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Wellness travel: active escapes for mind, body and soul

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After the excesses of the holidays, many of us feel that the new year should start with some kind of penance – perhaps a detox or diet, or renewing that gym membership. But what if you were to start the new year with some active relaxation instead?

A trip combining activity and adventure with some leisure time and a change of scene is what we recommend for restoring mind, body and soul. Read on and discover the best destinations for beating the winter blues with an active wellness-focused escape.

Destinations for… hiking and trekking

Nepal is synonymous with trekking, and there is a huge amount of choice and levels of exertion. For great mountain views and unique Tibetan culture, choose the lower foothills around Annapurna, or hike to Annapurna Base Camp and experience the magnificent Himalayas and the humble hospitality of Nepalese villages. Follow in the footsteps of famous climbers with a trek to Everest Base Camp and see the highest point on the planet. Some less well-known tours can be the most scenic and rewarding, such as the Langtang Trek in the northern region of the Himalayas. Start or end your adventure with a visit to colourful Kathmandu. 

Experience Morocco’s most breathtaking scenery and panoramic views with a trekking tour in the Atlas Mountains. Ascend the peaks before descending into deep gorges and valleys full of argan and walnut trees. Sleep under spectacular starry skies and experience warm hospitality in the Berber villages. Alternatively, head for the sand dunes of the Sahara, the largest desert on Earth. Immerse yourself in the world of the Moroccan nomad, sleep in a desert camp beneath tamarisk and acacia trees, and watch the sun set over the dunes.  

At the other end of the thermometer, how about a winter adventure in Iceland? Ride a snowmobile across a glacier and chase the northern lights before you warm up in one of the country’s hot springs. Spend several days trekking the natural highlights of the Golden Circle, its highlands, vast glaciers and thundering waterfalls. Awaken your senses in the chilly waters of Iceland’s Sky Lagoon (if you’re brave enough, take a sauna first!).  

Nestled between India and Tibet, Bhutan offers some extraordinary trekking for adventurous travellers. The jaw-dropping landscapes of the Himalayan mountains contrast with alpine forests, waterfalls and cliffs, and the opportunity to visit ancient temples and forts and remote monasteries. Experience the rich Bhutan culture and enjoy local hospitality at homestays. Hike the trail to the Tiger’s Nest temple perched half a mile up on a sheer mountain cliff, above a beautiful forest of blue pine and rhododendrons, or walk the Thousand Lakes Trek, once the route of pilgrims, messengers, armies and traders. 

Finally, we can’t talk about trekking without a mention of Peru and the glorious Inca Trail – the most rewarding way to reach the unique Inca citadel at Machu Picchu. 

building perched on cliff edge

Destinations for… relaxation and yoga retreats

India is a spiritual country like no other, known for its yoga, meditation and Ayurveda retreats which you can find everywhere in this beautiful country. In the south, Kerala offers yoga with just about everything from cycling to surfing, and you can take relaxation to new levels by adding a tour that includes a houseboat stay. There are places specialising in new year retreats, meditation and Ayurveda or, for the ultimate relaxing break, choose to enjoy a few days of yoga, scuba-diving and beach relaxation in the Andaman islands. Treat yourself to a wellness retreat in Delhi at the end of your Golden Triangle tour

Costa Rica is a naturally stunning destination to combine a relaxing vacation with some sightseeing and a light activity. Get away from it all on a wellness holiday at a rainforest lodge surrounded by exotic wildlife, relax in some hot springs, or try a volcanic mud bath experience. The country has some great yoga retreats and spas, where you can combine yoga with surfing, horseback riding and snorkelling.

Thailand‘s serene beauty and gentle culture have been calming busy minds for decades, so it makes sense to add a restful escape to your Thai vacation. The Thai island of Koh Samui has become a popular destination for active escapes and retreats, whether you’re enjoying a well-being sabbatical or trying out a fitness yoga and Pilates sanctuary. If you’re looking for an introspective experience, extend a trip in the north with a meditation-focused getaway near Chiang Mai.

Sunset over the beach

Destinations for… activity in the natural world

For a wildlife adventure like no other, head for the jungles of South America. Trek through the Amazonian jungle and rainforests of Bolivia and spot monkeys and parrots in the trees, swim with pink river dolphins and search for sloths and capybaras. Thrill-seekers can hike, bike, bungee-jump, zipline and raft amidst glorious scenery, then unwind in one of the thermal hot springs. 

Visit the untouched heart of the Manu Jungle in Peru, or for something a little more soothing, stay in an Amazonian bungalow surrounded by 300-year-old trees, and float down the river on an inflatable and spot turtles, monkeys, herons and other native birds. For a super-special experience, you could even take a night-time boat ride under the stars along the riverbank in search of alligators and capybaras.

Mix it up in Nepal with an active adventure combining the cultural highlights of Kathmandu and Pokhara with the jungle of Chitwan National Park nearby, and therefore plenty of opportunities for rafting, ziplining, bungee-jumping, paragliding and even skydiving.

South Africa might be one of the few places where you can see elephants, lions and rhinos in the same trip as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins. Go on safari in one of the game reserves, enjoy whale-watching off the Cape, and see African penguins at Boulders Beach. If you have a few days to spare, South Africa’s Whale Trail is a 55km hike through the De Hoop Nature Reserve, one of the best land-based whale-watching spots in the world.

Japan might not be your first thought when you think of combining activity and nature, but this unique country has no shortage of either. On a trip to Okinawa, you can go scuba diving and snorkelling, try a beginner’s karate class and even kayak through remote, subtropical mangrove forests. De-stress by taking part in the Japanese activity of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), the simple practice of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply.  

Finally, for the ultimate combination of activity and relaxation surrounded by nature and beautiful beaches, why not enjoy yoga, surfing and turtles in Costa Rica?

Destinations for… a cultural adventure and activities

An active adventure doesn’t need to involve hiking up mountains and practising your downward dog. A journey overseas, spent experiencing a culture worlds away from your own, is a great way to open your mind and reset your perspective for the year ahead.  

Combine Cambodia and Laos for an unforgettable Southeast Asian odyssey. Visit the temple complex of Angkor Wat, a stunning blend of spirituality, symmetry, scale and beauty; wander around charming, historical Luang Prabang – a UNESCO-listed city – and cruise the Mekong River at sunset. 

Spend time in neighbouring Vietnam, where you can walk through the jungle and meet local tribespeople, cruise the breathtaking Ha Long Bay, then eat your way around a street food tour in bustling Hanoi or roll your sleeves up for a Vietnamese cooking class. 

Crossing continents, take the trip of a lifetime with a vacation to Malawi, often described as Africa’s hidden gem. Relax surrounded by nature, spot the Big Five and go scuba diving in sparkling Lake Malawi, Lake of Stars. Take an island-hopping tour, and spot colourful birds while kayaking, walk the nature trails then relish absolute tranquillity and Malawian hospitality from your private hammock.

January to March is a great time to discover the highlights of Argentina, with its vibrant cities, incredible landscapes, great wine and fabulous steaks. Discerning palates will love a wine and food tour, or you could break out of your comfort zone and learn to tango in Buenos Aires.  

aerial view of Ha Long Bay

Destinations for… pushing your limits

Morocco’s Marathon des Sables is described as the toughest footrace on earth – a six-day ‘ultra-marathon’ over 150–156 mi (254 km) through the Moroccan deserts, carrying only what you need to survive. It’s a feat of fitness, endurance and mental stamina like no other. People don’t just sign up to the Marathon des Sables – they train for weeks or even months and prepare themselves mentally and physically.

If a 156-mile marathon is a little extreme, but you still want an adventure, then we recommend beautiful Sri Lanka. Our active Sri Lanka trip combines trekking, cycling, white water rafting and waterfall swimming, or you could experience a slower pace as you amble through cloud forests and take leisurely night hikes. Take the whole family on the adventure of a lifetime that starts in Sri Lanka with a jeep safari, waterfalls, white water rafting and abseiling, and ends in the Maldives with snorkelling and water sports. 

Iceland is an adventurer’s dream destination, with its frozen glaciers, dramatic fjords, mighty volcanoes and the northern lights adding a little wow-factor to your trip. Choose between hiking the rugged landscapes, traversing dramatic glaciers, and intrepid ice-caving before dinner. Get off the beaten track – literally – with our Iceland super-truck adventure and experience spectacular waterfalls, stunning glaciers, and some of the best examples of Iceland’s natural landscapes.

Iceland truck adventure

Make it happen

If you need some active relaxation to beat the winter blues, speak to one of our local experts and get planning your next wellness-oriented escape – they’ll be on hand to help craft the perfect tailor-made itinerary.

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