Remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Vivian gets Edward into a park, sits under a tree and takes off his shoes and puts his toes in the grass? He needed it (even if he never got off the phone). Everyone knows fresh air will do a mind and body good. In fact, research points to nature benefitting a wide range of issues, including obesity and depression. Some doctors are even prescribing the great outdoors as a remedy for ailments, whether it’s a stroll along the beach, walk in the woods, hike to a waterfall or simply finding a shady patch of grass in a quiet corner of a park—any way to calm an anxious mind and get a healthy dose of vitamin D.
This is why more people than ever before are looking to immerse themselves in nature for a more holistic approach to relaxing while on vacation. According to the Global Wellness Institute, world travelers made more than 830 million wellness trips in 2017 or took resort vacations with guided rainforest hikes, tree bathing, and snorkeling excursions. Sounds good, yes? Here are five nature immersion getaways to dream about (and plan) today.
Snorkeling, Fishing, and Ziplining in Belize
Sitting just below Mexico in Central America, with the Caribbean Sea shoreline on one side and the dense jungle on the other, Belize is one of the most beautiful countries for nature travel. There are hundreds of islands (called cayes) and a massive barrier reef full of marine life that makes for stellar diving and snorkeling. The Great Blue Hole, a marine sinkhole, measures more than 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep. On the surface, it’s a brilliant azure circle; below, it’s one of the top scuba diving locations in the world, Jacques Cousteau declared in the 1970s. That holds true today.
Ambergris Caye is the largest island, a great place to settle for a few days or longer. Stay with Matachica Resorts for an immersive experience: Tour majestic ruins, canoe through river caves and zip line over a butterfly farm. Then snorkel, kayak or just linger by the water at the Seabreeze Casitas in San Pedro. The Rock & Reef package with Copal Tree Lodge also starts inland, where you can zip line over the jungle and then spend a few days at an overwater bungalow at Thatch Caye Resort. For the ultimate getaway, stay in a private casita on the tiny Cayo Espanto island and go fishing, windsurfing, diving or sailing in the clear blue waters just out your doorstep.
Hiking in Peru
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular sites in South America, which means crowds during primetime travel months. But go with Explora, a travel company that operates hotels and leads guided journeys in remote destinations, and you’ll go beyond the obvious for a completely new experience. Tours are often on foot or bike (with some four-wheel transportation, of course), which means getting up close and personal with archaeological sites, rivers, glaciers, farms, villages, and the locals. A few nights at Explora’s Valle Sagrado hotel will center you with a combination of history, fresh air—it sits at 9,500 feet in the Andean highlands—and a soak in the Pumacahua bathhouse.
Horseback Riding in Montana
A week in Big Sky Country is the perfect antidote to our blocked-in worlds of apartments, summer smog, and traffic. For anyone scared by the idea of a dude ranch—hello, City Slickers—opt for one where luxury is as important as the more than 6,000 undeveloped acres to explore. The Ranch at Rock Creek offers hiking and angling, but the best way to see this part of Western Montana is on horseback. Not only will you work your core, build muscle tone and enhance balance and coordination skills, but bonding with these beautiful beasts will also bring you even closer to the wonders of nature. The ranch has all the gear and lessons you’ll need, regardless of experience. It doesn’t get more tranquil than a day on the range surrounded by sagebrush-covered hills and mountainous splendor. Follow it up with some quality pool time and yoga the next morning.
Kayaking in the Pacific Northwest
Slicing through the waters around the San Juan Islands is often a majestic experience. Once you leave the shore, it’s just you in a kayak, the waves, birds, gorgeous crystal-clear air and, if you’re lucky, a friendly otter, seal or whale to keep you company. In addition to the more populated islands of San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez, there are smaller remote beaches to explore (the Stuart Island Marine Park has unbeatable sunsets and camping). REI offers some great guided trips, but there are plenty of hotels and outfitters to rent kayaks on some of the islands. On Orcas, there are a number of resorts, hotels and inns, from the hippie-vibe Doe Bay Retreat to the tony and historic Rosario Resort and Spa. On the more remote Lummi Island, Willows Inn has a collection of on-site rooms and cabins, plus an award-winning restaurant serving ultra farm-to-table seasonal cuisine. To complement the stay, check out the wild foraging and sea kayak tour with Moondance Adventures.
Forest Bathing in Japan
The next time you walk through a forest, stop and touch a tree. There’s an energy there, life, beauty, strength. It’s no secret this will help your soul, but Dr. Qing Li, a “forest medicine” expert in Japan, really wants us to discover the healing power of nature to find greater calm and wellness. In his book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, he explains how shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, impacts our physical and mental wellbeing, from reducing cortisol levels to improving blood pressure. Luckily, finding trees isn’t that difficult, even in the most populated cities, but the forests of Japan are almost otherworldly in their beauty. Finding solace in the woods is an art form there. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto is a well-loved (and well-Instagrammed) spot, but others are worthy of exploring. Your best move is to contact the Forest Therapy Society, a group that lists more than 60 forests around Japan as well as organized and guided hikes.