancestors have done for thousands of years.
For a modern approach to the spa life, visit South Korea, where high tech rules. Place yourself in an oxygen capsule, or wade through heated indoor waterfall rock pools and saltwater pools. Spas may also feature a variety of themed sauna rooms, such as a salt room, built entirely from marbled bricks of Himalayan sea salt; a pyramid room, with walls set at specific "energy capturing" angles; and even something called an "SEV room," meant to increase your body's metabolism through its radiating electrons.
Want to go surfing in Bali or kayaking with orcas along the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia? Water sports make a fitness holiday an easy choice. However, some vacations do more than just incorporate activity; they are the activity.
Perhaps the most legendary of these is hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, a journey that may take two days to a full week or more, depending on the distance and level of fitness required. Hikers traverse stone paths dating back five hundred years and may ascend more than 12,000 feet to take in the ruins of this famous temple in the clouds. Experienced fitness buffs will want to take the Salkantay and Inca Trail trek, typically a seven-day hike through the snowcapped Andes Mountains, but less strenuous two- and four-day options are most popular with visitors, along with the bus that departs early mornings from nearby Cusco.
Download a free map and information on the sights of Machu Picchu from DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Peru.
Follow a different sort of cobblestone in the Italian Riviera, where the villages of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) link together via some of the best coastline hiking trails in the world. Like the Incan Trails, there are several paths to take along the Cinque Terre. The most popular trail, the Sentiero Azzurro, connects all five villages and can be completed in a few as six hours, or as many as needed to allow time to explore along the way. Other trails include the Via dell'Amore, known as the "Lover's Lane," where travelers add their own affirmations of love by attaching padlocks ("love locks") along the Cliffside rail, "kissing statue," and tunnel.
Many people travel to experience something straight from the source, whether eating sushi in Japan or spotting elephants in Tanzania. It's one thing to get a Swedish massage in your hometown, after all, and quite another to get a Swedish massage in Sweden. But, for a massage that will inspire even greater travel envy, journey to Thailand.
Thai massage is active, so wear gym clothes and prepare to get sweaty. The therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, knees, and even feet while moving the body into myriad poses and postures. The techniques, believed to originate in Indian yoga, aim to block and release blood flow, stimulate acupressure points, and manipulate inhaled breath.
Other locations offer their own unique experiences. Try the Australian rain forest to participate in aboriginal-inspired healing sessions and stay in subtropical bungalows. Check out aquatic bodywork at the Kalani Retreat Center in Hawaii and lie weightless, floating on the surface of the water, while a therapist supports and guides your body in a dance.
The famous Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado offers an impressive array of programs for wellness including Chinese qigong training. Originating over 4,000 years ago, this art of aligning movement with breath to cultivate and balance "life energy" has been integrated into Taoist and Buddhist meditative practices. Also don't miss the chance to try archery, swordplay, and ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, for a soothing and creative pastime.
If globe-trotting seems a daunting task, take advantage of local "get well" treats — whatever your destination. Whether you make time for yoga on the beach or in an airport yoga lounge, a walking tour in a downtown metropolis, or just a poolside deck chair and a good book, there's no better time to start your journey.