In my opinion, no travel itinerary is complete without a trip to the local spa. Wellness practices are a unique way to experience hyper-local traditions, often with native ingredients—think Manuka honey in New Zealand or Aruban aloe. From luxury spas to neighborhood bathhouses, experiencing local bathing rituals is a pretty great way for wellness travelers to see the world.
That said, if your favorite part of a vacation is the hotel room tub, why not opt for a traditional bathing experience instead? To inspire wanderlust and celebrate bathing cultures that dot the globe, read on for insight into what seven spa baths look like in different locales.
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Balinese flower baths
Yes, the famous flower baths of Bali make for an amazing Instagram photo, but there’s much more to the tradition than just posing in a floral-covered tub. In Balinese culture, traditionally, flower baths were used as healing rituals, in addition to a luxe spa day. Spend some time soaking in a tub of beautiful flower petals and natural oils, and emerge refreshed in body and spirit.
Budapest’s party baths
Budapest’s well-earned nickname is the “city of spas.” Hungary’s capital has been drawing spa-loving crowds since the Ottoman empire, but the “sparty” is a very 21st century invention. Picture a nightclub, complete with DJ sets and cocktails, except the whole shebang takes place in a geothermal hot spring. Pack your cutest bathing suit and buy tickets to one of these backpacker-favorite events, or visit during the day for a more laid back soak.
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“Many Finns think you can not grasp Finland or its culture without bathing in a sauna,” reads a guide from Visit Finland. In that case, you simply must add a spa day to your Finland trip itinerary. Expect a bare bones sweat lodge without frills like tinkling spa muzak or, well, clothes. To get the full Finnish experience, use the provided bundles of “vasta” (birch twigs) to gently strike your skin and stimulate circulation.
A temazcal is a healing, purifying sweat lodge ritual led by a shaman, stemming from the Mayan tradition. Today, you’ll find them throughout Mexico and Central America. You’ll enter (read: crawl) into a waist-high circular dome structure heated by smoldering rocks, and once the door shuts, the group sits in pitch black darkness to sing, chant, and share intentions. Over roughly two hours, the heat gets intense, and traditions say the sweat encourages healing and growth.
Calistoga mud baths
That same mineral-rich soil that makes Napa Valley wine so delicious also fortifies the mud baths of Calistoga, California, a town in Napa Valley. Local spas utilize water from the 212-degree-Fahrenheit hot springs in mud baths that are designed to purify skin, improve blood circulation, and relieve muscle tension. Plus, it’s an adult excuse to play in the mud—with a glass of wine in hand.
Japanese culture takes full advantage of the country’s active volcanoes, using geothermal water to fill onsen baths in public bathhouses known as ryokans. The tradition dates back to the 8th century, when Buddhism began to take hold in Japan. Now, tourists and locals alike take to the baths for a day of purification, relaxation, and hanging out nude (zero clothes are allowed) in the heated water. Most onsen are separated by gender, and you’ll get a robe and wooden sandals to wear when you’re not soaking.
In Turkey, you’ll find the traditional hammam bathing ritual in both local bathhouses and adapted for tourists in hotel spas. According to Istanbul Insider, a day at the hammam means either a self-guided day of relaxation in steam room or a paid treatment by a masseuse. If you spring for the treatment, a spa attendant will bathe and massage you—certain bathhouses will also have specialized massages and facials. Be sure to check the schedule before you go, as some locations allow men and women inside at different times.
Ginger baths are also a must-try when bathing at home and this is the final verdict on whether or not Epsom salts are actually good for you.
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