When it comes to wellness-savvy travel, simply continuing your green juice-sipping, asana-practicing routine somewhere gorgeous and far-flung is a start, but these days it’s not quite enough. If you collect stamps in your passport like some people collect crystals or sneakers, you’re as much in search of unforgettable experiences as you are healthy opportunities.
That’s why the next-gen of good-for-you travel spots includes destinations that are more encompassing—be it a surf camp with a side of women’s empowerment tucked away on a hidden Costa Rican beach or sun-dappled bike rides through the Italian countryside.
In other words, you can enjoy those endorphin-boosting moments that a selfie could never truly capture—and still have time to get pampered (plus, yes, snap a few double tap-inducing pics).
So, what are the top spots on the planet right now for a good-for-you great time? Check out these seven destinations for some next-level R&R.
1. Todos Santos Eco Adventures, Mexico
The town of Todos Santos, about two hours from Cancun on the Baja California peninsula, is the new Tulum—full of yoga studios, boho boutiques, and Asian-fusion restaurants with taglines like “Made with love.”
It’s also the home base for this company, which organizes itineraries that can be heavy on adventures both physical (hiking from the Pacific up over a 5,000-foot ridge and down to the Sea of Cortez, surfing) and spiritual (an overnight with a traditional ranchero family in the highlands, luxury camping on a deserted island).
And then there are the whales. The area is known for superior whale watching, as grays breed in UNESCO-designated reserves here before making the long swim back to Alaska. One afternoon in Magdelena Bay, a 45-foot-long mother and her baby approached my boat and spent an hour playing under and beside it, scratching their backs on the hull and putting on a show with their blowholes and tails. Describing it as “watching” doesn’t do the experience justice—it’s more like connecting and communing.
2. Surf with Amigas, Central America
Former pro surfer Holly Beck Obermeyer started this women-only surf camp in Nicaragua when she retired in 2010. “Women in the water are just different,” she says. “A group of women together are more supportive of each other and have more fun.” Now she runs camps in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, and Nicaragua, still just ladies.
The female instructors become friends and address your head and heart as well as your body—and guests have let retreats springboard them into major life changes, like ending bad relationships or leaving bad jobs. Already a regular in the water? Obermeyer also leads retreats for immediate surfers.
3. Fazenda Catucaba, Brazil
In the six years it’s been open, this small hotel in the highlands two hours from Sao Paulo has evolved from a simple, relaxing farmhouse hotel into an intentional destination for renewal and reconnection with nature. “Hospitality has the word hospital in it,” says owner Emmanuel Rengade. “We’re caring for people in the first sense of the word.”
He’s developed what he calls an integral vision of wellness. The food—all organic, natch—is raised on the farm, down to the wheat for bread. Nothing comes in plastic; cosmetics are made by nearby villagers and dispensed from ceramic bottles. Beauty is emphasized, both in the décor and through initiatives like an artist-in-residence program and a coming art gallery.
There’s no wifi, and phones and even cameras are strongly discouraged, as they pull people away from the present. Rengade will soon be launching a Transformation Week program that will take that to a new level, by asking guests to surrender all planning and go for hikes and horseback rides as the staff dictates—so that everything is a surprise and you’ll feel like a kid again. (Hey, if you’re going to try a phone-free vacation, this is one your inner child would definitely vote for.)
4. Oxalis Adventure Tours, Vietnam
Proof that almost everything fun requires a waiver and sometimes a helmet, this adventure company takes visitors to explore the newly discovered Phong Nha cave system in central Vietnam. The biggest of these underground cathedrals, with its majestic stalactites and stalagmites, is so big that it takes seven days to explore.
It’s an out-of-the-comfort-zone experience for most people, with treacherous and slippery terrain, scratchy boulders that tear your hands as you climb over them, chest-deep pools of 60-degree water to wade through, and the occasional bat in the face. But the guides go above and beyond in keeping guests comfortable, and I never feared for my safety as they helped me pick my way down a steep ridge. Along with feeling like a badass, I came away in awe of the sometimes freakish beauty of nature.
5. Anantara Golden Triangle, Thailand
People come here to connect with elephants in an ethical way. Unlike a lot of the gentle giants used for tourist rides in northern Thailand, the elephants here are all rescued from begging on city streets or wasting away on short chains in villages (and unable to live in the wild).
Needless to say, they’re all deeply respected and well taken care of—Anantara’s director of conservation, formerly the director of elephants, sees to that. It’s hard not to be filled with joy as a baby elephant walks through the hotel lobby every morning, or filled with awe as you sit astride an adult’s shoulders and feel the massive power lumbering beneath you.
6. Borgo Egnazia, Italy
The spa at this resort in Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot) includes some out-there menu items: shamanic healing, mock-jousting sessions with a music and dance therapist, and “spirit-cleansing” treatments, in addition to the massages, facials, scrubs, and wraps you would expect.
And don’t miss out on Puglia itself—the region is a wellness destination in its own right, best explored on a bicycle. You can pedal down country roads that wind past groves of gorgeously gnarled 1,000-year-old olive trees and stark white farmhouses, under stunning blue skies. The region is also a major producer of olive oil and vegetables, and while it’s possible to overindulge (Puglia is the birthplace of burrata, after all), it’s also possible to eat healthfully, as the Mediterranean diet is a way of life.
7. Nihiwatu, Indonesia
Surfing is the big draw at this luxury resort on the otherwise untourist-y Indonesian island of Sumba—though you have to be pretty good to take on that wave. (For me, it was a humbling reminder about my limits as a surfer—and inspiration to take more lessons.)
But there’s a whole lot more than surfing going on: an excellent yoga program with classes led in one of the most gorgeous pavilions anywhere, a beautifully remote spa that you can hike to and spend a full day at, and an equestrian element that can range from adrenaline-pumping runs on the beach (also not for beginners) to subtly awakening horse meditation sessions with the resident horse whisperer Carol Sharpe. When the horses that approached me during our session turned out to be the most nurturing of the herd, she encouraged me to think about what that signified and what I was missing in my life. It worked; I made some changes.
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