Top 10 Adventure Lodges Around the World
By Jen Rose Smith, National Geographic News, 5 May 2017.
By Jen Rose Smith, National Geographic News, 5 May 2017.
Think you’re ready for check-in? If you’re headed to one of these lodges - built for adventurous travelers ready to hike farther, dive deeper, and climb higher - you might need to add scuba gear or hiking boots to your packing list before heading to the front desk.
From an ice fjord high above the Arctic Circle to luxurious bungalows in Costa Rica’s tropical wilderness, guests have front-row seats to see some of the world’s most remarkable places.
And the view is not the only draw. After a dramatic arrival by bush plane, zip line, or snow bike, visitors can spend their days panning for gold, riding with Tibetan horsemen, or monitoring the seafloor from an undersea lab. These extreme lodges range from ultra-luxe to utilitarian, but they have one thing in common - they’re perfect base camps for adventures of a lifetime.
1. Hotel Arctic (Greenland)
Photograph courtesy Hotel Arctic
Perched at the edge of the UNESCO-protected Ilulissat Icefjord, this four-star hotel is a cozy jumping-off point for expeditions in the extreme north. Guests in Hotel Arctic’s reflective, modern igloos can listen to the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier creak and groan as it flows towards the sea, slowly filling the fjord with islands of towering ice and snow.
The Northern Lights flash through the long Arctic winter, and for three months of the year, the midnight sun bathes the landscape in a 24-hour glow. Bundle up to spot whales swimming in the nearby fjord, or practice your mushing skills on dog-sledding trips across the ice. Hotel Arctic is also the perfect place to immerse yourself in Greenland’s Inuit culture by joining drum circles, practicing Inuit singing, or learning traditional dances.
2. Palacio de Sal (Bolivia)
Photograph courtesy Palacio de Sal
The Salar de Uyuni stretches 4,086 square miles across southwestern Bolivia, a stark landscape of crystallized salt broken by islands of tree-sized cacti and fossilized algae. At an elevation of 11,995 feet, it’s one of the world’s most extreme environments, and the light reflecting off the pale surface can be seen from space.
So it’s only fitting that this hotel overlooking the Salar de Uyuni is built from solid blocks of salt. More than a million salt bricks were quarried from the surrounding salt flats, then shaped into walls, ceilings, furniture, and great, salty sculptures.
Guests at the hotel can spend their days exploring the sprawling salt flats in off-road vehicles, cycling across the perfectly flat expanse, and visiting the ghostly train cemetery, where abandoned cars rust in the Bolivian sunshine. What can’t you do at the Palacio de Sal? It’s against the hotel rules to lick the water-soluble walls.
3. Pacuare Lodge (Costa Rica)
Photograph courtesy Pacuare Lodge
Watch for jaguars and sloths from your own private bungalow at Pacuare Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, set deep in Costa Rica’s pristine rainforest.
Guests can reach the lodge overland - bouncing over unpaved forest tracks in a four-wheel drive vehicle - or arrive on a white water raft, paddling the Class III and Class IV rapids of the Pacuare River to the hotel’s location.
Every part of the Pacuare Lodge was designed for minimal impact on the environment, including the work the lodge does with scientists studying the area’s jaguars and reintroduction of howler monkeys into the surrounding jungle. Spend your days at the lodge rappelling down waterfalls, hiking routes used by the indigenous Cabécar community, or shooting the rapids of the Pacuare River with a local white water guide.
4. Jules’ Undersea Lodge (United States)
You’ll need to learn to dive before checking into the Jules’ Undersea Lodge, because this Florida resort is only accessible while wearing full scuba equipment.
Converted from a former undersea marine lab, the lodge’s compact guest suites feature hot showers, a kitchen, and a collection of books and movies. Aspiring scientists can also join the ongoing scientific research at the site’s MarineLab, a submerged research station.
Viewing portals offer a fascinating window to the sea, but you’ll have everything you need inside the lodge. While rooms are stocked with basic kitchen supplies, there’s no need to cook dinner - a scuba-diver arrives at the lodge each evening carrying pizza in a waterproof delivery box.
5. Skylodge Adventure Suites (Peru)
Photograph courtesy Skylodge Adventure Suites
Don a climbing harness for the trip to this high mountain resort, where guests sleep in transparent pods attached to the edge of a high cliff above the Peruvian landscape.
The only way to the Skylodge Adventure Suites is a combination of zip lines and hiking trails, or by climbing a 1,312-foot via ferrata, a series of metal rungs and cables fixed directly to the rock.
Once you’ve arrived, though, your cliffside nest is perfect for relaxing with a glass of Peruvian wine and watching for Andean condors, native vultures whose wingspans reach 10 feet.
Each pod commands breathtaking (and vertigo-inducing) views of the Sacred Valley, a high-elevation Andean landscape of mountain peaks home to thriving indigenous communities, accessible archeological sites, and preserved colonial-era towns.
6. Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (Finland)
Photograph courtesy Hotel Kakslauttanen
Stretch out under views of the northern lights through the roof of your private glass igloo in the evening, then spend the day exploring the Finnish wilderness surrounding this remote hotel.
During the snowy winter months, guests can join local herders for reindeer safaris through the forest or take icebreaker cruises across the frozen Bay of Bothnia. In the summer, since the sun doesn’t fully set below the horizon between the end of April through August in the region, you’ll have all the time in the world to ride cross-country on a Finnish horse, gather mushrooms and wild berries in the forest, and hike the trails of Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Any time of year, guests can soothe sore muscles in the hotel’s traditional Finnish smoke saunas. To add an extra layer of authenticity, do as the locals do: pair time in the heat with a bracing plunge into nearby water. No matter if it’s frozen, staff will cut a hole through the thick ice.
7. Norden Camp (Tibet)
Photograph courtesy Norden Travel
Sleeping in the yak-hair tents of this locally owned and operated camp offers visitors a taste of traditional Tibetan life. In fact, the site is open to Tibetan nomads, who graze their herds on the fields surrounding this alpine camp in the winter.
Norden’s traditional kitchen serves hearty spreads of yak milk, hand-pulled noodles, and flatbread hot from mud brick ovens, using organic ingredients from the surrounding farms and pastures.
Spend your time at Norden Camp exploring nature or culture: ride a Tibetan horse across the open valleys, spend a day with a local nomadic family, or watch for the endemic birds of the Tibetan Plateau on an all-day birding excursion. Just don’t leave Norden Camp without a trip to the nearby Labrang Monastery, where monks study the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
8. Denali Backcountry Lodge (United States)
Photograph courtesy Alaska Collection
Set far into the backcountry of Denali National Park, this lodge is accessible by a long, dirt road through the forest - but for maximum drama, it’s worth arriving in a lightweight Alaskan bush plane.
Once there, Denali Backcountry Lodge is a jumping-off point for exploring the wilderness. Borrow one of the lodge’s mountain bikes to ride the network of trails that thread through the hills, try panning for gold in Moose Creek, or a join a naturalist on an educational hike through the Alaskan wilderness.
Whatever you do, keep an eye out for wildlife in the surrounding alpine tundra and boreal forest, which is home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of long-horned Dall sheep.
9. Whitepod (Switzerland)
Photograph courtesy Hotel Whitepod
Whitepod’s geodesic domes blend in with the alpine landscape of the Dents du Midi, a mountain in Switzerland's Chablais Alps. After reaching the site by car or public transportation, guests can head to the energy efficient pods on foot or by snowshoe.
The mountain resort maintains its own ski slopes, and a pair of lifts provide access to miles of intermediate and expert trails. Guests can bring their own skis or borrow one of the lodge’s quirky snowscoots, snowboard-scooter hybrids that are a blast on the private hill.
Summer is just as adventurous, with paragliding tours that launch from a nearby peak, dog-kart expeditions along forest roads, and dog-scooter trips through the hills. During the latter, visitors climb on a two-wheeled kick scooter, linked to two trained sled dogs, and hit mountain paths at top speed with a local guide.
After a day on the slopes, guests can get cozy in their geodesic pods or head to the lodge for afternoon tea of warm drinks and Swiss pastries fresh from the hotel’s kitchen.
10. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (Tanzania)
Photograph courtesy &Beyond
Perched at the edge of a vast volcanic crater, this luxurious lodge commands perfect views of the Ngorogoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s home to a remarkable density of wildlife in Tanzania.
This is Big Five country, and daily game drives from the safari lodge search for the lions, leopards, and Cape buffalo that move through the long grass of the dry savanna. Every year the shallow lake that fills Ngorongoro Crater is covered in brilliant pink when thousands of flamingos alight during their migration through the Rift Valley.
Go beyond the doors of your safari vehicle and participate in a guided bird hike down the walls of Ngorongoro Crater, or spend the day with Hadzabe bushmen learning survival skills and traditional hunting techniques.
Top image: Storm clouds over the mountains of Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Credit: Video screenshot Dileep Devapal/YouTube.
[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Video and some images added.]