Pack excitement and whimsy into your travels the moment you check in. At these 10 unique destinations, your hotel is the adventure. Sleep under the magical glow of the northern lights, cozy up in a traditional Kyrgyz village, or live out your childhood dreams in a rain forest tree house. —By Steve Larese
The Manta Resort would be a unique stay anyway, with its beach villas on a remote island surrounded by pristine waters. But book the Underwater Room and sleep below the surface as colorful reef fish glide past large windows surrounding your double bed. At night, spotlights under the windows can be turned on to attract fish and octopuses. The sea-level floor above has a simple living area and bathroom, and the rooftop patio is perfect for sunbathing or taking in the Milky Way at night. When not enjoying your room, get a spa treatment, go scuba diving, or explore the interior of this island teeming with wildlife and culture.
Marvel at the northern lights in one of 18 glass igloos that accommodate couples or families. Located six miles from the resort town of Levi, each igloo has a kitchenette stocked with breakfast sets, a full bath, and a double bed with adjustable headrests for optimal aurora viewing. Windows are insulated and heated to keep them from frosting, and curtains provide privacy. Enjoy the fireplace in the small, rustic lodge, and brave freezing temperatures to take in the stars from the outdoor hot tub. A new restaurant and reception building is scheduled to open in December 2016.
Named for a flute-playing figure carved into rocks centuries ago by Native Americans throughout the Southwest, Kokopelli’s Cave is a remote, multiroom bed-and-breakfast 300 feet above the La Plata River Valley. Guests descend stairs to the entrance 70 feet below the mesa top, where they find a 1,700-square-foot circular cavern that was blasted out of the rock by geologist Bruce Black, who originally thought the space would be his office. Instead, he turned it into a B&B complete with a Jacuzzi and waterfall shower, a full kitchen, living room with a fireplace, and bedroom and balcony with views of the vast desert landscape below. From here, guests can day-trip to Four Corners destinations such as Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde national parks or explore the Navajo Nation.
A haven for bibliophiles, Book and Bed Tokyo looks like a used bookstore until guests slide open a bookshelf and reveal a cozy nook with a simple bed, reading light, and electrical outlet. Unabashedly bare-bones and not for the claustrophobic, 30 stacked cubbies, each big enough for one person, are available behind the shelves filled with 3,000 titles in Japanese and English. Bathrooms are shared, and couches in the area outside of the bookshelves provide a communal reading and gathering area. It’s more hostel than hotel, and at 3,500 yen (U.S. $35) guests will have plenty of cash left over for new books and exploring Tokyo.
Dromen Aan Zee (Dreaming by the Sea) offers three unique stays that celebrate Harlingen’s seafaring culture. The Havenkraan has guests staying 56 feet above the ground in a harbor crane that, until 1996, was used to off-load ships. The machine and control rooms have been turned into a stylish apartment with panoramic views of the Wadden Sea. Bright colors, a full entertainment system, kitchen area, full bath, and rooftop patio feel more like a tony yacht than the industrial machinery known locally as “the spider.” The nearby Vuurtoren is a decommissioned lighthouse built in 1920 that now has three spiraling rooms at its top, complete with full amenities and 360-degree sea and city views from its 72-foot-high patio. For something closer to the ground—or water—the Reddingsboot is a lifeboat turned modern room that can be taken out for a two-hour cruise. The former Lilla Marras, which saved 45 lives over her career, now has a full bath with wooden double tub, kitchenette, double bed, and living area with an entertainment system. Enjoy meals topside and watch the daily routine of the harbor.
Costa Rica’s Hotel Costa Verde’s slogan is “Still More Monkeys Than People …,” but its other claim to fame is that guests can spend the night in an upcycled 1965 Boeing 727 that’s been turned into a two-bedroom luxury guesthouse. While the distinctive fuselage shape is intact, the interior is completely paneled with local teak. Windows offer jungle and ocean views throughout the plane, which rests on 50-foot-tall supports, and covered patios extend over the wings. The bedrooms have air-conditioning, and each has its own bathroom. Have dinner in the kitchenette, or enjoy local fare and drinks at El Avión, Hotel Costa Verde’s restaurant and pub housed in a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane that played a part in the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s.
Experience traditional Kyrgyz life in one of three large bozuis (Kyrgyz for “yurt”) in Happy Nomads Village. Surrounded by flower gardens in warm weather, each traditionally constructed bozui has heated floors and twin beds around a circular perimeter that can accommodate five people. The simple interiors have colorful rugs and wall designs, Wi-Fi, and electrical outlets. A large bathroom with multiple showers is shared, and a breakfast of homemade breads and jams is served in a communal yurt. During the day, horseback ride into the mountainous countryside with the owners who speak English, German, and Russian, or in the winter go skiing at Karakol Ski Area 20 minutes away.
You’ve perhaps heard of ice hotels, but Bolivia’s Palacio de Sal has taken the concept one step further by using salt from the famous Salar de Uyuni salt flats to create a luxury hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert. Nearly everything in the 48,500-square-foot hotel is made out of salt, including the building and furniture. Each of the 30 simple but stylish rooms with wooden flooring has a private tiled bath and is climate controlled. Bed platforms and armchairs in the common area are salt, but plush blankets and pillows make for a comfortable stay. The dining room’s windows frame a panoramic view of the salt flats, and meals include locally sourced llama and lamb and the house specialty, salt chicken. Beyond the uniqueness of this remote hotel, the draw for the area is the Zen-like expanse of the largest salt flats in the world and its star-filled sky at night.
The Santos Express is a 1920s passenger train permanently parked just a hundred feet from Santos Beach, and a 10-minute walk to the Dias Museum complex and Mossel Bay’s downtown and harbor. Four passenger cars have five berths with double beds, ocean views, and shared baths. A fifth car has 16 bunk beds for large groups and budget travelers, and the Honeymoon Caboose has its own bathroom and private porch facing the ocean. Two Royal Suite cars each have their own private baths and are perfect for families or couples who want a whole car to themselves. Santos Beach is one of South Africa’s premiere Blue Flag beaches, known for its swimming, whale-watching, boardwalk shopping, and activities such as scuba diving and surfing.
Sleep to the sounds of the Peruvian Amazon rain forest at the headwater of the Amazon. Guests can only reach Treehouse Lodge Resort via an hour-long boat ride from Iquitos, after which they’ll climb 34 to 67 feet to one of eight circular tree houses above the forest canopy. The thatch-roof structures average 18 feet in diameter, and a railing, curtains, and optional mosquito netting are the only things separating you from the rain forest. A bathroom with a cold-water shower is located below the main floor. Suspended walkways from each tree house lead to a central commons tree house, where included Peruvian-inspired gourmet meals are served. Squirrel monkeys, macaws, sloths, and other rain forest denizens frequent the 345-acre eco-resort. Guests have a personal guide, and daily excursions include river dolphin-watching and visiting indigenous villages.