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Why spiritual tourism is the next wave of wellness travel


The orange sunrise reflected off the lapping waves and rocks of the bay with a line of evergreen forests and a snow capped mountain in the background.
Sunrise in the Pacific Northwest, the region is home to many Native American tribes who've called this land home for thousands of years. ©AlonzoWright

The next big travel trend isn’t a destination, it’s a journey inside yourself.


Who are you? What do you really want? What really makes you happy? For centuries, people have been looking everywhere for the answers to those questions. But in the quest for meaning and fulfillment, we began stuffing the hollow parts of ourselves with all kinds of momentarily gratifying objects and behaviors: food, clothes, work, sex, booze, drugs. Somewhere along the way, we tuned into programming that promised us if only we had a bigger house, a nicer car, the latest phone, a higher-paying job and a better body, we’d be happier and more confident. Instead of confronting traumas in our past, we reached for that shot of dopamine with each swipe of the credit card.


But guess what, it turns out it was all a big, fat lie. More, more, more has left us sardined in our homes and spiritually bankrupt. But that’s starting to change. And that shift that we’re all beginning to feel, is coming in the form of spiritual awakenings. People are now willing to wander to the far corners of the earth to get insight into the universe’s greatest mystery: themselves. So, let’s go a little deeper and talk about why spiritual tourism will be the next trend in wellness travel.


Jungle and mountain scene overlooking teal blue Caribbean waters with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds in the Virgin Islands.
It's easy to see why tropical locales host a slew of wellness retreats. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Virgin Islands Dept. of Tourism

What are wellness vacations?


The Wellness Tourism Association (yes, that’s a thing) describes it as “A specific division of the global tourism industry that is defined by the common goal of marketing natural assets and/or activities primarily focused on serving the wellness-minded consumer and those who want to be.” That’s still a little vague and a two-dimensional way of seeing it, especially with the shift in consciousness taking place around the world.

Wellness vacations started gaining momentum around the same time people realized they needed to take better care of themselves if they wanted to improve their performance and satisfaction levels. They started hitting up swanky spas, attending yoga retreats in Costa Rica, or they hired private chefs and personal trainers for trail runs up exotic volcanoes in the Caribbean. That’s what wellness vacations had become. And they were great at lowering stress levels, increasing creativity and feelings of calm, at least while they lasted.


In 2018, a study released by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 40% of the people surveyed said the benefits of their vacation had worn off a few days after they returned to work. So there was obviously still a piece missing. We continued to go back to our same old stressful lives where the effects of that restful trip lasted for a few fleeting days.


A waterfront view of a golden temple sits next to a wide white marble building.
The golden temple, Sri Harmandir Sahib in Punjab, India is the most important Sikh site in the world and it sees 100,000 visitors each day. It was awarded the Most Visited Place in the World by the World Book of Records in 2017. Photo courtesy of Wix.

Why spiritual tourism?


Robin Wall Kimmerer, author, environmental biologist and tribal member of the Potawatomi Nation, put it best: “We’ve accepted banishment even from ourselves when we spend our beautiful, utterly singular lives on making more money, to buy more things that feed but never satisfy.”


The world was collectively brought to its knees in 2020. For years, we’d forsaken ourselves and the planet, putting our heads down and pushing through the grind, building other people's’ dreams and businesses while our own precious time evaporated. We realized our very existence and the lives we’d worked so hard to build were paper thin. When we were forced to stay in place, we didn’t even know how to be with ourselves. Or worse, we were terrified of what we’d have to acknowledge about ourselves if all our external distractions were stripped away. So, we started looking for answers the only place we hadn’t looked before: within.


There was a boom in interest around mindfulness, spiritual and metaphysical practices. Even Netflix brought to light our need for deeper and more meaningful connections. Highly-rated shows like “Down to Earth," “Headspace Guide to Meditation,” “Surviving Death” and “Ram Dass, Going Home lifted the veil on the ancient world of metaphysics and spirituality. The idea of venturing into the jungle for an ayahuasca tea ceremony was broadcasted into homes across the world, making these ancient and sacred rituals truly mainstream. To be fair, people had been sneaking off to the jungle to take psychedelics for centuries, they just didn’t tell anybody about it.


We started seeing that there could be spiritual answers to modern-day issues, if only we knew where to look and how to find them. Internet searches for reiki healers, chakra balancing, sage smudging and the benefits of using crystals went through the roof. But what if we could take it one step further and go to the source for healing? Could we visit the shaman, the healing waters, the priestesses and practitioners on their home turf? You bet we can.


We are now finding that while restoration of the mind and body are necessary for your health and happiness, a true sense of wellness comes when the whole person is aligned. And that sense of wholeness (not just wellness), means we must consider how we are nurturing our mind, body and spirit. And that’s how spiritual tourism started becoming woven into wellness vacations.


A jungle bungalow with palm trees, green ferns and plants surrounding, a private deck and a saltwater pool.
The Keliki Valley tents have outdoor decks, indoor/outdoor showers, outdoor dining areas & private salt-water pools. Photo courtesy of Capella Ubud.

Where can you go on a spiritual wellness vacation?


While so much of these practices are considered new age, we need to turn to the ancient civilizations to find them. Cultures who celebrated and honored their connections with both the earth and the spiritual realms.


Indonesia

On the lush island of Bali, you can book nocturnal meditations and soul rebirth ceremonies at the 5-star resort, Capella Ubud. You will be dressed in traditional Balinese clothing and lead to an ancient spring in the jungle by a local priest. The sacred spring is near the Wos River Temple, a holy river similar to the Ganges in India (another spiritual tourism site), and is said to be protected by mythical dragons. The purifying ritual uses these holy waters to cleanse and bless the body and soul.


Sedona

Just like the jungles, people have been trekking into the desert to unlock the secrets of the universe since the beginning of time. Sedona, Arizona is a spiritual mecca where seekers flock to the rich, rugged landscapes for healing they can’t experience anywhere else. It’s known for its spiritual vortexes (or vortices) that are sacred spots where energy is funneled to the earth from the cosmos and vice versa. Another 5-star resort, L’Auberge de Sedona, offers full moon energy clearings, Summer solstice rituals and sound healings all lead by local spiritual guides and intuitive healers. They even have packages that include metaphysical spa treatments with healing, grounding and protection crystals.


Peru

Palo Santo smoke bathing ceremonies, like the one the world watched with a shirtless Zac Efron in “Down to Earth,” originated with indigenous cultures in South America. Inca shaman would burn the sacred tree to treat both physical and spiritual ailments. The Ayahuasca Foundation in Iquitos, Peru offers a series of retreats and empowerment workshops that teach guests about plant medicines found in the Amazon, expands consciousness and aims to heal past traumas.


A woman in a warrior one yoga pose inside an ancient temple overlooking the jungle at sunset.
Soul Sanctuaries organizes spiritual retreats across India, Bhutan, Cambodia & Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Soul Sanctuaries.

India

India has always been known for its vibrant spiritual traditions and ashrams, but it gained widespread Western popularity with “Eat, Pray, Love.” Today, there are endless choices for ashrams with ayurveda, yoga and meditation treatments. Soul Sanctuaries offer luxury meditation retreats where you can stay at a Maharaja’s estate in the Himalayas to sharpen your awareness, balance your holistic health and use ancient ayurvedic practices to learn what your soul