As the author of Destination Wellness, a travel memoir about my search for genuine well-being philosophies around the world, I am *quite* particular when it comes to wellness retreats. After all, I spent years traveling the globe to research my book, and ultimately concluded that true wellness—ya know, the kind that sustains you for life—is not necessarily about all the fancy lotions and potions people tend to associate with destination spas. It’s more of an inside job.
And that’s why I said yes in about point two milliseconds when I got invited to stay at JOALI BEING, a new wellness retreat on Bodufushi island in the Maldives. Yes, it was in the Maldives, so obviously SIGN ME UP, but also, their holistic and spiritual approach to wellness seemed to align with my own. I had a feeling I'd be super into their overall promise that guests will feel the mental joy of ~weightlessness~ while they're there...and my feeling was right. I came back from Joali Being feeling more free, grounded, and balanced than I had since the Before Times. After all, it's not often that you get to go to a place that is not only literal paradise, but also an insanely gorgeous place for your mind, body, and soul. And so, without further ado, here’s how to do your trip right.
(FYI, the writer received comped travel, accommodations, meals, and experiences in order to write this review.)
- At the risk of sounding like I just popped a bunch of edibles, Joali Being is much more than a hotel—it's an experience. As the second of two properties created by Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat (the first, Joali Maldives, opened in 2018), the 68-villa property, which opened in November 2021, is built around the idea that you go to ~let go~ of whatever's holding you down, so you can return home feeling a lil bit lighter (esp mentally). This concept is evident the minute your seaplane lands at the ethereal arrival jetty, known as The Gate of Zero, which is shaped like the flowing skirt of a whirling dervish (take a peek at what that looks like in a sec) and represents letting go of the ego by feeling rather than thinking.
- And that's just the beginning...the ~weightlessness~ ethos is truly everywhere! All of the edges of the villas and other buildings are rounded instead of straight, for example, so as not to disrupt your flow. The wellness programming, centered around four pillars of well-being (mind, energy, microbiome, and skin), is also designed to help you lift up your spirits by releasing whatever's been weighing you down.
- Perhaps most importantly, though, the healing power of nature is at the center of everything Joali Being does. The property is already immersed in one of the most beautiful settings in the world (remember: MALDIVES), but the entire retreat was also built with the concept of blending architecture with nature in order to achieve harmony. So because of that, the developers and architects did not touch the island's wild forest, and instead built around it. They also infused the property's design with the spirit of its surroundings (the villas, for example, are meant to be an extension of the Indian Ocean, with turquoise colors and wave decor).
- Get a transformational treatment (or ten) at Areka: Areka's the main "transformational space" for treatments at Joali Being. Every guest starts with a consultation here from one of the property's many well-being consultants, i.e. a team of nutritionists, Ayurvedic practitioners, naturopaths, and more who come from all over the world. Then, based on your consultation, your specialist will recommend a slew of treatments, with everything from craniosacral therapy (my fave) to reflexology to life coaching. My personal practitioner put together a plan that was heavily focused on getting me out of my own head, as he quickly recognized that I have a tendency to overthink (which will come as a shock to approximately zero people who know me). All jokes aside, I loved how the treatments were all focused more on my mind-body connection than they were on just my physical health...which, of course, is what deeper wellness is actually all about.
- Do some water healing at Kaashi: This is the space for all water-based treatments, from hydrotherapy to healing salt rooms to a Russian Banya (steam room) to Watsu, a form of Japanese Shiatsu massage that takes place in water. My favorite here was the Turkish hammam, aka a type of steam bath that involves lots of scrubbing and exfoliation. Not only does it leave your skin feeling super soft, but studies have shown it may also relax your muscles and relieve tension.
- Learn about herbal therapy at the Aktar herbology centre: Run by a resident herbalist, the Aktar center is focused on teaching guests the value of plant-based healing. I got super into herbal therapy when I was in high school, so this space brought back all of the memories, and inspired me to get back into the practice in a deeper way. At any point during your stay, you can go in for some healing herbal tea, personalized for your well-being needs, or sign up for an herbology lesson, where you learn about the healing power of various herbs around the world—and can even make your own natural remedy using herbs, spices, and essential oils. Bonus: All of the oils used in the various treatments at Joali Being are made right at Aktar!
- Meditate or practice yoga at the Ocean Sala: Joali Being has multiple "overwater mind facilities," together known as the Ocean Sala, aka the most soothing spots ever to completely ease into the present moment. My favorites were the overwater meditation deck (check that out below), and the breezy overwater yoga pavilion. *Best* view during downward dog!
- Breakfast and dinner at Flow: Joali Being has one restaurant open per meal, which makes it very easy to choose. For breakfast and dinner, it's Flow, the open-plan dining space with delicious food and a breezy, airy vibe. The menu includes a range of dietary preferences, from vegetarian and vegan and pescatarian options to the signature B'Well Joali Being menu, which is all about "Earth-to-Table" cuisine. My favorite meal was breakfast, specifically all of the tropical fruit and the egg akuri, an Indian scrambled egg dish (since the Maldives is so close to India, the food has lots of Indian influence).
- Sip on mocktails: One note about booze is that Joali Being is mostly alcohol-free, except for wine, but their mocktails are ON POINT. Plus, I was so content after days spent swimming and working on my *mental fitness* that I didn't even crave alcohol at night anyway. It's definitely a #highonlife vibe at the resort. Sometimes I was so elated, I wondered if they were secretly slipping euphorics in the drinks! (Lol, they were not.)
- Lunch at Mojo: This is the beachside, poolside restaurant of your dreams. I loved spending the morning swimming or hitting the beach or getting a treatment, and then rolling into lunch at Mojo all blissed out and ready to eat. The food here is healthy yet surprisingly filling, especially the wraps—I particularly loved the shrimp cilantro wrap. And don't sleep on the fresh juices: They have tons of them, and they are all delish!
Annie Daly is a fourth-generation freelance journalist based in New York City. A former editor at SELF, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed Travel, Yahoo! Travel and Good Housekeeping, she has also written about wellness and travel for AFAR, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, Women's Health, and more. Destination Wellness is her first book.