What Are the Differences Between a Wellness Retreat and a Wellness Resort?

You might hear the terms “wellness retreat” and “wellness resort” used interchangeably, but don’t let that fool you: these destinations are as different as night and day. It’s important to understand the differences between the two when choosing what to book, or even what search terms to use when doing your research, because arriving at a resort when you were hoping for a retreat, or vice versa, may put the final nail in the coffin of your trip before it begins.

So what are the differences between a wellness retreat and a wellness resort? And how do you know which is the right choice for you? There is no quick answer, so let’s break it down…

By definition, a retreat means “a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy.” At its core, that’s exactly what a wellness retreat is: a place to escape from the stresses of daily life and the ever present demands of technology and obligations. It gives you an opportunity to connect with yourself and focus on your needs free from any other worries.

Activities and meals are usually included in your reservation package and follow a set schedule, even down to what day and time you arrive or depart. The retreat will often have a particular focus area, like perhaps yoga, strength training, or weight loss, and is usually geared toward a final outcome: helping you achieve whatever goal you had in mind when booking the retreat.

The retreat begins the moment you arrive- many have a “no phones” policy to help you decompress and detach from the outside world (because honestly, most of us need a break from our phones from time to time and need a little external push to make that happen). Activities and meals vary between retreats, but most wellness retreats prepare meals to encourage a healthy lifestyle and detox from caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods. Which as an added benefit, also assists with weight loss.

Activities could include things like hiking, yoga, cardio classes, meditation, sound baths, massages, cooking classes, workshops, and any other activity that could help you recharge and rejuvenate. Healing takes place when you make changes from within, and that is exactly what happens when you attend a wellness retreat- you leave the retreat a different person than the one who arrived. All while under the guidance of trained professionals in a distraction-free environment.

Some of the key benefits of attending a wellness retreat are:

  • The opportunity to do a full mental and physical reset- the retreat takes you out of your regular life and gives you the chance to start fresh
  • Guests see faster results because it is the only thing they have to worry about during their stay- the focus is completely on you and your journey due to the smaller staff to guest ratio
  • Having the help of trained professionals takes the guesswork out of creating a healthier lifestyle and losing weight
  • The seclusion of the retreat makes it easier to be fully present and just focus on attaining your goals
  • Guests sometimes have the support of the retreat staff long after their stay is over to give them the best chance of continuing their health journey

So then what is a wellness resort? While there are some similarities such as the focus on living a healthy lifestyle, detoxing, and rejuvenation, there are a few notable differences. First and foremost, a wellness resort doesn’t seek to separate you from your regular life. Rather the focus is on integrating your regular life with wellness practices. They don’t seek to achieve a full system reset or jumpstart a healthier lifestyle, but instead strive to help you relax and maybe learn some new habits you can take home with you.

They also function more like a typical resort- you experience the trip on your own time, and often meals and activities aren’t included with your stay and must be purchased separately. But with that comes more flexibility; eat when you’re hungry, sleep in however long you want, book spa treatments when you want them, or venture off-site to do some exploring. Or do literally nothing if that’s what you want. You set the schedule, you make the rules. The goal is to soothe the spirit, rejuvenate the body, and enrich the mind…however you see fit.

Some key benefits of a wellness resort are:

  • Flexibility- arrive when you want, stay however long you want, and do whatever you want
  • A more relaxed approach to building new healthy habits- no pressure to exercise if you really don’t want to
  • Staying connected with the “real world”- makes it easy to see how your new healthy habits will work with your regular routines
  • Leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated with tools to continue your wellness journey back home

The biggest differences between a wellness retreat and a wellness resort are structure, intensity, and level of seclusion from the outside world. How quickly do you want to see results? How much guidance and support do you want or need? To what degree are you looking to detox and reset your life? How unplugged from “normal” life do you want to be? How focused do you want to be on your wellness journey? These are just a few of the questions you should ask when trying to decide which one is right for you.

Retreats provide the opportunity to stop everything you are doing and start fresh. At a resort, regular life continues, but you focus on your health more than you normally would at home. Humans are heavily impacted by their environment, so retreats help guests escape from their usual urban settings and connect with the healing powers of nature. Many resorts also strive to do this as well, but maintain some connection with the outside world.

According to Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, constant external stimulation and multitasking have been found to increase the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline, which leads to an overstimulated brain and mental fog. When retreats ask you to unplug they remove that temptation, providing an opportunity for increased mindfulness and clarity. Retreats tend to be more goal oriented, regimented, and structured, with a focus on targeting underlying issues to help guests change their behavior.

Resorts function more as a quick fix or band-aid- they make you feel better during your stay, but the results don’t usually last. Support from the staff ends when your stay ends. Retreats are a long term investment for your well being whereas resorts are for the present.

There are a few other terms that could come up in this context and it’s worth taking a quick look at what those mean too. For example:

  • Health retreat: a multi-day destination that focuses on providing guests a complete and balanced guided rejuvenation of body and mind 
  • Health spa: a place you go to exercise and take part in activities that are thought to be good for your health such as massage, exercise, and time in spa amenities like; steam room, sauna, soaking bath/hot tub/jacuzzi, and cold plunge.
  • Health vacation: self-supported travel designed around health-focused intentions
  • Wellness tourism: a division of the tourism industry geared towards marketing natural assets and healthy activities to wellness travelers
  • Wellness travel: travel that specifically provides the opportunity to maintain or create a healthy lifestyle and enhance a sense of well-being
  • Wellness vacation/holiday: self-supported travel designed around wellness-focused intentions 
  • Wellness destination: a geographical area that promotes and fosters wellness within the community and economics
  • Day spa: a place a person visits just for the day to receive spa treatments such as massages and facials

There’s a good deal of overlap between all of the terms and they all fall under the overall umbrella of “wellness”- it really just comes down to personal preference. Knowing yourself, knowing your body, and knowing which style will give you the best results for whatever you seek. These destinations are definitely not one-size-fits-all.

So how do you know if you need a wellness retreat over a resort? There are many different reasons that a person might seek out a wellness retreat, either for their physical or mental wellbeing. Or maybe they just want to go on a healthy vacation and meet like minded individuals. But some common reasons that draw attendees to wellness retreats are:

  • Feeling like your health is out of control, and need external support and motivation to reset and get back on track.
  • Tired and exhausted all the time, and no amount of sleep is helping
  • Overwhelmed with stress and life, feeling like you can’t catch up and are just going through the motions instead of thriving
  • Feeling stuck in a rut, wishing your life was different but are unsure how to break free and get where you want to be
  • Trauma healing- have just gone through something horrific and need to get away from everything for a while to focus on mental and physical healing
  • Finding your life purpose, knowing you are meant for something better but can’t figure out what that is
  • At a crossroads, whether that is retirement, a new job, or a death in the family
  • Getting in touch with yourself, feeling like somewhere along the way you forgot who you are and want to feel like “you” again
  • Dependents are finally out of the house and it feels like time to be selfish again
  • Wanting to create healthier habits/get in shape/lose weight and need a little help
  • Seeking time to reflect, renew, and restore without the distractions of regular life

A wellness resort is the best choice when you are looking for something with less structure and more freedom, in the way most of us think of the term “vacation”. If you get there and decide you just want to sleep in and relax by a pool, that is ok. And it’s also ok if you want to keep busy every second of your stay and pack your days with exercise, hiking, spa treatments, sightseeing, and whatever else strikes your fancy. The wellness aspect is there if you want it, but you can also opt out. This is a good choice if you are very self motivated and normally happy with where you are with your health, but just need a little break. Or are curious about the health and wellness lifestyle. You aren’t looking to make any major changes in your daily habits or lose weight or detox…you just want to escape for a while, but in a healthy way. And maybe learn some new good habits while you’re there.

Wellness retreats and wellness resorts both have their place and attending either will be a rejuvenating experience. When it comes to choosing which way to go, it just comes down to what you are hoping to gain from the experience. Looking to refresh your spirit, unwind, relax, and detox on your own? A wellness resort is a good choice for you. Looking for a more supportive experience to reset your health? Then a wellness retreat is the right call.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below: