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Arizona spa provides authentic Native American experience

PHOENIX – In the middle of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert vacationers can find a haven representative of the Native American culture found throughout the Phoenix area. The Aji Spa, just 11 miles from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, is said to be one of the most authentic Native American spas in the country, offering a wide range of treatments true to the culture of local Natives, in a setting heavily influenced by the tranquil lifestyle of the area’s earliest settlers.

Aji Spa is part of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, a seven-year-old golf and vacation destination that has earned praise for its beauty and Native authenticity. It is owned by the Gila River Indian Community and is located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, the home of the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Components of those cultures are found in virtually every area of the property.

While travelers find a calming refuge at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, their experience is heightened when they take advantage of the beauty of the Aji Spa.

“Aji, meaning ‘sanctuary’ in the Pima language, is Arizona’s only Native American spa and one of only seven spas in the state to earn the Mobil Four-Star Award,” said Stephanie Heckathorne, director of public relations at the resort. “The Gila River Indian Community invites you to embody the simplicity, serenity and lifestyle of the Pima and Maricopa Indians.”


The term “Aji” also refers to a safe haven in the Gila River Valley Mountains that Pima people would take refuge at during times of strife.

The Pima and Maricopa influence is discovered by Aji Spa’s clientele immediately upon arrival. The architecture, décor and intended ambiance were all designed with the Pima and Maricopa cultures in mind. Creators and architects wanted Aji Spa to be as authentically Native American as possible.

“A rich tableau of images and designs, based on traditional motifs, reflects the beauty and mystery of the desert and its people,” spa directors promise. “The circular patterns visible throughout depict the cycles of life and the connection of all living things to each other and to the land. Intricate tile mosaics on the floor under each of the four domes tell stories about the traditional ways of life such as, creation, the four directions, twin boys and the clouds, masked dancer, butterfly and corn and tobacco. … stories that entertain, educate and inspire.”

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The 17,500-square-foot spa prides itself on its facilities as well as services. Guests have the option to pay a spa fee and use the facilities for the day without treating themselves to any services. The spa features various water facilities such as a spa pool and Watsu pool, along with steam rooms and saunas.

Those clients who wish to indulge in the spa menu will experience services created directly from the ancient traditions of the Pima and Maricopa.

“Aji offers the only truly authentic Native American spa menu in existence,” Heckathorne said. “The Indigenous Collection features treatments and activities designed and practiced by Aji’s Pima and Maricopa Cultural Care Takers. Each cultural offering is subjected to an extensive approval process by tribal elders to ensure authenticity and respect of sacred doctrines.”

The spa treatments offered at Aji Spa are as basic as manicures and as original as an Aji Rain facial. Pedicures, massages, body wraps, and exfoliations add to the extensive menu. Each treatment is customized to incorporate values and traditions of the Pima and Maricopa.

The Ongam Hobin sacred salt wrap, for instance, uses indigenous oils and a range of techniques to help seal in positive energy while extracting negative energy.

Two features of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort are also elements found in the Aji Spa. The Pima and Maricopa’s reliance on the life of water has been incorporated into the design and features of the entire resort. A replica of the Gila River runs through the property and water is a dominant theme of the area. The spa has a number of water-based treatments to match that water design.

Secondly, the resort is dedicated to acknowledging the beauty and significance of Arizona’s wild horses which roam nearby. An on-site equestrian facility gives guests the opportunity to ride horses on the same paths and grounds as wild horses. At the Aji Spa, the love of horses is incorporated into many of the services. The Mustangs and Massage package takes guests to the equestrian center for a morning horseback ride on grounds Pima and Maricopa people have ridden horses on for years. Then, the guest returns to Aji Spa for a relaxing massage.

Prices of services and packages at Aji Spa range from $30 to $600.

“Aji Spa will inspire you with clarity and a renewed perspective as you seek sanctuary from your world of daily stress and cares.” Heckathorne said.