Wellness Travel 101: What’s It Like to Stay at a Wellness Resort?

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If you would have asked me a few months ago about my opinions on spa resorts and wellness retreats, I probably would have told you that they weren't really for me.

I'm not the type of person who gets regular massages (I don't like strangers touching me), I don't like sweating in saunas, and my “skin care routine” consists of washing my face twice a day (maybe, if I remember before I go to bed).

But then back in December I found myself staying at CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa in the perfectly-named town of Carefree, Arizona.


Somewhere in between the green smoothies and the plush robes that it was acceptable to wear out in public and the guided morning hikes, I realized that, somehow, I had became a total wellness resort convert.

Contrary to what I used to believe, “wellness” doesn't just mean spa days and spinach salads. (I mean, it can mean those things, too, but it's so much more than just cliches.)

Wellness in Scottsdale, Arizona

I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that the wellness/spa resort concept has been perfected in Scottsdale, Arizona.

CIVANA spa pool

The city has long been a popular escape for the Hollywood elite and other money-having types who wanted to get away from the people and pressures (and paparazzi) and have a relaxing time in the desert. Movie stars and musicians and famous baseball players have been wandering the halls of Scottsdale institutions like the Hotel Valley Ho since the 1950s.

But in the 1950s, most hotels didn't have their own spas, and “wellness” looked a lot different. In the 1950s and '60s, “wellness” was simply the opposite of “illness.” It wasn't until fairly recently that “wellness” came to mean a more holistic type of well-being that a person could strive to achieve – even when on vacation.

CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa

Thanks to its year-round warm weather, extensive hours of sunshine, and reputation for luxury, it's no surprise that Scottsdale has become a mecca in wellness and spa travel. Today, nearly every hotel in Scottsdale has a spa, and there are several dedicated wellness resorts to choose from.

RELATED: 3 Days in Scottsdale, Arizona: 3 Itineraries for 3 Different Types of Travelers

CIVANA Wellness Resort and Spa

I arrived at CIVANA with two other travel bloggers just before sunset on a mild December evening. We checked in as quick as we could, downed the delicious apple cider drinks presented to us at check-in, flung our things into our rooms, and rushed back outside to take in the desert sunset.

We of course may have just been exceptionally lucky, but these brilliant hot-pink Sonoran Desert sunsets were a normal thing throughout our stay.

Sunset at CIVANA
Sonoran desert sunset

Over the next two days, we immersed ourselves in everything wellness resort-related. We signed up for morning hikes, had spa treatments, ate healthy (and tasty) meals, went to a cooking demonstration, and more.

Wellness travel doesn't necessarily mean a lazy, relaxing vacation, as our busy schedule can attest to! This was great news for me, as I've never been the type of person who can spend days by the pool or on a beach; I like to actually get out and DO things when I'm traveling. And CIVANA made that incredibly easy.

Hiking the Metate Trail in Arizona
Hiking the Metate Trail

If you're curious what makes a wellness resort like CIVANA different from a typical hotel stay, here were some of the highlights from my visit:

The spaces

If you picture a wellness resort to be filled with relaxing spaces, calming sounds, and fluffy bath robes… you would be absolutely correct.

But, as I strolled through the Cactus Garden in my robe and flip flops (totally acceptable here, by the way), I was struck by how completely non-pretentious this specific resort was. It's relaxing and beautiful, but not in a way that makes you feel like you don't belong.

Wearing robes around CIVANA
Totally embracing that #robelife

CIVANA Wellness Resort as it is today is actually really new. The property formerly was the Carefree Resort & Conference Center, built in the 1950s with kind of a dude ranch vibe. But the property went through a $50 million transformation in 2019 to become CIVANA.

Today, the spaces at CIVANA are sleek and minimalist, but still have those desert vibes that Arizona is known for. Tall saguaro cacti are dotted throughout the property, and both pools have views of nearby Black Mountain.

CIVANA main pool
Spa pool and Black Mountain
Black Mountain views

Rooms all have large windows that look out over the pool, the spa, or the desert, and the beds in each room face those windows, which I thought was a nice touch.

Looking into my room at CIVANA from my balcony

CIVANA also has a formal restaurant, a cafe with an outdoor dining area, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor yoga spaces, and even pickleball courts.

Veggie-forward dinner at Terras
Veggie-forward dinner at Terras
Smoothie from Cafe Meto
Smoothie from Cafe Meto

The classes and activities

Part of CIVANA's resort experience includes the chance for guests to get as involved as possible in a variety of wellness classes. These classes are mostly fitness-focused, but vary from gentle meditation and yoga classes to cardio circuits.

There are also guided hikes (we did the 3.1-mile Spur Cross – Metate Trail Hike), and options to do things like mountain biking for a really reasonable fee ($25).

Outdoor yoga lawn at CIVANA
One of the outdoor yoga lawns
Sonoran Desert in Arizona
Hiking near CIVANA

On one afternoon, we also went to a culinary demonstration held in the kitchen of CIVANA's Terras restaurant. Chef Alfred Beltran walked us through making a healthy tuna snack, stressing that, for him, wellness extends to feeding your body with clean, natural food.

“Wellness isn't a trend,” he told us as he sliced up some pineapple, “it's a lifestyle.”

At CIVANA, it's not difficult to slip into that lifestyle.

Culinary class at CIVANA
Culinary class at CIVANA

Other classes and demonstrations offered at CIVANA include things like sound healing, aerial yoga, art classes, and even cocktail making. See the full class schedule here.

The spa


And of course, no wellness resort would be complete without a spa. CIVANA's spa has everything you could hope for, from a quiet spa pool, to a tranquil relaxation room, to a eucalyptus steam room.

The spa also has an aqua therapy circuit with hot and cold wading pools, a soaking pool, and a five-climate Klafs Sanarium (which, not gonna lie, I had not heard of, but it's basically a fancy sauna with multiple climate “zones”).

Aqua Therapy Circuit at CIVANA
Aqua Therapy Circuit

They also offer a full range of spa treatments, including massages, facials, body wraps, and more.

I'm definitely NOT a typical spa person, but the nice thing about the CIVANA spa is that all the non-treatment spaces (like the pool, relaxation room, and aqua therapy circuit) are open to all resort guests regardless of whether or not you've booked a spa treatment.

Relaxation Room at CIVANA Spa
You can hang out in the Relaxation Room even if you're not having a spa treatment.

What makes CIVANA different?

As you read about all the things that are included at CIVANA – the classes, the spa, etc. – you might assume that a stay would be pricey. But what makes CIVANA different is that their focus is on affordable wellness.

Rooms at CIVANA can be found for under $300 per night in the high season, and run around $160 per night during the hot summer months. (Pro tip: If you want to save money in the Scottsdale area, plan a trip in the summer!)

Read reviews of CIVANA on TripAdvisor here | Book a room at CIVANA here

So if you're looking to try out a luxury-feeling retreat for less-than-luxury prices, this is definitely a spot you'll want to check out.

Have you ever stayed at a wellness resort? Would you want to?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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4 Comments on “Wellness Travel 101: What’s It Like to Stay at a Wellness Resort?

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  1. Great article and photos. Planning a solo trip here for my 30th birthday next month. I’m not much of a wellness retreat person—I prefer flashy resorts and nightlife. I’m going to give it a go! Great to have read your perspective. It was very helpful!

      This will definitely be a different experience for you – but hopefully a relaxing one that you’ll enjoy!

    I feel like I need this right now! I’ve never thought about staying in a place like this before, but as a treat as part of a bigger, more roughing it, trip this would be perfect.

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