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11 Epic Hotels Worth Planning Your Whole Trip Around

Some travelers pick vacations based on amazing sites, while others book trips based on once-in-a-lifetime activities. But at the world’s most incredible hotels, you’ll get both by planning your travels around where you want to stay.

Incredible Hotels Worth Planning Your Trip Around

These 11 hotels offer place-specific experiences you’ll never forget, from encounters with rare wildlife to the chance to sleep in a tree house or cave. These incredible hotels aren’t cheap, and it can be tough to snag a reservation—but it’s worth saving up to take advantage of these special places to stay.

Explora Patagonia in Torres del Paine, Chile

[st_content_ad]Perched alongside the turquoise waters of Chile’s Lake Pehoe, with Torres del Paine’s craggy peaks looming in the background, the explora Patagonia resort enjoys one of the world’s most spectacular locations. Guides at this all-inclusive eco-lodge lead dozens of daily hikes and horseback rides showcasing the area’s glaciers, forests, lakes, and wildlife. While the landscape is rugged, the accommodations offer plenty of creature comforts. Visit the on-site spa for a massage, or relax in a Jacuzzi overlooking the Paine River.

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Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita in Matera, Italy

The natural caves in Matera, a small city about three hours east of Naples, have been inhabited for some 7,000 years—and you too can have the experience of calling one home, at least for a night or two. Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita is one of Italy’s most unforgettable hotels, offering 18 cave dwellings with stone walls and floors, vaulted ceilings, rough-hewn wood furniture, and comfy beds. Staff can arrange in-room massages, cooking classes, or even a candlelight dinner in a 13th-century stone church.

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Longitude 131 in Yulara, Australia

Imagine waking up in your own luxurious tented pavilion and looking out to see rosy dawn light casting its glow over the red rock facade of Uluru. You can make this vision a reality at Longitude 131, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “glamping.” Canopied pavilions feature floor-to-ceiling windows, balconies with fireplaces, and indigenous artwork; some even have private plunge pools. Included in the rates are local experiences such as a sunset drive into Kantju Gorge and a visit to an aboriginal art gallery.

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Royal Mansour in Marrakech, Morocco

From the moment you step into your own private riad—a traditional Moroccan home oriented around a courtyard—a stay at the Royal Mansour feels like a fantasy come to life. Decorated with colorful silks, intricate tiles, and lush plants, many of the riads also boast plunge pools and rooftop terraces where you can look out over the ancient city of Marrakech. Make time to visit the spa, where you’ll find two traditional hammams as well as an indoor swimming pool and a tea lounge.

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Jade Mountain in St. Lucia

For the ultimate in romance, look no further than this beach resort, where you and your partner can enjoy jaw-dropping views of St. Lucia’s Twin Pitons from your own private infinity pool. Butlers are on call around the clock to cater to guest needs. For those looking to do more than relax on one of the resort’s two beaches, nearby activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, mountain biking, visits to an organic farm, yoga classes, and sunset yacht cruises.

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Gora Kadan in Hakone-machi, Japan

If you’re looking to stay in a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, you have plenty of choices—but few are as elegant and luxurious as this Relais & Chateaux property in the wooded Hakone-machi region. When you arrive, slip off your shoes and into a kimono, then indulge in a traditional kaiseki meal. You can swim a few laps in the heated swimming pool, or, better yet, relax in your own open-air hot spring bath (available in select rooms).

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Londolozi in Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

This game reserve in South Africa has been welcoming intrepid travelers since 1926. The name Londolozi comes from the Zulu word for “protector of all living things,” a fitting name for one of the most incredible hotels to see lions, elephants, cheetahs, and dozens of other species. In between game drives, you can soak in your own private plunge pool, take a yoga class, or have an in-room massage.

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Nihi Sumba in Sumba, Indonesia

For a beach escape that feels a world away, consider a trip to this incredible hotel perched on the edge of the Indian Ocean. You’ll sleep in a spacious villa with sea views and dine on fresh vegetables from the property’s organic gardens. On-site activities include fitness classes, surfing, paddleboarding, and chocolate making. Don’t miss the NihiOka Spa Safari, which includes a 90-minute trek through rice fields, a stop in a local village, breakfast overlooking the sea, and an afternoon featuring the spa treatments of your choice.

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Treehotel in Harads, Sweden

Haven’t been in a tree house since you were a kid? Check out these tree houses for grown-ups, situated 13 to 20 feet above the ground in a pristine pine forest in northern Sweden. All eight cabins at Treehotel are unique; one is designed to look like a bird’s nest, while another is shaped like a UFO. During your stay, you can watch the northern lights, go dog sledding or horseback riding, or embark on a wildlife safari to see moose, elk, and bear before retiring to your own personal aerie in the trees.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of America’s most incredible hotels for travelers with kids. The whole family will enjoy the Wanyama Safari, which starts with a game drive to see the giraffes, zebras, and other animals who live on site, and ends with a multi-course meal featuring African cuisine. Multiple pools, evening campfires, a playground, an arcade, and movies under the stars are just a few of the many other offerings that will delight kids—and parents—throughout their vacation.

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Pacuare Lodge on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica

This intimate eco-lodge for nature lovers is hidden away in the Costa Rican rainforest. When you’re gazing out over the jungle from the hammock on your private terrace or having a candlelight dinner for two under a canopy of stars, you won’t miss Wi-Fi or electricity (neither of which are available in the rooms at Pacuare Lodge). During the day, you can go kayaking, hike to a waterfall, or visit a local indigenous community. At night, you’ll fall asleep to the peaceful sound of the Pacuare River.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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