A trip to the spa is a common travel activity. Not just for getting clean, a spa can be a great way to experience local culture and customs, enjoy some serious relaxation and/or remove the grime that accumulates while on the global road.
While a professional spa treatment can cost a fortune, they are usually relatively cheap in low-income countries. They usually take their time, and are not for travellers in a hurry.
- See also: Hot springs
The word spa is derived from Spa, a town in Belgium, though folk etymology, repeated through marketing, has claimed it to be an acronym of Sanitas per aquam or other Latin phrases.
Springs of water have attracted travellers since prehistoric times, some of them with religious importance. While bathing was a virtue in societies such as the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, it fell out of fashion in medieval and early modern Europe, with some exceptions.
In the 19th century, springwater drinking, bathing and exercise were again promoted as healthy; founded on science as well as romanticism for nature. Rail travel, steamships and other modes of transport allowed the middle class to visit spa resorts. Many visitors came for entertainment and social life, rather than health.
Spa towns, some of the earliest resorts, later diversified to cope with increasing visitors and meet their expectations. Whilst the fortunes of many traditional spa towns peaked in the early 20th century, the legacy left behind can be both substantial and impressive.
With modern spas more or less everywhere, the traditional spa resorts have got tough competition.
Although most services are ordered a la carte, if you opt for a package treatment you'll most likely begin with a foot bath delivered by your attendant. This usually involves having your feet washed and scrubbed in a basin of warm water with flowers. A pumice stone may be applied to your feet as well as some scented oils and/or soaps. Foot baths, accompanied with a foot massage, are also popular treatments for those wanting some personal care (especially after a long day of sight seeing) but aren't interested in the full body experience.
A body scrub is an exfoliating spa treatment. A therapist rubs a coarse mixture over the body to remove dead skin cells and stimulate circulation. The mixture is rinsed off leaving the skin soft and smooth. A variety of materials are used as the exfoliant - salt, sugar, apricot shells, polyethylene beads, jojoba beads, pumice, ground loofah, sand, crushed grape seed and more. This material is suspended in a liquid that can contain essential oils, oils such as sweet almond, sunflower, and coconut, herbs, and/or vitamin A, C, E. Scrubs are also known as Salt Glow, Sugar Scrub, Full Body Exfoliation. The beauty of body scrubs is that they are one of the spa treatments that you can do yourself at home with great results.
Wraps can be enjoyed on their own or as part of a package, in which it will usually follow the scrub. During a wrap treatment, your attendant will cover you in a warm sticky covering that has the consistency of jam or jelly and comes in lovely smelling mixtures, such as papaya and aloe or more earthy concoctions such as seaweed or volcanic mud. Either way, you'll be covered from your neck down in your selection and then you'll be wrapped up in a cocoon made from a variety of natural materials, banana leaves are common. For the next 15–30 minutes, you'll be left in isolation and your skin will soak up the ingredients while you drift in and out of a light sleep.
A facial treatment can also be enjoyed on its own or as part of a spa package. When part of a package, it typically follows a wrap or scrub—after most of your body has been scrubbed and you are relaxed, you'll be stretched out on a table and all of your attendants attention will be focused on your face, neck and head. Usually a facial involves the deep cleansing of the skin on your face and may also include a neck and/or scalp massage. A facial treatment may use scented cleansers and may last between 15 minutes and one hour.
Aromatherapy baths are often part of a spa package and entail relaxing in a large tub filled with warm water. Typically, the tub will be decorated with fresh flowers floating on the surface and may also have scented oils, where the aromatherapy comes in, added to the water. The idea is that while relaxing in the water, the scents will deepen your state of relaxation.
The Hamam is a Turkish style bathing system that occurs at a marble setting. Usually the real hamams in Turkey were built on thermal fountains.
The Finnish version of hamams. Much hotter, but also much drier to compensate. Ubiquitous in Finland, saunas are common in spas also in some other regions. These are rooms heated by a stove you now and then throw water on to get more heat. Outside Finland, Germany and Russia, what is called a sauna is often quite different from the original.
Particularly in South-East Asia, you'll find your spa visit to be much less expensive than you would find in North America and Europe without cutting out any of the ambiance or experience (you'll likely have more).
- Bali - Probably one of the premier destinations for those looking for a variety of spa treatments. Coffee and Javanese lulur body scrubs are popular items on most spas menus. Facilities range from the quiet, basic and unpretentious (such as in Lovina on the northern part of the island) to the opulent, extravagant, and luxurious (such as in Ubud and Seminyak). Better yet, Bali is one of the most affordable locations in the world to have a treatment; if you ever had an urge to splurge on a spa and were on a budget, this would be the place to do it.
- Boracay - Has a wide variety of spas and treatments available, probably due to its large international visitor base. As a result, you choice of spas will be quite broad to suite any appetite and price range.
- Kuala Lumpur — While not as inexpensive as other places in Asia, KL does not disappoint those looking to be pampered. A variety of treatments can be found in this cosmopolitan environment for a variety of prices. Even the finest treatments in the most luxurious spa will be at least half of what you would pay in Europe or North America. Individual spas are located throughout the city with the largest concentration being found in Starhill Gallery shopping center, where you'll find a dozen treatment centers appropriately clustered on the floor called "pamper".
- India- Being the land of Ayurveda and Siddha Vaidya, India offers unique spas with various shades of Indian treatments. An Indian spa experience is best enjoyed at traditional and reputed clinics and homes of traditional Ayurveda and Siddha Vaidya physicians. Authenticity is the core of an Indian spa rather than the luxury component. Indian spa therapies are generally priced lower than imported ones.
- Maldives - Most resorts at this famously beautiful honeymoon paradise include a spa, but treatments tend to be charged at famously expensive Maldivian prices.
- Manila - You'll find most of the spas within the Makati business district's upscale hotels: Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Discorvery Suites, etc. Like the hotels that host them, the spas within these establishments offer an excellent value compared to what you would find outside of Asia.
- Singapore - It is become one of spa destinations in Asia. Singapore Tourism Board and Spa Association Singapore have been continue to support and ensure excellent services and treatments from Spa outlets. Today, You can find Spa outlets in every corner of Singapore. Most of them provide their uniquely spa services and treatments. However, unlike in neighbouring countries, spas are generally expensive with prices only slightly lower, if not on par with Western countries.
- Thailand - A visit to the spa seems to be on the agenda of every visitor to Thailand, and for a good reason; Cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai - and islands popular with tourists, such as Phuket, & Ko Samui - have affordable, high-quality spas. And although not strictly speaking the same as spas, even the smallest provincial town will have massage parlors dishing out bone-crackingly good Thai massages for a few hundred baht per hour.
- Turkey - there are geothermal spas near faults. For details, see local articles, e.g. Amasya
Public baths in Japan, often based around hot springs, are an important cultural and social institution in Japan.
Sitting on top of major fault lines has given Japan at least the benefit of Onsen culture. Japanese often use the opportunity to bathe in hot volcanic water to relax after a busy day, or bond with their friends and family on a weekend. Beppu is a famous spa town in the far south-west of the country with many public and private onsen to enjoy.
Another country on a major geological fault line, New Zealand offers hot spa destinations in towns literally on volcanoes, such as Rotorua.
- Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico. In this famous Mayan archaeological site, the traditional Mayan healing methods are still practice by native Maya medicine elders female healers are known as X-Men while male healers are known as J'Meen. Mayan healers offer various unique spa experiences based on ancient herbal traditions, holistic healing ceremonies, purification and beauty rituals. Chichen Itza has one of the best eco-spa wellness destinations in North America, which is dedicated to preserving the Maya culture and bringing Spa goers the opportunity to experience the vast Mayan holistic traditions still practice by the Maya in Yucatán.
- Vermont, United States. Vermont has some of the best known destination spas in North America. Spa goers can take advantage of the outdoor activities such as hiking and cross country skiing in the Green Mountains.
For its size, Bulgaria is relatively rich in mineral water and hot springs and has a number of spa resorts. These include Hisarya and Pavel Banya in Central Bulgaria, Velingrad and Devin in the Rhodope Mountains, Bankya close to the capital Sofia, Sapareva Banya and Sandanski in South-Western Bulgaria, and resorts near some major cities, like Burgas and Haskovo.
There are dozens of spas and spa hotels in Finland. Some of these are traditional health spas and others are modern tropically warm indoor water amusement parks with spa treatments. Sauna bathing is very important in Finnish spas, because of Finland's strong sauna tradition. Modern spas are family resorts with children's pools, water slides, jacuzzis etc. There are famous spas in these destinations: Hämeenlinna, Imatra, Ikaalinen (founded 1884, one of the most well-known), Kuopio, Lappeenranta, Naantali (the largest spa in Finland), Nokia (the most popular family spa destination in Finland), Saariselkä (the northernmost spa in Europe), Savonlinna, Siuntio, Tampere and Turku.
In Germany Spa towns are often granted the title "Bad" which they may add to their name (as the example of Aachen shows, even when granted, this title may be omitted in this case due to being listed first in alphabetic lists). "Bad" is cognate with "bath" and can be translated as "Spa".
Germany features the earliest seaside spas of Europe, such as Heiligendamm, Norderney (one of the East Frisian islands), Putbus and Rostock with Warnemünde. The islands of Usedom, Rügen (Rügen) and Sylt are internationally renowned for their seaside spa resorts.
In the Black Forest region, Baden-Baden was home to Roman baths before being lost after the fall of the empire. The baths were only rediscovered in the 19th century and the town has become a magnet for the rich and famous.
The German seacoast has had a spa tradition since the late 18th century with East Frisian islands like Norderney getting recognition as spa towns in that time and some places on the German Baltic Sea Coast even earlier. During the 19th and early 20th century, crowned heads and high ranking government officials cured various ills by bathing in the sea and even today many combine leisure with physical recuperation.
Somewhat different traditions from South-Eastern Asia, see Budapest#Thermal baths for background.
- Kopaonik: Grand Hotel; Kraljevi Čardaci
- County Kerry in the south west of Ireland is home to many five star hotels that specialise in many different Spa treatments.
- West Cork is easily accessibly to nearby Cork and many quality hotels have stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Coast.
Mondorf-les-Bains is by far the most popular and the oldest spa town in Luxembourg.
The Romans brought the concept of baths to England, with the great former Roman city of Bath, being the most prominent.