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Destination Detox

Emma Sloley - February 23, 2016

Emma Sloley is a New York-based travel journalist who has written for many US and international publications, including Travel + Leisure, New York, W, Conde Nast Traveler and Harper's Bazaar Australia. She is currently at work on her first novel.

As the slush of winter begins to melt away, the promise of springtime beckons.

The warmer weather brings an onslaught of possibilities, but for those who need an extra push to spring forward, there's a fail-safe prescription for a season that starts right: Book yourself in for a wellness retreat at a splurge-worthy destination spa, or sign up for a physical and spiritual detox in a destination far removed from the distractions of daily (and digital) life. We're particularly enamored of destinations whose spas and wellness offerings exude a distinct sense of place, showcasing local healing traditions and indigenous ingredients.

In Belize, expect to encounter treatments reflecting the dreamy jungle-meets-ocean spirit of this tiny Central American nation, rich in ancient culture, spirituality, and natural beauty. Seek out anything connected with the indigenous Mayan culture, like the centuries-old abdominal massage technique: traditionally used by midwives, healers, and shaman, it's reputed to be magical for detoxing the body, improving the flow of chi and fluids to the lymphatic system. The result is enhanced organ function and a release of physical and emotional congestion (and Shiva knows we could all do with some of that). Thanks to its growing reputation as a wellness destination, you'll also find that the best spas and retreats in Belize happily borrow time-honored ingredients and techniques from other cultures. You'll likely be offered kombucha tea, the 2000-year-old Chinese health elixir; take classes in Vinyasa and Hatha yoga; and bliss out in massages involving holistic techniques like reiki.

A similar peaceful revolution is going on in Costa Rica, another Central American gem renowned for its gorgeous rainforests and reefs, high-end eco-lodges, and burgeoning spa and wellness scene. Head to the wild Osa Peninsula, where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific Ocean, to experience the country at its most captivating. Natural and unpretentious is the name of the game here: enjoy a massage in a thatched-roof hut overlooking the ocean to a soundtrack of crashing waves and bird calls from the jungle, or join a tranquil yoga class focusing on self-acceptance, empowerment, and knowledge—a far cry from the Type-A fitness routines back home.

We're similarly smitten by the wiles of Mexico's Caribbean coast, where modern sensibilities meet Mayan traditions. Here, international jet-setters gather to unwind and kick their shoes off, heading to rustic-chic resorts and hideaways that offer reprieve from the rat race while still measuring up in the style stakes. One of the stand-out rituals in this part of the world is the temazcal, a Mayan sweat lodge-style ceremony ideal for releasing tension and reflecting. The ceremony is performed by a shaman, who sprinkles herbal tea on the hot stones set in the center of the temazcal itself, a small igloo-shaped hut representing the womb of mother earth, while participants sit in a circle and meditate as the space fills with heady, scented vapor. The experience combines the four elements—land, water, air, and fire–to purify and harmonize the mind, body and spirit. Afterwards, participants are often encouraged to splash in the ocean as a final cleansing release. Even if you're not into the spiritual aspect of the ceremony, it's a fun and exhilarating way to feel renewed.

Closer to home, the slot canyons, vast valleys, and red rocks of Utah inspire awe of a different kind. Here, discover the holistic principles and healing traditions of the Navajo, whose practices are purported to restore inner equilibrium through the four elements of life and destruction: earth, wind, fire, and water. This desert idyll offers the chance to explore majestic, otherworldly landscapes, practice mindfulness at a spa that might offer treatments like flotation therapy, or connect with the story-telling prowess of a Navajo guide.

No matter which escape is calling, remember that detox doesn't have to equal deprivation. Instead, it can simply mean removing yourself from the high-powered grind—physical, emotional, digital—and taking part in gentler, more time-honored traditions and rituals to help ground you for the year ahead. Forget Soul Cycle: this is soul renewal.