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Soak Up the Ryokan Vibes at Ten Thousand Waves

Soak Up the Ryokan Vibes at Ten Thousand Waves

It’s a bit embarrassing to wake up and find yourself drooling like a baby, especially when there’s someone else to witness this cringe-worthy moment. I laughed self-consciously, hoping to deflect the situation humorously. Thankfully, my massage therapist kindly helped me save face by explaining that this was a clear sign I had reached total relaxation during my deep stone treatment. I told her she was a wizard with hot rocks.

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It was the prospect of a deep stone massage that drew me to Ten Thousand Waves. That and soaking in one of the tubs at this unique spa-centric sanctuary in Santa Fe. Nestled in a secluded mountainside forest, the place is a haven for those seeking relaxation and serenity. It’s a well-known getaway for locals and tourists alike, and the fact that it’s located on the road to the area’s ski basin and hiking hub gives it even greater appeal.

Ten Thousand Waves

Back in 1981, founder and owner Duke Klauck was motivated to open the place by his love of hot springs and his interest in the Japanese culture of bathing. This ritual is deeply integrated into Japanese society and the country has a long history of public bathing in both urban and rural settings. Going to an onsen is a cherished experience for Japanese people, who appreciate the curative nature of hot water and its ability to cleanse, both physically and spiritually.

Ten Thousand Waves

For a lot less than the cost of airfare to Tokyo, a visit to Ten Thousand Waves will immerse you in all things Japan, from the Asian-inspired architecture and design to the traditional style onsen and food. To ensure authenticity, Klauck travels to Japan several times a year and returns with fresh concepts of integrating Japanese aesthetics into the spa. Having stayed in several ryokans (traditional Japanese guesthouses) during my travels to Japan, I can attest to this authenticity. A visit to the Waves will undoubtedly transport you to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Ten Thousand Waves

When Ten Thousand Waves opened initially, the primarily focus was on the outdoor bathing experiences. Modeled after the great hot spring resorts of Japan, all bathing environments have both hot tubs and saunas. There are two public areas – one for mixed bathing and another for women only. Additionally, there is a number of private facilities. All include outdoor hot tubs, cold plunges, saunas, lounging decks and other amenities. For the ultimate in bathing experiences, book one of the spa suites, which are completely self-contained with your own private changing room and shower.

Soaking in the hot water under one of New Mexico’s famed bluer than blue skies is pure delight, and in winter when it snows, it’s wondrous. Wild mountain vistas and towering trees create a dramatic backdrop, reminiscent of a scene from Hokkaido. And although there isn’t the fragrance of cherry blossoms in the air, you’ll find the scent of desert sage and piñons to be equally intoxicating. All the while, the musical sounds of trickling water from the artfully placed fountains and pools are omnipresent. At night, the place takes on a fairytale glow from the flickering lanterns.

Spa treatments at Ten Thousand Waves have evolved over the years with an enhanced focus on traditional Japanese methods, many which are taught to the therapists by Japanese masters. There are nearly twenty treatment rooms and about 130 therapists. The Waves’ has established a reputation for world-class bodywork, making it a magnet for top talent. Add this to the fact that Santa Fe is a mecca for healing practitioners of all modalities.

Massage is the most requested treatment at Ten Thousand Waves and the spa excels in its offerings, which range from therapeutic and signature Japanese shiatsu to deep stone and Thai. Foot and neck treatments, herbal wraps, salt glows and a variety of different facials are also on the menu. You can amp up the experience with a Four Hands massage (two therapists working on you in synchronized fashion) or a Nose to Toes, involving a blend of various treatments, including exfoliation, massage with Thai stretches, an extended Yasuragi head, neck and shoulder treatment and a Japanese foot massage and scrub.

My deep stone massage was trans-formative bliss. Throughout the session, the therapist addressed my areas of tension – and believe me there were plenty! She alternated the use of hot and cold stones, placing them in strategic spots on my body, and then massaging them into my muscle tissue. The release was profound, leaving me fully relaxed and uncoiled. Not quite a Gumby Doll, but darn close!

Ten Thousand Waves

After a few hours of indulgence, I made my way to izanami, the Waves’ upscale izakaya restaurant. Typical Japanese izakaya serve small plates, designed for sharing. At izanami, meat is sourced and produced from known and trusted purveyors, and the majority of the produce is local organic, including some that is grown right across the road. Fresh ingredients are the emphasis. And because of the distance to the ocean, there is no seafood on the menu, so you won’t find sushi here, contrary to what you might expect at a Japanese restaurant.


Dishes are listed under headings such as “cold,” “hot,” “fried,” “grilled” and “sweet,” with many items gluten-free and/or vegetarian/vegan. The idea is to order several plates, which will enable your palette to embark on a memorable, sensory journey. Sample the tsukemono seasonal pickles – all are made in house. I couldn’t get enough of the purple daikon radishes and lotus flowers. Try the gyoza and the sake braised shimeji & oyster mushrooms, or the corn fritters with fresh wasabi. The hatcho miso-glazed chicken drumettes are a favorite, as are the crispy Brussel sprouts. Carnivores will enjoy the umami burger and wagyu steak. There’s also a separate kushiyaki menu, where you can choose from different meat and vegetables skewers grilled over mesquite/Japanese bincho charcoal flame. Finish it off with homemade ice cream or the miso mousse cake.

For a unique dining experience (lunchtime only), opt for the shabu shabu, or Japanese hot pot. It’s a cook-it-yourself feast with assorted organic, seasonal veggies, tofu and noodles, with dipping sauces. Being a participant in the cooking process is fun. Even more enjoyable is getting to eat the results!


When it comes to libations, sake reigns supreme, with nearly fifty different types available. The perfect way to sample a wide range of flavors is to do a tasting flight. If you prefer other beverages, there are Japanese microbrews, local pours and wines from around the world. And, of course, there’s tea –Japanese harvested green, roasted buckwheat, toasted burdock root, rooibos, black ginger root and more.

Totally sated, you won’t have to go far to find your pillow if you choose to stay the night. In fact, you can just roll down the hill where fourteen lodging suites await. You can keep it simple with one of the Zen rooms or up the ante and go for an Emperor category suite. The latter is a deluxe multi-room set-up with designated living and dining areas. All lodging guests get exclusive access to the communal Grand Bath before the spa opens to the public. A continental breakfast is also included, along with Buddha chocolates on your pillow each night. And you’re guaranteed to sleep well on your Sachi Organics bed…not that you should have any trouble after such a “hectic” day at the spa!

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About The Author

Debbie Stone

Deborah Stone is a travel and lifestyle writer, who explores the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers. She works in collaboration with tourism boards, CVBs, public relations agencies, properties and lodging associations, as well as with tour companies and cruise lines in pursuit of her discoveries. She’s an avid adventurer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for travel.

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