A hammock camp, Angel Falls, Venezuela (photo by Simone Cannon)
The Hyatt, The Marriott, The Four Seasons...snooze. All fine hotels, but after enough trips, they all start to look and feel the same. In the new millennium, travelers want variety: something new, exciting and, in the best of circumstances, something eco-friendly. It's not necessary to go right to the more rustic options of hammocks or refugios. Enter alternative lodging: if you can imagine a concept, it exists. From underwater hotels, to hotels made entirely of salt or ice, to treehouses to capsule hotels. In almost every country in the world, there are creative, non-corporate places to drop your backpack. Here are some outstanding examples:
1) The Hotel Playa Blanca, Uyuni, Bolivia
If you truly want to feel like you are alone on the planet, stay at the Hotel Playa Blanca in Bolivia. This hotel, made almost entirely of salt, is situated in the middle of the vast salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia. It's name, meaning White Beach, does not refer to white sand or snow, but rather the seemingly endless 4,000 square mile salt desert in which it is situated. Everything in the structure of the hotel is made of salt: the walls, floors, roof, beds, chairs and tables. Even the mortar that holds the walls together is a mixture of water and salt. There are no roads to the hotel and no stores or other amenities nearby, just white plains as far as the eye can see. The only way to arrive at and leave the hotel is by 4x4, so make sure that you have everything you need before you arrive.
The Salt Hotel, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (photo by Luis Bastardo)
2) Jules' Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida, USA
This is the oldest of the underwater hotels and the most traditional. Jules' Undersea Lodge, located in Key Largo, in the U.S. Florida Keys, and named after Jules Verne, the hotel was first opened to the public in 1986. No worries if you are not a certified diver, the hotel offers a 3-hour accelerated scuba course. This is necessary, as the entrance to the hotel is underwater at a depth of seven meters (approx. 21 feet) and guests must dive through a lagoon filled with mangroves to arrive at their room. You won't have to live like a fish, though, as the rooms are cozy and comfortable and offer 42 inch portal windows for viewing sea life, TVs/DVDs, air conditioning, a fully-stocked kitchen and hot water. Originally La Chalupa oceanic research laboratory, the hotel now serves as lodging for sealife as well as humans, as an artificial reef. According to Ian Koblick, owner and co-developer of the lodge, “Marine life is actually enhanced by the presence of an underwater structure...providing shelter and substrate for marine animals. And the flow of air to the Lodge constantly adds oxygen to the entire surrounding body of water, creating a symbiotic relationship between the technology of man and the beauty of nature.”
A guest watches a "merchef" deliver room service, Jules' Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida (photo courtesy of http://www.forbes.com/)
3) Kokopelli's Cave Bed and Breakfast, Farmington, New Mexico, USA
The main room of Kokopelli's Cave, Farmington, New Mexico (photo courtesy of http://www.bbonline.com/)
4) Tranquil Resort Treehouse, Wayanad, Kerala, India
The Tranquil Resort Treehouse is located in the middle of a 400 acre active coffee and spice plantation, which dates from the 1800's and is still operating today, growing coffee, pepper, cardamom and areca nut. Situated deep in the rainforest of Wayanad, India, the hotel is small, boasting just eight rooms and two treehouses. While more luxurious than typical treehouses, this option offers a unique experience to, literally, come nose-to nose with rainforest wildlife: bonnet monkeys, multi-colored bee-eaters, owls and butterflies are within reach of the treehouse verandas. Within a half hour's drive, the Muthanga Game Sanctuary provides a home to elephants, leopards, bison, bear, peacocks and tigers. The treehouses have king-size beds, full baths, verandas, and the trunk of a flowering full-grown Royal Poinciana tree growing right through the floor of the bedroom. The rooms are reached by stairs, a rope bridge and a water lift.
Tranquil Resort Treehouse, Wayanad, Kerala, India (photo courtesy of http://www.palmlandtours.net/)