Ah the Spas, Latin America-Style

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A desert oasis at Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa.
A desert oasis at Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa.

There is a whole new world of eco-adventure wellness activities and indigenous treatments in Central and South America.

When one thinks of a spa vacation, the select destinations that immediately come to mind probably won’t be in Latin America (well, maybe Costa Rica, with its full menu of sybaritic spas, yoga retreats, and wellness centers). But that mindset is changing. According to current spa trends from Spafinder Wellness, “Savvy spa-goers are pushing back against the ‘been there, done that’ travel mentality and looking to more exotic destinations and authentic, hyper-local experiences to stamp on their spa passports.”And with a host of new and somewhat exotic spas increasingly a part of luxury lodgings—occupying historic dwellings by the sea, in the rainforests, up in the mountains, or out in the deserts—agents can add a whole new world of eco-adventure wellness activities and indigenous treatments to the traditional attractions of nature, culture, and adventure in Central and South America.
Andaz Presidential Bedroom at the Peninsula Papagayo Resort.
Andaz Presidential Bedroom at the Peninsula Papagayo Resort.
what’s hot in costa rica
Brand new in Costa Rica—and making Conde Nast Travelers’ “Hot List” of top 50 hotels worldwide—is the new , which recently debuted its 11,000-sq.-ft. Onda Spa, featuring nine treatment rooms—six indoors and three outdoors—each with sweeping vistas of forest and sea. Body massages incorporate a wide variety of natural products and techniques, including volcanic hot and cold stones, natural sugar cane and reflex therapy. Facials, meanwhile, include a Rain herbal hydration treatment, a Refine green clay detox, and an Uplift soya anti-aging treatment. Prior to beginning each treatment, guests may choose from a music menu soundtrack that best suits their mood. Close to the spa are two cascading outdoor pools.Situated on 28 oceanfront acres, this first Andaz property in Latin America is fashioned with a barrier-free approach to architecture, giving guests the feeling of living easily with the beauty of tropical gardens and rainforest. There are 153 spacious rooms, including 21 luxury suites with private balconies opening to views of the Culebra Bay; fitted out with complimentary minibar, Internet and LCD TV, they balance modern design with local touches of woven textiles, solid woods and carved artifacts. Three themed restaurants offer a variety of dining options, and a private accessible beach guarantees Andaz guests their special place in the sun. Double rooms start at $500.
Spa Mukul offers a choice of six experiences housed in six individually designed private, domed spa casitas.
Spa Mukul offers a choice of six experiences housed in six individually designed private, domed spa casitas.
a hilltop spa in nicaragua
Certainly Nicaragua now hosts one of the most glorious spas in Latin America, sitting hilltop at the spiffy and sprawling new Mukul Resort & Spa, which spreads along the white sands of Playa Manzanillo. The sunset views are unbeatable from the 23 stylish, spacious treehouse-style bohios, fitted out with sliding glass doors opening onto wraparound verandahs and private plunge pools. Clients may alternately opt for one of the 12 one- and two-bedroom luxury beach villas with private swimming pools set within stone-walled gardens.The activities menu is huge, from golf on the 18-hole David McKay Kidd-designed course to mountain biking, surfing,snorkeling, and “ash-boarding” down the slopes of the Cerro Negro Volcano. From a hilltop site, Spa Mukul offers a choice of six experiences housed in six individually designed private, domed spa casitas, featuring a unique set of treatments based around a central theme such as a Moroccan hammam or the enchanting Crystal Temple. I have personally had the Secret Garden Signature Ritual, which takes place in a huge suite with its own private pool fed by water flowing through bamboo and around marble columns. There’s also a hand-embroidered hammock under a thatch palapa; a shower with a bevy of jets; a bit of music and a soft-spoken therapist. Rates for a double bohio start at $500.

Palacio Nazarenas Cusco, Peru.
Palacio Nazarenas Cusco, Peru.

a wellness getaway in peru
The newest hotel on the luxury scene in Peru is the 55-room Palacio Nazarenas Cusco, occupying the same quiet, historic square as its larger sister hotel, El Hotel Monasterio (both are Belmond properties). Palacio Nazarenas is the more boutique property, with large garden patios, exquisite frescoes and displays of many, among the thousands, of the artifacts discovered during restoration, and a beautiful gilded chapel for community evening services and weddings. More modern is the Senzo restaurant overlooking the plantings that surround the city’s first outdoor heated swimming pool.

Unlike many colonial-era buildings, this one is full of light. The hotel’s suites are bright and airy, with lofty ceilings, king-size or twin four-poster beds and wooden floors; some suites have their own Incan stone walls, uncovered during restoration. Contemporary comforts include enormous bathrooms with deep tubs and heated floors, plus in-room bars, espresso machines, satellite TV, wireless Internet and iPad with Nazarenas’ app. Upon request, oxygen-enriched air-conditioning can be supplied to each room, or the air can be delicately scented with healing aromas of Andean flowers and herbs; 24-hour butler service is always available.

Inspired by Incan and Andean traditions, the Hypnôze Spa has developed treatments to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being, and offers its own brand of organic products using indigenous Peruvian ingredients, such as herbs, pink Andean salts and coca leaves. Surrounded by a peaceful private patio, the spa is fitted out with five single treatment rooms and one double room with private hot tub—some of the rooms have glass floors looking down to carefully preserved Inca ruins below.

The hotel’s Wellness Escape package includes luxury accommodations, daily breakfast, a customized massage and ritual flower bath pp, unlimited use of the post-treatment sanctuary, healthy snacks and light lunch by the pool. Priced from $545 per suite per night.

desert oasis in chile
Head north from Santiago to the Atacama Desert, whose superlatives include the world’s highest-altitude desert, as well as the driest, and whose attractions include geysers, hot springs, sand dunes, and snow-capped Andean peaks on the horizon.

The Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, an adobe-style, eco-luxury retreat sitting on some 10 acres, is not far from charming San Pedro de Atacama town. Despite the fact that this is the driest of all deserts, water from glacial snow is what keeps San Pedro an oasis and makes the lodge’s Puri Spa a strongly revitalizing experience.

After a day of excursions—by van, trekking or biking—guests relax with a glass of wine around one of six pools (of varying temperature levels ranging from seasonally cold to body temperature), or head for the Puri Spa, which has its own whirlpools plus wet and dry saunas. Spa treatments—including such novelties as a quinoa facial—range from a 15-minute chair massage to various 90-minute face and body indulgences.

The lodge, built in the style of a traditional adobe settlement complete with llamas and native crops, has 42 spacious rooms decorated with local crafts and weavings; all have private terraces and bathrooms outfitted with double vanities and towel warmers. Dining is indoors or out with menus incorporating local organic produce; and a short walk from the restaurant area is a prime spot for star viewing, for here one can often make out every constellation seen from the Southern Hemisphere with the naked eye. All-inclusive pricing starts at $560 pp dbl.

wine treatments in argentina
Head farther south to Argentina’s wine region of Mendoza for a luxury spa featuring vino-therapy treatments direct from the fruit of the vine. That’s just one special feature at Cavas Wine Lodge, tucked into a 55-acre vineyard in the Lujan de Cuyo region, which hosts many of Mendoza’s best-known wineries.

All rooms are in private adobe-style cabanas, the smallest measuring at least 1,000 sq. ft. and featuring a living room, bedroom, walk-in closet, fireplace and private patio with plunge pool; spacious bathrooms have large claw-foot tubs and stairs lead up to private rooftop terraces with grand views of the surrounding vineyards and the Andes Mountains.

Guests enjoy a fountained swimming pool, dining menus that reflect the season, and a wine cellar that showcases 250 regional wines. The lodge’s Moorish Spa is the place to nurture mind and body with a variety of wine-based treatments such as a bath in red wine, grape seed exfoliation, and treatments using wine-infused massage oil. Add to the scene a sauna, jacuzzi, and gym with views of the Andes. Rates start at $665.

contact information
Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa: altoatacama.com or carole.baden@altoatacama.com (U.S. contact)
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort: andaz.com or hyatttravelagents.com
Cavas Wine Lodge: cavaswinelodge.com
Mukul Resort & Spa: mukulresort.com
Palacio Nazarenas Cusco: (800) 237-1236; belmond.com/palacio-nazarenas-cusco