In wellness travel, nature isn’t just the backdrop—it’s a lead character. And few ecosystems illustrate its starring role like our planet’s dazzling deserts. Jaw-dropping vistas across these remote and otherworldly locales provide a sense of perspective. From hiking dunes to biking across red rocks, it’s easy to get your cardio in through desert adventures, while splashes of sparkling stars promise humbling meditation come nightfall.
The desert’s power is real, and according to Jimi Kilpatrick, assistant general manager of the new ULUM Moab retreat in Utah, the terrain’s beauty grounds visitors in the present moment. “The hoodoos, spires, mesas and buttes promote a childlike sense of wonder that’s impossible to resist,” says Kilpatrick. “Being physical is almost essential for exploring this rugged terrain.”
The ULUM getaway is a new branch of glamping favorite Under Canvas, known for its accommodations near U.S. national parks, from the Grand Canyon to Glacier National Park. ULUM opened its splurge-worthy safari tents near Canyonlands National Park in the arch-dotted southeastern Utah desert this spring. It’s a case study in the potential of desert-meets-wellness vacations. Guests can enjoy traditional health and wellness activities such as hiking, climbing and golden-hour yoga. Mindfulness experiences like guided nature walks, astronomy and plant-identification strolls also connect visitors with nature—and life—on a deeper level. “The desert promotes gratitude and self-reflection by minimizing regular distractions and maximizing moments of mindfulness,” says Kilpatrick.
As research shows, the desert’s wellness qualities are more than a placebo. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people struggling with arthritis often benefit from warmer, drier climates like those found in deserts. Exposure to desert environments, as with any unspoiled natural escape, helps bolster stress recovery, too.
Consistent sunshine is another perk. Too little sunshine puts people at risk for low vitamin D, which can lead to health problems such as loss of bone density. The sun (with proper precautions like sunscreen) can help desert-goers increase the health of their bones while simultaneously improving their immune systems and moods. One study from The University of Arizona even suggests that desert rain—particularly the oils and chemicals desert plants release post-shower—could foster relaxation and healing. Scientists behind the study have planted a desert fragrance garden in Ajo, Arizona, with plans to unveil more in the coming months. From sunny dune hikes to brilliant nights of stargazing, here are three additional global getaways to reap the desert’s abundance of wellness benefits.
Ayers Rock Resort
Located within 12 miles of Australia’s renowned Uluru rock, Ayers Rock Resort is the perfect jumping-off point for Outback adventures—not to mention desert wellness. The property offers more than 100 activities and experiences, from biking around Uluru to trekking along the rock’s base trail for scenic cardio. By night, the Sounds of Silence alfresco dining experience pairs cuisine with a blanket of glittery stars; add to the sense of wonder with an astronomy tour. For traditional wellness, don’t miss the Red Ochre Spa, where body rituals, massage therapies and treatments ensure you leave the desert refreshed and rejuvenated.
Sahara Desert, Morocco
When Tiziri Camp opened in 2018, it brought a sustainable spin to the typical Sahara Desert glamping experience. The owner of the camp grew up as a nomad in the desert, and he wanted to create a low-impact tourism experience that was both sustainable and culturally enriching. Guests can enjoy heart-pumping and soul-awakening experiences, from desert trekking to unparalleled stargazing, with fresh-cooked meals accompanied by live music (vegan cuisine is available on request). The property is located in Morocco’s Erg Chebbi dunes, roughly eight hours from Marrakesh. Tiziri Camp uses 100-percent renewable energy, and introduced a first-of-its-kind wastewater-treatment system to preserve this natural resource.
andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
Namib Desert, Namibia
On a private reserve in Namibian’s vast and arid Namib Desert, the sustainable 10-suite Sossusvlei offers the perfect perch to admire the world’s oldest living desert. This patchwork of remote dunes in Southern Africa fills the mind with awe, while the property’s strenuous walks promise to get the blood pumping. The on-site spa’s array of desert-inspired and traditional African wellness treatments, including open-air massages, let nature’s healing properties shine. This getaway feels light-years from civilization—and that remoteness is even more tangible at night, when the twinkling cosmos looks within arm’s reach.