We love a good bucket list as much as the next person, but in 2020, wellness travel is all about getting away from it all. Going off-the-beaten-track to more unusual destinations can be as rewarding as ticking off famous must-do experiences, creating an opportunity for deep transformation and emotional renewal as you explore the unexpected with limited preconceptions. Whether you’ve considered these destinations before or not, these under-visited and underrated destinations are on the fringes of the traditional tourist track, offering a variety of travel-styles from deep nature to soul-searching spirituality. Check out the underrated wellness destinations you should visit in 2020 for a more unique experience.
Why now? Often overlooked in favour of its neighbours Vietnam and Thailand, Laos is still something of a hidden gem in South East Asia and retains much of the quiet, laid-back pace of life travellers seek in these other destinations. The UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, in particular, has much to offer spiritual seekers, with an abundance of beautiful temples and Buddhist monks. Luxury wellness retreats like Amantaka and Rosewood Luang Prabang are perfect for wellness travellers seeking a curated journey of meditation, energy healing and monk blessings in a laid-back, deeply spiritual location.
Why now? Up until 2009, Sri Lanka was wrapped up in civil war for almost three decades; but in the past ten years, tourism has been fast-growing, and with good reason. The island nation is home to some of the most incredible historical sites in Asia and the world, from the UNESCO town of Galle to the ‘cultural triangle’ sites of Sirigya, Poḷonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, as well as national parks like Yala where leopard and elephant populations thrive. The highland town of Ella has become an Instagram sensation over the past year, known for its stunning train journey and hiking routes through tea plantations and lush valleys. Need more reasons to head to Sri Lanka? The southern coast is home to excellent luxury wellness retreats like Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Resort where guests can hit the waves on a Tropicsurf surfing retreat; Amangalla, Aman’s heritage spa hotel in Galle’s old town; and Sen Wellness Sanctuary, a boutique Ayurvedic meditation and detox retreat.
Why now? While we can’t overstate how much we love Bali, if you’re looking to get truly off the tourist track, this off-beat Indonesian island is still largely undisturbed, populated by a handful of resorts who take the utmost care to preserve the pristine nature that makes this island so appealing, as well as supporting the local community in job opportunities and infrastructure. Nihi Sumba, voted the world’s best hotel by Travel+Leisure, is one of the most renowned resorts on the island, and offers incredible back-to-nature experiences like jungle treks, a spa safari, and surfing at one of the world’s best surf breaks, Occy’s Left. New in 2020, the Amalyah Resort will open, offering eco-luxe escapes with wellness woven into every element of the experience. Visit this tropical haven before everyone else finds out.
Why now? Bhutan has long understood the cultural and environmental impact of tourism, which means its a tricky place to visit: minimum daily spends and organised tour groups are just some of the requirements to enter the country, and only 255,000 tourists visited last year. However, with this exclusivity comes an experience that’s a world away from any other destination. Luxury hotel brands have opened luxury lodges in the ancient kingdom, and with the latest opening in March 2020, there’s more choice than ever: Amankora, COMO Uma Bhutan, and Six Senses multi-property resort concept take visitors on a voyage through the kingdom to explore cliffside temples, historic hiking trails, forest bathing, and mountain meditation and yoga.
Why now: Slovenia has been taking a healthier approach to tourism for some years now, promoting wellness tourism throughout the country, encouraging businesses, hotels and resorts to make the most of the natural resources available for activities like hiking, hot springs and traditional spa therapies. Deep nature escapes are a major wellness travel trend this year, and Slovenia has that in buckets: treehouses at Lake Bled, guided wildlife hikes and bear spotting on the Menišija Plateau, and a treetop walk just opened in Pohorje. For a luxe urban base, the Intercontinental Ljubljana boasts an 18th-floor spa and sauna with views over the Alps, as well as personal trainers in its Saruna Fitness Centre, complete with 360-degrees views of Ljubljana’s skyline and a vitamin and juice bar.
Why now? If you’re looking to take your European adventures off the beaten track, consider Iceland. Widely considered one of the world’s healthiest countries with high longevity and little pollution, it’s a haven for wellness travellers seeking outdoor adventure and deep nature escapes. Resorts like The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon are easily accessible just beyond the capital of Reykjavik and offer luxury wellness experiences using Iceland’s natural, cerulean blue geothermal springs. Seasoned hikers should venture further afield and explore glaciers and more remote geothermal pools in Vatnajökull National Park; head north to see stunning sites like Goðafoss, ‘the Waterfall of the Gods’; and Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic Highlands for challenging hiking trails among hot springs and lava fields.
Why now? As island archipelagos go, you’d be hard pushed to find a more tropical paradise than Seychelles. South of the equator in the Indian Ocean, the crystalline waters and dreamy beaches may be reminiscent of the Maldives, but Seychelles currently welcomes about a tenth of the tourists so if you’re seeking peace, privacy and a unique setting, Seychelles offers something a little different. Of course, much like the Maldives, the secret is getting out. A host of luxury five-star resorts are already well-established here, including Six Senses Zil Payson, and all-villa retreat on Félicité private island. In 2019 added Six Senses signature Sleep, Yoga and detox programmes to its wellness offerings, making this private island retreat a must for off-the-grid R&R.
Why now? Myanmar is a country rich in spiritual tradition and culture, from the ancient temples of Bagan to the revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Development is happening fast in the country’s tourism and hospitality sector, and this destination won’t be under-visited for long. With Rosewood just opening a property in Yangon in 2019, complete with pool, state-of-the-art fitness centre and a Sense Spa opening in mid-2020, its the perfect base to get off the beaten track and explore spirituality in a new context.
Why now? If you’re looking for deep nature, you can’t do better than a safari. Tanzania uniquely boasts the Serengeti, one of the natural wonders of the world and home to one of the largest on-land mammal migrations on Earth. Giraffes, wildebeest, gazelle and buffalos are all common sites on the diverse landscape and is known as one of the best lion-spotting destinations in the world. Luxury safari spa resorts Singita have six tented camps and lodges in Tanzania, including a private lodge on the plains of the Serengeti National Park. Stargazing, fireside stories and daily game drives are just some of the highlights in these experiences.
Why now? Ahead of hosting the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is doing a lot of work on its tourist attractions and infrastructure. Unless you’re a big football fan, visit the country ahead of the sporting event for a more laidback experience. The opening of Zulal Wellness Resort in March should be top of every wellness travellers to-do list in Qatar: operated by Chiva-Som, the award-winning Thai wellness resort, Zulal will be the world’s first centre for Traditional Arabic Integrative Medicine—undoubtedly a wellness-must.