The overnight clouds had disappeared, and the sun was only beginning to peek out over the 7000m and 8000m mountains towering over Namche Bazaar. Somewhere nearby, perhaps inside the teahouse or just outside on the cobbled streets, people were chanting in low and steady voices.
We dressed quickly and scrambled outside for a clear view of the majestic Himalayan mountain range in the Khumbu Region of Nepal. Namche Bazaar’s tiny narrow streets were only just waking up below the blue sky, but the smell of incense was already wafting through the air.
As we looked out across the view, and the chanting and perfumed smoke ricocheted around me, my own beliefs no longer mattered. Experiencing Buddhist traditions in such proximity brought me a little closer to the existential truths of which many are curious. There’s something about human devotion that compels us.
When Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love, little did she know what it would happen. Devastated by her divorce and feeling burnt out, Gilbert set out on a solo quest to rediscover aspects of herself. Gilbert reflected on her year-long spiritual journey in a memoir that became a bestseller and inspired millions of travellers to follow in her footsteps.
As we continue to chug along in our hyper-connected world, more people are succumbing to a performance-driven life, are struggling with high functioning anxiety and dealing with burnout from work. Vacations are a wonderful source of comfort. They can help you get away from things for a while and bring a new perspective, but what if you need more than an escape?
Maybe you need to feel inspired. Or perhaps you’re at a point in life where you need something more meaningful than a holiday. Spiritual journeys are perfect for those that want to travel for a higher cause.
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Best regions to go on a spiritual trip to find yourself
Whether you hope to find people who share in your beliefs or not, these spiritual travel destinations have something for anyone who happens to go looking for them.
The Himalayas, Nepal
There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other, and listening to the rhythm of your heart as you wind through fresh mountain air at soaring altitudes. For the scenery alone, the Himalayas are a special place on earth. While they may seem like a destination for ambitious hikers and professional mountaineers to carry out death-defying feats, they are also an incredibly sacred place as well.
The Sherpa people belong to an old Buddhist sect that has ancient traditions. As part of their faith, along with Buddha, the Sherpa people also worship many of the great Himalayan mountains as gods, believing that each peak has its own deity. Given their deep respect for each mountain and their Buddhist beliefs, the Himalayas are ideal for a spiritual journey.
You’ll wake up to the sound prayers being chanted in the morning, walk along trails dotted with Buddhist monasteries, see thousands of colourful prayer flags at every turn, and explore landscapes that will stir your soul.
Travel on: Everest Yoga Trek
Venture deep into the pastel-red rock of Lalibela, and you’ll find the ancient carved churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Several times a day, every day, the faithful gather to take part in rituals that — like these 900-year-old churches — has survived the ages.
Cut from volcanic rock, these interconnected places of worship are like no place you’ve been before. Along with exploring an architectural site, you’ll be mystified by how the passageways and walls of these churches seem to come alive with the prayers of pilgrims that have travelled for days and weeks. Their melodic chant will give you a chance to bear witness to a world of devotion and a glimpse into whatever lies beyond it.
The Sacred Valley, Peru
Thanks to the Inca there’s no shortage of transformative experiences and wonders in Peru, but the Sacred Valley is a sanctuary for those looking for a journey with spiritual reflection. This region of Peru has a strong mystical influence, and when you require a little indulgence, plenty of the artisan markets, cafes and restaurants.
If you seek peace and serenity out in nature, there are thousands of kilometres worth of trails to explore. Along with breathtaking scenery, these ancient paths also have many sacred sites built by the Inca as a tribute to their sun god, Inti.
Famous cities like Cusco are perfect for a close encounter with Andean culture and visiting temples like Coricancha and hallowed destinations like Sacsayhuamán. However, travellers can also experience healing traditions from the Amazon in Cusco too. Shamans offer ayahuasca ceremonies — a tea ceremony held a night, and in Pisac — a hilltop village in the Sacred Valley — you can experience community events like kirtan circles and group meditation.
Quintana Roo, Mexico
This region may not seem like the most obvious choice for a trip to find yourself, given that it’s home to spots like Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum. Yet, travel inland away from the overrun tourist beaches and resorts, you’ll find that along with a scattering of sacred Mayan sites, Quintana Roo also has spiritual, cultural experiences.
For sites that will make you marvel, you can visit Chichen Itza, which is one of the largest ancient Mayan cities. Or for something a little off-the-beaten-path, visit Coba. Although touched upon in Mayan legends, not much is known about this remote jungle village, this gives it an air of mystique.
Coba’s sites forge a temple complex connected by 16 ceremonial roads, whose actual purpose is still unknown. Many visitors come here to climb the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula, Nohoch Mul.
Beyond these ancient Mayan wonders, you should experience a Temazcal session, a native steam bath ceremony. You’ll sit in a stone igloo sweating it out amid the perfume of burning herbs and plants while setting intentions and chanting. As the Temazcal session works on your circulation and skin, it also gives participants a chance to align their minds, bodies and souls.
If you want to take part in another spiritual experience, observe the Sacred Mayan Journey — an ancient pilgrimage where people depart from Xcaret to pay tribute to the Ixchel goddess on the island of Cozumel. This true old-world tradition is harnessed every spring as travellers and locals come together to paddle canoes across to Cozumel before sunrise.
Located in India’s foothills beside the Ganges River lies Rishikesh, a city considered the yoga capital of the world. Bursting with centres for meditation, temples and ashrams, it won’t come as a surprise that thousands of travellers make their way here to seek spirituality and enlightenment.
Each night on the banks of the Ganges, pilgrims and visitors alike gather for the daily ganga aarti — a ceremony which pays homage to this sacred river. Despite being a packed affair, as the sun descends and the music begins, the atmosphere of this holy ritual still manages to evoke a profound feeling. It’s one of the most spiritual places on earth.
Can travel really help?
While I love the open state of mind I experience while travelling, it’s important to remember that travel isn’t a magic wand. I sometimes think we put too much pressure on the notion of travel to bring us closer to our purpose on earth.
I do believe worldly adventures can give us insight into our capabilities and potential — in that way — we can use travel to enrich life instead of leaning on it as a crutch. I’ve often turned to travel when in need of inspiration, but not as a cure-all. As long as you remember that, travel can and will help.
Tips for getting the most out of your spiritual trip
While you could apply these tips to most vacations, if you are setting out to travel for spiritual growth, keep a few things in mind.
- If you’re looking for some ideas or nervous about embarking on this kind of journey, look into spiritual travel retreats or spiritual tour packages.
- Be respectful of your surroundings and obey the rules.
- Manage your expectations. Travel is a fantastic catalyst for change, but the results aren’t always immediate.
- Be gentle with yourself. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, especially if you are at a difficult point in your life.
- Be prepared for some emotions. Keeping a journal may help to process your feelings or try talking to a loved one.
- Your journey may take you on some unexpected turns, stay open to them if it feels right.
- Keep the adventure alive when you get back home! Find ways to pursue the things that felt most meaningful to you in your day-to-day.
Although words like faith hold different meanings for everyone, sacred spaces have a way of making us reflect on the ins and outs of life. They stay with you long after leaving, and no matter your faith, are a place where individuals can celebrate their personal pursuit of truth.
For some that journey lies in reaching the top of a mountain, for others, it’s found in the echoes of a church choir, by following in the footsteps of pilgrims and prophets, or in the arms of Mother Nature.