Even though restrictions are still limiting travel and crossing borders is not possible or practical for many, the good news is that change is inevitable. Travel might not make sense right now, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to dream of a future journey. If the stress or monotony of recent events is getting you down, consider these zen-inspiring destinations that will help you to let go of current challenges and find peace with this hectic time.
Yes, I know, India is gigantic; but I’d be selling you short if I recommended a visit to Rishikesh and continued on. I do indeed recommend a visit to Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world and home to the holy Ganges River. However, I’d also recommend a visit to Mysore, the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga; to Tiruvannamalai, where people from all around the world come to walk pilgrimages around holy mountain Arunachala; and to Dharamshala, the home of the Dalai Lama.
For a tropical getaway, the southern Indian beaches of Kerala and Goa are also abundant in both eastern and western spiritual teachers, retreat centers, and courses in yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. You’ll fit right in here if you love wearing your gypsy travel pants.
Basically, if you’re looking to practice yoga as an ancient science of self-discovery and to understand it as a lifestyle that’s developed into a culture, visit India. Anywhere that seems to call you will be a good first step.
2. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Often overlooked amidst the sea of more popular Southeast Asia destinations, Cambodia is a powerful spiritual center of the world that is full of natural wonders. Although the country is officially Buddhist, ancient Cambodians practiced Hinduism, and today’s Khmer culture largely reflects a unique mixture of the two religions’ mythologies.
Tourist-friendly Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat, an ancient complex of Hindu temple ruins scattered in jungles of old-growth forest around the city and its surrounding areas that offers a vast foundation for spiritual exploration and contemplation. It’s also a tourist-friendly destination full of healthy Khmer and western dining options and options for yoga and meditation retreats, both in the city and its nearby villages.
3. Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
A beautiful lake surrounded by volcanos and lined with Mayan villages, Lake Atitlán is said to be one of Earth’s main energetic vortices and is referred to by local culture as the belly-button of civilization. Because of this, the lake has inspired generations of spiritual seekers from around the world to settle here and create various nature-inspired retreat and meditation centers.
Even if you’re not looking for a planned retreat or course, the beauty and energy of Atitlán is the perfect setting for a personal practice. Its not-too-hot highland environment is ideal for physical movement during the day and cool enough to cozy up with Mayan cacao in the evenings – which westerners tend to share in the form of ceremony.
Apart from this, Guatemala is an easy-to-navigate country where indigenous culture and the energy around it still thrives.
4. Sacred Valley, Peru
Another major energy vortex and the home to one of the most spiritual sites in the world, the Sacred Valley is just that – sacred. It’s the home of Incan civilization, colorful textiles, and zigzagging trails through mountains graced with spiritual significance and ancient ruins.
The village of Pisac is an easy base for exploring the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and other natural treasures. Here you can find activities ranging from yoga classes to traditional sweat lodges and medicine ceremonies, all in the context of the Andes Mountains and its cleansing rivers.
If you’re seeking a healing connection with Mother Earth, this powerful location where indigenous Amazonian and Andean wisdom are embraced and met with western mysticism might be your spot.
5. Bali, Indonesia
There’s a reason Bali was the destination for “love,” in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love; this charming island offered her the perfect combination of spirituality and pleasure. Regardless of the type of environment you’re looking to relax in, Bali’s got you covered. The most popular destinations for yoga are urban jungle Ubud, full of new age and retreat spaces, and the area surrounding Canggu, which offers more of a laid-back surf-yoga vibe.
The areas between major destinations are abundant in luscious greenery with plenty of opportunities for waterfall dips and volcano views. Balinese culture is gentle, loving, full of prayer and ritual, and extremely welcoming to tourists.
Thailand is an example of a country that is so inherently zen that it’s nearly impossible to recommend just one of its destinations. Yoga, meditation, and conscious movement retreats are numerous in places along the spiritual-tourism route (especially in Koh Phangan and the area surrounding Chiang Mai).
However, Thailand is unique in that it offers the opportunity to retreat in traditional monastic settings while learning about Theravada Buddhism and practicing Vipassana meditation. Many temples, monasteries, and meditation centers in Thailand provide accommodation for free or by donation, and several offer western (yet basic) amenities, delicious all-you-can-mindfully-eat Thai food, beautiful natural surroundings, and guidance from monks or western teachers.
Retreats and nature aside, there’s no excuse for not being able to relax in a country where an hour-long full body Thai massage costs about $6 USD!
7. Nature, U.S.A.
Although an exotic getaway may help to inspire a peaceful change in life, you don’t need to leave the country to find a zen environment. The United States is one of the most nature-filled, clean, silent, and spacious places on Earth, and pristine parks and forests reach from sea to sea. If you’re looking for a place to feel connected to nature, consider the Northern California redwoods, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree in Southern California, the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, or the National Parks of Utah and Arizona. Other high energy places in the U.S. include Sedona, Arizona; Taos, New Mexico; Mount Shasta, California; and Maui.
Keep in mind that while a calm environment or an awe-inspiring view can certainly contribute to a zen state of mind, the only guaranteed place to find peace is within! If travel isn’t within your realm of possibilities, consider setting up a personal retreat near a local forest, river, lake, or park – or in a private corner of your home or patch of green in your backyard!