For most people, the mere mention of the term “yoga retreat” evokes a sense of indulgence. Surely, ‘retreats’ are a luxury reserved for those who have become enlightened, can do the splits, and have a trust fund to pay for it all.
The truth is that most yoga retreats around the world are open to people of all levels of experience and physical fitness -- and many of them are surprisingly affordable. Across Latin America and Asia in particular, you’ll find retreats that cost far less than the average American spends on a typical vacation.
After I attended my first yoga retreat in Thailand, a lot of friends and family asked, “What do you do at a yoga retreat? Do you just do yoga all day long?” While retreats vary tremendously, the short answer is no! In most cases, a yoga retreat as more of an overall wellness experience.
What is a Yoga Retreat?
A typical yoga retreat might have two or three yoga classes per day, usually a mix of faster-paced and more relaxing ones, and many offer organized activities like hikes, crafts, cooking classes, and excursions to local markets or nearby sights.
Yoga retreats usually build in quite a bit of free time as well, so participants have plenty of opportunities to reflect, relax, and connect with each other. Meals are often included and are usually made up of healthy, unprocessed foods that will leave you feeling light and nourished.
Even if you aren’t quite sure about yoga, a yoga retreat can be a rare opportunity to fully relax. More than other forms of travel, it’s a chance to disconnect from stresses at home, do things you don’t normally have time for, and focus on taking care of yourself -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Every yoga retreat is different: the accommodations provided, expectations of participants, activities available, and style of yoga all vary. Some focus heavily on meditation, some are more fitness-oriented, and others emphasize specific diets or holistic treatments. There are even multi-faceted retreats that combine yoga with something like rock climbing, scuba diving, or surfing. But the good news is that, with retreats offered all over the world, there’s truly something for everyone. If you don’t know where to go, start with our list of the top countries for yoga retreats.
You can’t talk about the top places to do yoga and not mention its birthplace: India. The practice originated in India and is intimately tied to its history, culture, and dominant religion, Hinduism. If you want to practice yoga at the source, study its traditional forms, and learn from the most renowned yogis, India is the place to go.
Yoga as it’s now practiced in the West is typically considered to have evolved from two traditional styles: Ashtanga and Iyengar. The original Ashtanga and Iyengar institutes still operate in Mysore and Pune, respectively, and both towns now host many other retreat centers as well. Dharamsala, the site of the Dalai Lama’s residence in exile, is another spiritually oriented town with many yoga centers -- and the opportunity to see His Holiness speak will be a once-in-a-lifetime complement to any yoga retreat. These prominent towns are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to yoga retreats in India, though; you’ll find retreat centers all throughout the country.
Popular Yoga Retreats in India:
Yoga has also been heavily influenced by Buddhism, so a predominantly Buddhist country like Thailand makes another natural choice for a yoga retreat. Thai people commonly practice yoga and meditation, and while the country is sometimes known for more hedonistic vacations, it also seems to magnetically attract travelers dedicated to wellness and spirituality.
It doesn’t hurt that Thailand is a fascinating travel destination for many other reasons, too: delicious food, unique architecture, affordable prices, stunning beaches, and ease of getting around, just to name a few. You’ll find yoga retreats in various corners of Thailand, especially on islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phan-gan and around the country’s historical capital of Chiang Mai.
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For North Americans, Mexico is a much more accessible travel destination. It’s an affordable non-stop flight from many American and Canadian cities and there’s no jet lag to contend with, not to mention familiar food and a more familiar language. If you’re looking for a yoga retreat that’s a bit closer to home but still offers a dose of adventure, Mexico just might be the best choice.
The popular beach town of Tulum has really put Mexico on the map as a destination for yoga retreats, but there are many choices around the Yucatan Peninsula and on the country’s West Coast as well. Most retreat centers in Mexico are located at or near the beach, so you’ll be able to soak up the sun and surf in between classes and other activities.
Popular Yoga Retreats in Mexico:
A bit further afield, Costa Rica still doesn’t require a trans-oceanic flight or inflict a 12-hour time difference on North American travelers. And the Costa Rican way of life makes it an incredibly inviting yoga retreat destination. One of the first things you’ll notice there is the saying “pura vida,” an expression used as a greeting and a farewell, to give thanks, and to say that “everything’s okay.” But more than that, pura vida, or “pure life,” is a lifestyle and a philosophy of optimism, gratitude, and enjoyment – and it encompasses exactly what most participants hope to experience at a yoga retreat.
With retreat centers located at pristine beaches and others nestled deep in lush rainforests, Costa Rica is a paradise for nature-lovers of all kinds. Because it’s a small, affordable, and tourist-friendly country, this is also a great choice if you want to tack on some independent travel before or after your retreat.
Popular Yoga Retreats in Costa Rica:
The vast majority of yoga retreats in Indonesia are found on Bali. Once known primarily as a vacation spot for honeymooners and surfers, Bali has become one of the world’s top destinations for yoga retreats and all kinds of holistic healing. It’s nicknamed “Island of the Gods,” and the spiritual vibe is undeniable.
Though Indonesia is a Muslim country, Bali is predominantly Hindu and is home to a huge community of yogis and spiritual seekers, both local and foreign. You’ll find retreats in Bali that offer nearly every form of yoga, meditation, and holistic therapy you can imagine, including many you have probably never heard of.
Bali may be an island, but most of the yoga retreats are located in and around the cultural capital of Ubud -- which is in the interior and not near the beach. But that’s not a bad thing; the terraced rice fields around Ubud create lush, mesmerizing scenery, and you can easily head to the coast before or after your retreat.
There aren’t a lot of yoga retreats in Africa or the Middle East, but Morocco is one exception. It’s a lesser known (and maybe even surprising) destination for yoga retreats, but it just might be the next up-and-coming spot. Morocco’s Atlantic Coast is dotted with retreat centers that combine yoga and surfing, so if you love surfing as much as yoga, this is the place to be. If not, yoga-only retreats can also be found in several of the country’s cities.
Along with India, Morocco is undoubtedly a more challenging travel destination than the other countries listed here, and it requires a higher level of modesty and a heightened sense of awareness. But if you’re nervous about navigating the country on your own, your retreat center can probably make any necessary arrangements for you. Besides, the chance to experience the culture, architecture, food, and landscapes of Morocco will be worth it.
Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most famous attractions: a site that fascinates everyone from avid hikers to history lovers to spiritual seekers. And the spiritual significance of Machu Picchu and Peru’s other sacred sites has helped turn the country into a top destination for yoga retreats and other forms of holistic healing.
Most, though not all, of Peru’s retreat centers are located in and around the mountain town of Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu. The ruins and landscape in this area are one-of-a-kind, and the proximity makes it easy to visit Machu Picchu or another sacred site before or after your retreat. However, be aware that Cusco and its surroundings are at over 7,000 feet in elevation, so you should build in a couple days to acclimate before your retreat starts.
Even if you’re new to yoga, a yoga retreat is a unique opportunity to decompress, reflect, and take some time for yourself. No matter what your specific interests or motivations are, there’s sure to be a yoga retreat out there that will be right for you.