Tucson — A desert retreat and the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S.  

According to many ancient traditions, the desert is a spiritual, purifying place. In the words of Edward Abbey, environmentalist and author of “Desert Solitaire,” “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”

The second largest city in Arizona, Tucson occupies a unique location in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.

What Are the Main Points of Distinction?
Surrounded by five mountain ranges, lush desert landscapes and the Saguaro National Park, Tucson is ideal for outdoor activities. Desert visitors can embark on a one-of-a-kind adventure hike, horseback riding and cycling year-round. With thousands of years of agricultural history, a commitment to sustaining heritage crops, and some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the state, Tucson was named in 2015 by UNESCO as the first City of Gastronomy in the United States. The city’s culinary heritage is a tapestry of Mexican and Native American traditions, and there are numerous restaurants focused on the traditions. “Eating local means honoring history,” says Mary Rittmann, v.p. of communications & tourism at Visit Tucson.

Courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism

Another point of distinction lies with the more than 350 species of birds sighted in Tucson and Southern Arizona and at birding events every August. The destination is an ideal place to take up this mindful and, for some, even therapeutic pastime, or to check the sighting of a flying friend off your list.

One unique place to bird watch is Mount Lemmon. Located in the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson, Mount Lemmon, at 9,157 ft and the tallest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains, offers the great views and biodiversity of what naturalists call a “sky island.” The drive up means you find wildly different species of birds at the base (ladder-backed woodpecker, hooded and Scott’s oriole, for instance) than you see nearer the top (mountain chickadee and Grace’s warbler).

What Does Tucson Offer for the Wellness-minded Traveler?
When it comes to wellness resorts, Tucson is home to two very recognizable brands: Canyon Ranch and Miraval.

Since its founding in 1979, Canyon Ranch has been a trailblazer and an industry-leading proponent of the integrative wellness lifestyle, operating a celebrated collection of immersive destinations where guests become inspired to live a well way of life. At Canyon Ranch Tucson, the original pioneering wellness resort, your clients can immerse themselves in programs geared to their specific intentions. Guests can choose from expertly designed and intentional-driven programs to help them achieve their individual wellness goals, or embark on the journey at their own pace with an all-inclusive package with resort credit that can be used toward spa services, outdoor activities and other wellness offerings.

The other high-profile wellness resort in Tucson is Miraval Arizona, located on 400 acres of pristine desert at the base of the majestic Catalina Mountains.

From exercise physiology, integrative wellness and outdoor adventures to sound bathing, chakra balancing and meditation, the resort offers countless lifestyle enriching experiences. A full menu of daily workshops, classes, lectures and activities, many of which are included in the room rate, can also be customized for private or group experiences. Each guest’s stay can be customized based on their individual intentions.

A wide variety of healthful dining options is another of Tucson’s wellness offerings. With a large student population and outdoors orientation, Tucson naturally caters to both the health conscious and the taste conscious. Restaurants around town feature menus focused on healthy, fresh and local foods. If your client favors vegetarian or vegan options, they will find restaurants that can easily accommodate their preferences. A longstanding casual favorite, Lovin’ Spoonful’s offers exclusively vegan dishes, from breakfast tofu scrambles to dinners of cashew loaf and garlic mashed potatoes. Another favorite, Charro Vida embraces a culture of preparing food that speaks of their commitment to longevity, sustainability and most importantly, the enjoyment born from sharing a delicious meal.

Courtesy of Visit Tucson

For fitness and sports enthusiasts, Tucson averages 320 days of sunshine a year allowing for several competitive endurance events throughout the year. In November there’s El Tour de Tucson, Arizona’s largest perimeter cycling event and a fun adventure ride attracting up to 9,000 cyclists in categories from novice to advanced and professional riders. There’s also the Might Mujer Triathlon, an all-female race that challenge and inspires both new and experienced triathletes.

For golfers the collection of golf options ranges from stately Omni Tucson National Resort, host of the PGA Tour Champions Cologuard Classic each March, to the “new kid of the block” Sewailo Golf Club, where course designer Notay Begay blended native landscape with foliage, lakes and meandering steams.

Overall, How Has Visit Tucson Successfully Managed the Spread and What New Policies and Procedures (if any) Have Been Implemented Since COVID-19?
The City of Tucson has updated its mask wearing recommendations and requirements, in July 2021, to require all members of the public, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a mask in City of Tucson facilities. This action is specific to city facilities and does not apply to private businesses or establishments. Private businesses and establishments continue to have the ability to require mask wearing inside of their premises, or not, if they choose to.

Has Tucson Adopted New Tourism Philosophies or Developed a New Strategy for a Post-pandemic World?
During the height of the pandemic, The Pima County Health Department launched the Ready for You program meant to let the public know when businesses have met the department’s operating requirements. The program applied to businesses including hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions and pools. When these businesses met the health and safety measures and also pledged to adhere to these guidelines a “Ready for You” emblem was posted on the front door or window of the facility to let visitors know they were following all Pima County protocols to welcome in guests in safely.

What is Visit Tucson’s Position on Responsible, Sustainable and Regenerative Tourism?
Tucson lives and supports sustainable values through things such as its numerous farmers’ markets, hundreds of miles of bike paths and trails in and around the city, and helping to launch programs such as The Santa Cruz River Heritage Project. For much of the past century, the Santa Cruz River flowed through Tucson only when rainstorms sent muddy runoff coursing down the riverbed. Most of the time, the Santa Cruz sat parched in its channel. This project is an example of how Tucson Water continues to ensure reliable water resources for the community. 2.8 million gallons of recycled water daily is being sent down the Santa Cruz River fostering abundant native vegetation and wildlife along with new recreational and economic opportunities.

The Loop is a 131-mile car-free network of multi-use trails and paved paths that spans the metro Tucson area, allowing cyclists, pedestrians, joggers and equestrians an opportunity to exercise, commute and enjoy the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

One can shop year-round for sustainably grown and locally sourced seasonal food at farmers’ markets in metro Tucson and at small farms and stands in southern Arizona. Both are great places to find Sonoran Desert delicacies such as traditional heirloom crops (tepary beans, for instance), edible native plants (prickly pear fruit is an example) and regional artisan products (bread made with mesquite flour) in addition to familiar provisions including garlic, herbs, tomatoes, eggs, honey and more.

What Type of Visitors Does Tucson Attract? And Why Recommend this Destination to Your Clients?
People from all walks of life visit Tucson, to experience the desert landscape and small city vibes. International visitors dust off their boots and enjoy the ranch life at some of the destination’s award-winning dude ranches. Couples of all age ranges relax and unwind at top resorts, while families can choose activities that allow for children to educate themselves on the desert and vast plant life that grows at one-of-a-kind attractions such as Tucson Botanical Gardens and Sabino Canyon Crawler.

Rittmann says, “Right now, everyone is looking to break free from the stress and anxiety of our “new normal” but getting away from it all can sometimes feel like just another task on a never-ending to-do list. Luckily, Tucson and Southern Arizona offer a simple solution for those much-needed escapes. It’s easy to get here, plus we believe that peace and serenity shouldn’t be for the few, but for the many.”

She adds that, “heritage and culture shouldn’t just be read about, but lived every day. Stunning National Parks, forests and trails shouldn’t have lines longer than an amusement park and the best meal of your life shouldn’t always come with silverware.”

What is the Best Time to Travel to Tucson?
Tucson is a year-round destination. Even during their hot summer months, visitors enjoy taking advantage of the surrounding nature. Some locals and visitors alike will travel up to Mt. Lemmon to beat the heat and explore the many hiking trails.

For more information, visit visittucson.org.

Recommend magazine has partnered with the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) to bring you monthly columns to help travel advisors sell wellness travel. For more information on the WTA, visit wellnesstourismassociation.org.