Sleeping is a huge part of the travel experience. And there’s no need to stick to mundane hotels when the world bursts with creativity and ingenuity.
Ice hotels, salt crystal igloos, treehouses, aquariums, yurts…the world’s weird and wonderful hotels not only offer a unique place to sleep; they complete the immersion in your surroundings.
This isn’t a list of exclusive hotels. You don’t need four credit cards to experience many of the following. Almost every traveler will have the budget to include some weird and wonderful places to sleep in their itinerary.
1. Salt Crystal Hotel in Bolivia
Everything here is made from salt.
Bolivia’s Uyuni Desert glimmers white, thousands of square miles of salt crystals, creating a mirage that hangs on the horizon. It’s an epic wonderland, one that features on Random Vacay’s look at world landscapes that will baffle your camera. Tucked into a lost corner of this desert, you’ll find igloos. Except they’re not made from ice. They’re expertly crafted from blocks of salt crystals, providing warmth in winter and coolness during long summer days. It’s not only unique, it completes a stunning immersion in the dazzling salt pans.
2. Meknes’s Boutique Guesthouses, Morocco
A $40 a night guesthouse in Meknes.
The boutique guesthouse is a buzzword in the travel industry. A load of shabby establishments acquire some gaudy furniture, double their prices, and use “boutique” to bring in the crowds. Meknes has been doing boutique accommodation since long before the word was part of the English language. Even the cheapest $20 rooms are art galleries, complete with 18th-century furniture, sculpted ceilings, and terraces overlooking Morocco’s famed artisan’s city.
3. The Ice Hotel, Kiruna, Sweden
Surprisingly warm and comfortable…
It sounds ridiculous, a hotel made out of ice. Of course, it’s cold. You can’t have ice without a freezing temperature. But the Kiruna Ice Hotel is surprising cozy. Each room is individually designed by a renowned sculptor. There’s multilevel ice tree houses, beds shaped like cars, and absolute individuality. During the day, the Ice Hotel is an art gallery. In the evening, you waddle through the ice corridors in a sleeping bag, then lie down on an ice bed covered in reindeer fur. Fortunately, the pillows are not ice. Then spring arrives and the whole thing melts. Only to be rebuilt with equal idiosyncrasy the following winter.
4. Champasak Royal Palace, Laos
Grab a $50 room in this former palace.
Everyone likes to pretend to be royalty. Especially the fraudulent guys who indulge American preconceptions that every Englishman is related to the Queen. Sleeping in royal palaces is usually reserved for the rich and famous, but Champasak Royal Palace rooms start at just $50. You get the pomp and grandeur of a palace that was still a royal residence just 20 years ago. And you don’t have to worry about the credit card bill.
5. The Golden Temple, India
The free dorms of the Golden Temple.
This one isn’t actually a hotel but bare with us…The Golden Temple is the number one pilgrimage site in Sikhism. Dozens of rooms are reserved for visiting pilgrims and non-Sikhs are invited to join the party. Spirituality exudes throughout, and a huge army of volunteers provide nonstop free meals for all pilgrims. The free and welcoming atmosphere makes it a wonderful place to sleep. You just need to leave a donation if you’ve enjoyed the experience.
6. The Cube Hostel in Rotterdam
As if this makes sense if you’ve got Ikea furniture.
European city hostels are generally cramped and insipid, nothing memorable apart from the drunken couple shagging on the dorm above your head. Rotterdam’s cube hostel is literally a cube that will wall that slope at 45º. So the floor is angled, and the impractical space is terrible for fitting in semi-disposable Swedish furniture. But who cares. While most European hostels are as practical as possible, the Rotterdam Cube Hostel emphasizes weird and wonderful design.
7. Surrounded by Lions in the Kalahari
Light a fire to keep him away at night…
An African safari isn’t just about driving around in a truck and ticking off the big five. In many national parks, you can erect camp in the heart of a lion country. The Kalahari is probably the cheapest place to do this as it’s the only park where you won’t need an expensive tour company to lead the way. Just drive to the designated spot (saying hello to all the lion prides on route) and then listen to the roars as you drop off to sleep. Remember to keep a fire lit to prevent the big cats from getting too close to your camp.
8. A Mongolian Ger
A traditional Mongolian ger.
Nomadic Mongolians live in yurts, circular felt huts that can be packed away far quicker than a pop-up tent. Take a journey across Mongolia, and there are virtually no roads, towns, houses, or buildings. It’s just vast green landscapes punctuated by these family yurts. Local custom dictates that doors are always left open, and all passing visitors are given a space to sleep and a hot meal for the night. So when you travel to Mongolia, there’s no escape from the feeling of exploring a culture that time has forgotten.
A fine place for a good night’s sleep.
Couchsurfing has gone a long way to revolutionizing backpacker travel. It’s not merely crashing on someone’s floor for free. Your host is also a local guide and new friend, meaning you can ditch the guidebook and see an alternative side to a destination. It’s weird and wonderful because you’re never quite sure where you’ll sleep; Grandma’s old bedroom, behind the TV, tucked under the kitchen table, drunk beside the toilet…
10. Hydropolis Underwater Hotel, Dubai
What the underwater hotel is likely to look like.
Everyone’s seen aquariums. You walk around, gaze at a few marine delights swimming around, and then you leave. Not at the Hydropolis Underwater Hotel in Dubai. The capsule rooms are in an aquarium, so you’re led in bed, gazing up at a tropical world of sharks, rays, and whatever else wants to swim past. Then you sleep, dream soundly, and forget where you are. Open your eyes, and a white tip shark is staring straight at you. Sounds brilliant. The only problem is that it’s not finished yet. So this one will have to stay on the bucket list for now…
11. Floating Islands in Titicaca Lake, Bolivia
Wait…this isn’t the view we had last night…
Imagine waking up and not recognizing where you are. Wait, that probably happens quite a lot…But with the floating islands of Titicaca, this feeling is not brought on by alcohol or debauchery. As the name suggests, the islands are slowly moving across the lake so that the morning view may differ from the night before. Sleeping in these remote villages offers an immersion in local life, so don’t expect anything luxurious. Come here for dazzling views, eating with the locals, and wondering just how you get back to shore.
12. Japanese Capsule Hotel
Climb in, close the curtains, and try not to think that you’re a lab rat getting experimented on.
Japan has a space problem. Specifically, there’s not enough of it. So hotels are expensive. Combating the problem is a network of capsule hotels. Essentially, they are mass dorm rooms, except rather than a bed, you get a closable capsule that’s reminiscent of what sleeping in a space shuttle must feel like. It’s not particularly enjoyable and rarely the first choice. But it’s sooooo Japanese.
13. In a 24hour McDonalds
Surprisingly comfortable…and free.
So you arrive in a city in the early hours. It’s dark, quiet, cold, and every hostel is fully booked. You need to sleep. Anywhere will do. But where? Then the big red sign shines likes a beacon of hope. McDonald’s is warm and cozy at 3 am. Order anything, and the staff will leave you to sleep in peace. And when you wake, you’re just meters away from a cup of coffee. Nobody plans to sleep in McDonald’s or some other fast food joint. But it always makes for a funny story.
14. Ganvie Floating Village, Benin
Ganvie’s floating village has its roots in challenging slavery.
A few hundred years ago, a man escaping slavery went to the only place he couldn’t be caught; the ocean. The captures couldn’t swim, so he set up a home on stilts in the water. Hundreds of others fleeing slavery joined him. 300 years later, and the village of Ganvie is a mesmeric floating paradise. Everything is on wooden stilts, visiting your neighbor requires a wooden canoe. The kids learn to swim before they can walk (where do you learn to walk when you live on the ocean?) The greatest way to soak up this enchantment is to sleep in the village, in a rugged wooden home right in the heart of the waterways.