Do you search out spa treatments on your travels? For what reasons? When I travel, I often search out spas for a multitude of reasons. I have had some fabulous spa treatments around the world that left me relaxed and rejuvenated. I have also had some unique spa treatments that gave me an insight into the history and culture of a spot. Some of these have been completely bizarre to me, but entertaining. I asked some travel blogging friends for stories of their favorite and most unusual spa experiences. They run the gamut from bathing in seaweed, clay or even chocolate, taking a dip in the Antarctic or being massaged with… knives. Read on for the most bizarre and best spa treatments around the world.
Table of Contents
The Best Spa Treatments in the United States
I will start with home to me- the US. The most relaxing spa treatment I have been in my quest around the world is in one of my favorite US cities, Newport, Rhode Island. The Ocean Breeze Massage at the Newport Marriott is simply perfect. The treatment includes a full-body massage and exfoliation, but they also figure out how to keep you warm and cozy the whole time. It ends with being wrapped in a warm cocoon while getting a scalp massage. Now on to the more interesting massages around the world… I will start with one that has been on my bucket list since I stayed at The Hotel Hershey and had their fabulous brunch.
The Chocolate Spa at Hotel Hershey by Amanda of Toddling Traveler
If you’re looking for the perfect day filled with a luxury spa, relaxation and most importantly, chocolate, look no further than Hershey, Pennsylvania. Whether you’re visiting Hershey for a girls weekend, couples retreat or solo outing, Hotel Hershey’s Chocolate Spa offers something for everyone. From the minute you enter the doors of the spa, you’re greeted with exceptional service and plush robes to use throughout the day.
The best part about the luxurious Chocolate Spa is the incorporation of chocolate throughout the entire experience. In addition to the standard spa treatments, guests can experience anything from a whipped cocoa bath, chocolate fondue wrap, cocoa facial or massage. Throughout the spa, you can also find Hershey’s amazing hot cocoa and Hershey kisses for a sweet treat to complete your spa day.
While you’re at the Hotel Hershey Spa, have a light lunch in your robe at the Oasis; a restaurant exclusively for spa guests. Leave plenty of time to also take advantage of the other amenities, including several relaxation rooms and the Hotel’s pool. Between the treatments, the service and the amenities, the Chocolate Spa at the Hotel Hershey is undoubtedly one of the best spa experiences in the world.
Best Spa Rituals in South and Central America
South America and Central America spas often focus on the healthy clays that come from volcanic mud around the area.
Although not at a spa, we were able to give ourselves a full-body clay mask while visiting Rio Lagartos, Mexico. It was a lot of fun to be caked in sulfur-scented mud while viewing flamingos and the colorful Los Coloradas.
Have you ever tried one of those pedicures where little fish eat the dead skin off of your feet? I have never done that at a spa, but at the Cenote Azul near Cancun, Mexico there are pools where this happens in nature! My kids thought this was the best.
While visiting Costa Rica, we also went to a spa where with a day pass, we slathered ourselves with mud from the nearby Rincon Volcano.
One of my favorite day spa experiences was at Tabacon in Costa Rica. The spa is built into the side of the volcano. We spent the day soaking in the volcanoes natural hot springs, enjoying the rumbling of the volcano. I am not sure what this is like now though– we went right before the volcano became dormant.
Piedra de Agua in Ecuador by John at Roaming Around the World
Going on the spa circuit at Piedra de Agua is one of the most unique spa treatments we’ve encountered in the world. Located in the volcanic Andes of Ecuador, the spa’s mineral waters come naturally from the warming thermal activity occurring underground.
The 3-hour “spa circuit” includes eight treatments ranging from Turkish baths to exfoliation, steam baths, and even contrasts pools that are found down in subterranean caves! Yet perhaps the most unusual segment is the volcanic mud bath treatment. This involves being covered by two different types of volcanic mud, a blue mud and a red mud, each with different properties. After having applied each, our skin has never been more smooth or soft!
Once the spa circuit concludes, it’s on to relax in the warm mineral pools. Here, staff is on hand to deliver cocktails that come in floating boats! It makes for ultimate relaxation to sip on a daiquiri, while in these warm waters amidst the cool mountain air of the Andes mountains.
This spa circuit is also one of the best spa values we’ve encountered around the world. It’s $35 for the entire circuit but they further run weekly 2-for-1 promotions. Piedra de Agua Spa is in the community of Baños on the outskirts of Cuenca, Ecuador.
Seaweed Treatment at Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa Dominican Republic by Michele Peterson, A Taste for Travel
Mayan Water Ceremony, Mexico by Susan of GenXTraveler
A visit to Grand Velas Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort wouldn’t be complete without a service at their Se Spa. With any spa offering, guests can indulge in their Mayan Water Ceremony. This is a 60-minute session of hot and cold experiences along with water therapy.
You’ll begin with a shower to cleanse you of perfumes and lotions. Next, step into the sauna. The warm dry air is infused with the scent of cinnamon. Then move to the ice room. From here, head to the steam room where eucalyptus-infused steam surrounds you. Then you’re off to another room where you will slather yourself in a clay mask to cleanse your pores. Before you move on to the water portion of the treatment, you will rinse in a shower of alternating hot and cold water.
The massive hydrotherapy pool featuring five stations including jetted spouts to remove any residual stress in your lower and upper back and a station where, beneath the water, jets massage your legs. Finish by relaxing on the bubble bed where multiple jets gently massage your entire body.
Make this exotic Mayan Water Ceremony part of your Girlfriends’ Getaway at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.
Unique Spa Breaks in Europe
It is true that The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is a tourist trap. It is actually manmade, but the experience is still pretty cool. You have to prepare your hair ahead of time, but the water and clay masks have a nice effect on your skin. The best part of our time at The Blue Lagoon was the floating massage. It was expensive, but also one of the most unusual spa experiences that I have had. The whole massage happens while you are floating on a mat. Somehow the masseuse keeps you warm and above water while you float. Mine was a tiny girl and I am still in amazement six years later of how she used her strength with the water.
I had the most bizarre spa treatment of my life in Ephesus, Turkey. I can’t even tell you the name of the spa because it was well before I was blogging and was planned by a local for me. When we found out we were going to Turkey, I asked her to arrange for us to visit a Turkish Bath. The only idea I had in my head was the pretty domed building that I had seen in pictures. She didn’t prepare us for what would happen inside. My husband and I were among the only people in the bath. Not a word of English was spoken or understood. First they outfitted me in an ill-fitting bikini. After donning the suit, a huge hairy man wearing only a loin-cloth brought my husband and I into a beautiful domed room with a marble table and an open spigot. He instructed us one at a time to lay on the table. The other would bring a bucket filled with water from the spigot. He rubbed us down with some sort of big sponge on a string filled with what seemed like lemon dish washing liquid. He was gentle with me, but when it was my husband’s turn he would swing the sponge high into the air and come down with a huge thump onto his body. My husband was trying to be tough for his new wife, but was obviously being hurt by the man and skeeved out by his hairy body touching him. I was trying not to laugh too hard at his pain. The treatment ended with the application of oils, then a private massage in a separate small room. Although this was our least relaxing spa experience, it was certainly one of my most memorable.
A Beer Spa in the Czech Republic From Alex at Swedish Nomad
A beer spa is the ultimate experience for beer lovers who also love to pamper themselves. The most famous ones can be found in Czechia, where it has been a tradition for a long time. The Czechs are well known for their spa habits and spa towns, and the beer spa is one of the most unique. Basically, you get your own private room with a hot-tub made out of wood. Then they will add malts and hop to your bath, and next to your tub, you have your own beer tap with 3 choices or more of free-flowing beer, for the whole spa-duration. You can choose your own length, but most common is 30 minutes, and then you can drink as much beer as you like. You are free to pour your own beer into the bath as well if you want, however the single ingredients for making beer that is added in the beginning are more than enough to get the health benefits from the bath. It’s fun though, and you can also share this experience with a loved one, or friends. I recommend Beer Spa Beerland in either Prague or Karlovy Vary. It’s authentic, fairly priced and comes with a good service.
Spa Like Jane Austin in Bath, England from Carol of Wandering Carol
A trip to the Thermae Bath Spa in Bath, UK, is like soaking in an open-air museum. The highlight of this multi-storied bath, wellness and sauna complex is the rooftop pool that overlooks Bath’s most atmospheric sights, from the spires of Bath Abbey to the historic Roman Baths. Along with the panoramic city views you’ll be bathing in the same thermal spring water so loved by the Romans and, centuries later, by the Georgians, including Jane Austin, who flocked to Bath to ‘take the waters’. The spa, a modern building of warm Bath stone, is located at The Hetling Pump Room on Hot Bath Street.
A Waterfall Spa in Italy by Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
One of the most unique spas in the world is QC Terme, located in Pozza di Fassa, in the region of Trentino (Italy). What’s special about QC Terme is the views of the mountains that customers get throughout the day, especially from the main outdoor pool but also from the various outdoor massage pools and the relaxation rooms.
The nicest treatments are the waterfalls, with water so strongly and intensely massaging your shoulders reproducing the strength of an actual waterfall. Another favorite is the musical therapy bath – where incredibly relaxing music is played underwater, so that as you float you can relax listening to music.
Various massages are available and tailored to different needs. If you are tensed, go for the de-contracting one. Topping this already idyllic setting, there is a fantastic dining room that serves delicious, healthy food and great wine. It’s an overall incredible place to treat oneself!
Spa Treatments in Kazakhstan contributed by Ellis Veen from Backpack Adventures
Arasan spa in Almaty Kazakhstan is a one of a kind Soviet bathing experience. The architecture of the building alone makes it worth a visit. Inspired by the Sanduny baths in Moscow and the Gellert baths in Budapest it is an impressive building.
However, it is what one can do inside that matters. Men and women bath separately and both sections have a Finnish sauna, a Turkish steam bath and a Russian banya. To cool down you can either swim in the plunge pool or take a cold bucket shower.
Nowadays there are additional wellness services. The attendants are ready to give you a massage or a professional beating with oak leaves according to Russian tradition. Both can be pretty rough, but if you are willing to take up the challenge it is not something you will forget.
The prices are quite reasonable and most people stay one or two hours. Whatever treatments you take the Arasan baths will make you feel like a new person and it is the best way to relax on your travels.
A Traditional Seaweed Treatment in Ireland by Ashley at Wild Hearted
It is said that seaweed baths have a ton of positive physical effects so maybe that is why they have been so popular in Ireland for so long. Seaweed baths are tradition particularly along the west coast of Ireland mainly for alleviating symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis. So, what is a seaweed bath? It’s pretty much exactly what you’re picturing. You soak in a bathtub full of hot seawater and seaweed which has been steam-treated to release all of the wonderful minerals and elements.
While seaweed bathhouses are popular in much of western Ireland, it is speculated that some of the best are in Enniscrone (County Sligo) and one of the oldest is Kilcullen’s Seaweed Baths. The bath water is literally pumped in from the Atlantic which sits just outside the doors of the bath house.
Once you arrive, they will started the water for you. You’re then shown to your private room which has a claw tub full of water and seaweed waiting for you. With the flat rate and unlimited time allotment, you can relax for as long as you please. After bathing, you have the option to get in your own personal steam bath – which is kind of a mixture between a coffin and a sauna and then top it off with a cold shower.
Spa Treatments in Asia
The Best Treatments in Vietnam
Red Dao Herbal Bath in Northern Vietnam from Emily at Wander-Lush
A traditional Red Dao herbal bath is one of the most enjoyable spa treatments available in Vietnam.
The remedy belongs to the Red Dao people, one of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. The Red Dao traditionally dwell in mountainous areas and over time, have devised natural treatments to help manage the harsh climate and altitude. As well as promoting circulation and joint health, a Red Dao herbal bath detoxifies the skin. Aromatherapy benefits come courtesy of the heady brew of herbs used.
The bath is prepared by running warm water over a blend of medicinal plants. Depending on the family’s recipe, the area and the season, the bath might contain up to 120 individual herbs, flowers and species of tree bark. The bathing ritual is traditionally performed in a round tub made from fokienia wood, which releases its own essential oils. Each tub comfortably seats one, and the optimal time to soak is for 20 to 25 minutes. The bath might be paired with a herbal steam sauna or a traditional massage.
Red Dao herbal baths are widely practiced in villages across Northern Vietnam and are available for tourists to try at homestays and spas in Lao Cai, Hoa Binh and Ha Giang. You can also try the treatment at Dao’s Care, a social enterprise in Hanoi.
Cupping in Vietnam From Becky at sightDOING
Nothing about cupping therapy sounds like a standard spa treatment. Instead of something relaxing and pampering, therapists light a match under glass or bamboo cups to create a vaccuum before placing them against your skin for major suction. Nothing like suction cups and hickeys up and down your spine to get your day started! But it’s a popular healing method in Asia, so staying at Vedana Resort & Spa outside of Hue, Vietnam, I had to try it. My therapist worked in a overwater bungalow, so with the sound of water lapping in the lagoon, I closed my eyes and tried to relax. After warming up with long massage strokes, I heard the first match light and a glass hit my back. Next thing I knew, my whole body felt intensely alive, the way your foot feels when the blood rushes back in after the pins-and-needles of falling asleep from previous lack of circulation. Sometimes she left the suction where it was, other times she’d slide the cups around my back. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience and thankfully, not at all painful!
Tháp Bà Spa in Nha Trang, Vietnam from Bradley at Dream Big, Travel Far
Without a doubt, one of the best things we did in Nha Trang was to head to Tháp Bà Spa. I’ve not had many spa treatments in my time, but was pretty excited to visit here after a long day spent exploring the city. We paid for a cheap package that started with a mud bath and ended with us having as much time as we liked to swim and relax in their many large outdoor pools and jacuzzis.
The mud bath was certainly the most interesting part, and required us to sit in a bath of muddy water for at least 15 minutes. It’s a very strange sensation,and one I’ve never had before. The idea is that you continually ensure your body is covered in the muddy water and afterwards, when you rinse it, your skin is left feeling exfoliated and cleansed.
There are mud baths all around the world, but these ones were certainly some of the nicest and more affordable ones you will likely find. If you are interested in visiting, then you can do so on a trip to Nha Trang in Vietnam.
Jimjilbang, South Korea by Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles
Jimjilbangs, or traditional bathhouses, can be found in every city or town in South Korea. Going to the jimjilbang is a weekly or monthly routine for many Koreans, and it’s not uncommon for groups of women or men to go together and catch up on life or gossip. Visiting a jimjilbang is one of the best things to do in South Korea as you’ll get a spa experience as well as a glimpse into an important piece of the country’s culture.
Jimjilbangs range quite a bit – from those that are very basic to some that are damn near luxurious. But as far as spa experiences go, they are very affordable. They typically have showers, hot baths of all different temperatures, and sometimes steam rooms. If you want a little extra pampering, you can opt to get a body scrub, where you will be exfoliated (hard!) from head to toe. It’s not for the faint of heart, but your skin will feel like a newborn baby’s when you’re done.
They are separated by gender, however, some of the larger jimjilbangs have some common spaces in which both men and women will wear robes. However, in the gender-separated areas, no robes or bathing suits should be worn. It can be a little intimidating at first to shed your clothes in front of complete strangers. But trust me, this is such a normal part of Korean culture, that nobody will think twice about you being naked.
Knife Massage,Taipei, Helen from Destination>Differentville
I’m lying here while someone does a drum solo on my back – well, at least that what it feels like. But it’s not drumsticks I’m being hit with, but blunt meat cleavers – yes, just like a butcher would use.
This is Taiwanese knife massage and despite sounding – as some people have told me – horrific. It’s actually one of the most balancing, calming massages I’ve ever had.
Part of that is down to my therapist Olivia Yu from Ximending Light Project (book via their Facebook page), a trained knife massage practitioner who radiates some kind of contagious chill out energy that you catch the moment you enter her tiny white treatment room in Taipei’s teen hotspot Ximending. The rest is down to the knives which use a combination of trigger point stimulation and energy transference to balance you physically and mentally. I left feeling seriously light in body and mind.
Olivia’s sessions last 40-minutes but you’re not struck on being drummed upon for that long, you can also try a 10-minute taster at the stall of the Taiwanese Knife Massage Association in City Mall under Taipei station. It’s by exit Y16. I also gave this a go and while it wasn’t as holistically balancing as my treatment with Olivia, it did soothe all the kinks of sightseeing out rather nicely.
Knife massage is one of my top quirky things to do if you’re travelling solo in Taipei, click the link to find some other fun suggestions.
Shirodhara treatment in India from Jenny at TraveLynn Family
After a morning down by the ghats in Rishikesh, watching the ceremonies and exploring temples, we returned to our accommodation. We were travelling India with kids, and although it was hugely rewarding, I was tired and in need of some relaxing time. We passed a little door advertising Shirodhara treatment for INR600, and my husband suggested he take the kids back, whilst I enjoyed a spa treatment. I jumped at the chance!
Shirodhara in Nepal by Michelle at Full Time Explorer
Shirodhara actually means “head flow.” This ancient technique is used to treat a number of ailments including insomnia, psoriasis, anxiety, memory loss, and more. I tried Shirodhara in Nepal, and it’s one of the most interesting spa treatments I’ve ever done. You lay on a table underneath a large metal pot with a small hole in the bottom. Then, hot oil is poured into the bowl creating a constant stream of oil flowing onto your forehead. The stream is moved slowly back and forth which puts you in a rather relaxed and meditative state. If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth a try. A lot of people combine this with an Ayurvedic massage afterwards to increase the benefits.
Hilot Massage in Manila from Maureen from MoesAtlas.com
I had the best spa treatment in Manila a few years back called a traditional Hilot Massage. This deep massage is done to rid your body of toxins and to heal the mind and the body. The practice of Hilot is an ancient art form that was traditionally passed on from generation to generation. With the popularity of alternative forms of medicine today, Hilot is a popular treatment.
Here’s what’s involved: First I soaked for 30 minutes in a tub of hot water and coconut milk. It’s brilliant to feel what coconut does to your skin, and the bath smells great. Then I got onto the massage table and the masseuse applied coconut oil over my back and arms. She did a 5-minute warming massage and then applied 4 thick, hot banana leaves all over my back. She then covered the leaves with a hot moist towel and wrapped me up like a cocoon. She did a traditional massage on the back of my legs while the leaves took effect. When it came time to unwrap, she took the leaves one by one and slid them off my back. She literally pulls the toxins out of my body. Very unique spa treatment.
Riyeugu Hotspring in Xiamen, China by Annalisa Franceschini from Traveling with Magpies
The Riyuegu Hot spring complex is one of the main attractions in Fujian, a developed coastal region in Southern China. A day at the Riyuegu Hot springs ideally matches a few days’ trip to the city of Xiamen which is one of the main harbor cities in China and at the top of Chinese traveler’s holiday bucket list. “Riyuegu” means “the valley of the sun and the moon”. A wellness park of 6.5 square km that features 72 pools, a SPA hotel and a few office buildings. In the Riyuegu park you’ll find plenty of occasion to swim, walk, relax among lush vegetation. Forget about the small dead-skin eating fishes tanks you tried back home… in here you’ll find big pools where you can actually swim and offer your total body to the fishes, and, furthermore, to fishes of two sizes, depending on how strong you love those bites! You will dive into scented hot water pools and be embraced in red wine, beer, coffee, and strawberry flavor. Hot-springs are open everyday 10:00 AM to 00:00 AM. To get there, get the Riyuegu shuttle in Xiamen city’s Dongdu Port at the Xiagu Nan bus terminal. You can buy the entrance fee to the park together with the two-way bus ticket at the port (USD 27-33).
One of the Most Unique Places for a Spa Treatment- Antarctica from James Ian at Travel Collecting
Possibly the most unique thermal baths in the world is on Deception Island in Antarctica. Deception island is a donut-shaped island with a narrow entrance. Inside are the ruins of an old whaling station and a long-abandoned British research station. The beach is strewn with the remains of whale oil barrels, silos, huts and even a wingless airplane. The beach is also steaming.
This is the caldera of an active volcano and the thermal activity heats the beach. Many cruises to Antarctica stop here and the crew will dig a large hole in the beach, which quickly fills up with water seeping from below. The water is steaming hot, and makes a perfect hot springs thermal bath. Stripping down to your swimwear in the cold Antarctic air requires a certain fortitude, but then you can lie down and soak in hot water, with views of penguins, wooden barrels and your ship floating off shore. For the truly daring? Jump into the Antarctic Ocean for a quick dip. The freezing cold water will make your skin tingle and feel alive like nothing else!
So, which unique spa treatments around the world do you think you will try? Which sound the best? Are you brave enough to be massaged with knives? Let me know in the comments.