See The World's Most Unusual Hotels


Photo: Courtesy of Earthship Biotecture

On a Sri Lankan riverbank stands a lone, slightly misshapen, enormous elephant.As you approach cautiously, you realise this creature isn’t some freak of nature; it’s an eco-lodge of grass and twigs that sleeps up to 10 people in its belly.

Kumbuk Hotel belongs to a peculiar breed of hotels that continue to crop up worldwide, winning over travellers with their sheer novelty.

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Some of these unusual hotels have never-knew-you-needed-them amenities like an in-room sailboat, while others go for shock factor: ever slept in a coffin bed or a rescue pod? Still others are in improbable locations: the depths of a silver mine; atop a coral reef. But what all the world’s most unusual hotels promise is that you’ll be talking about your stay long after you check out.

Make no mistake: while these unusual hotels may look crazy, they aren’t the result of hoteliers gone mad. The owners are often forward-thinking architects or tinkerers inspired to make their small hotel creations into quirky destinations in and of themselves. They’re well aware that anything strange attracts publicity and curious travellers.

Berlin’s Propeller Island, for example, has become popular among artists, who seek stimulation among the green padded walls, floating beds, and fun-house interiors, which, not surprisingly, have been featured in many music videos. While it jives with Berlin’s artsy reputation, some other unusual hotels go to more radical lengths to blend in with their surroundings. The salt pans of Bolivia make the Palacio de Sal hotel—constructed entirely from salt blocks (even the beds)—a true product of the environment.

Sure, your usual tastes probably run sweeter—say, to a hotel pool, a king-size bed with a down comforter, and tasteful décor. Yet there’s something liberating about letting loose and giving in to a strange suite once in a while—just as there’s something reassuring about knowing these properties exist and thrive. In cases like Sweden’s futuristic all-suites Treehotel, unusual hotels can even be beautiful examples of out-of-the-box design.

Still, that doesn’t account for a life-size hamster hotel where guests are greeted with masks on arrival. That’s just downright strange—and you need to see it to believe it.  

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Propeller Island, Berlin, Germany

Lars Stroschen is the German artist behind this quizzically named Berlin hotel, where each room is stranger than the next--and offers amenities you never knew you needed. One room has a bath in a giant plastic bag; another uses an oversize guillotine to divide a king bed into two singles. There's a jauntily painted prison cell, a room with coffin beds, and a suite completely decorated in mirror fragments. One of the most requested is an apparently ordinary bedroom. It's unremarkable except for the fact that it's completely upside down: all furniture is suspended from above, except for a sunken Murphy bed, a table, a couch, and a TV, which all fold out from the smooth floor.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Treehotel, Harads, Sweden

Childhood treehouses never looked like this. Leading Swedish architects give the backyard staple a strange futuristic makeover at the Treehotel (completed in 2010, it was inspired by a film about three men who rediscover their roots by building a treehouse). Each treetop suite has its own look, whether resembling a bird's nest or a flying saucer, or seemingly constructed entirely from Lego blocks. The most ingenious appears constructed from nothing at all: the mirrored exterior reflects the forest on all sides--as if creating a gap in the space-time continuum.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Hang Nga Guesthouse, Dalat, Vietnam

Save the Beach Hotel, Various Locations

Everyone loves a beach vacation but no one likes a coastline covered in trash. That was the inspiration for German artist HA Schult, who created a mobile hotel from 13 tons of trash collected from European beaches in 2010. (It's been spotted in Madrid, among other locations.) The strange collage of colourful construction includes walls made from discarded musical instruments, torn trousers, plastic bottles, crushed cans, and limbs from storefront mannequins. Who would want to sleep on a trash pile? The first guest was supermodel Helena Christensen.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Palacio de Sal, Uyuni, Bolivia

Hotels made with ice blocks are a dime a dozen, but salt blocks? Now, that's unusual. But Palacio de Sal is no gimmick. Located in Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, this 16-bedroom hotel was built from the only construction material readily available. It's an architectural embodiment of the environment. One million salt blocks measuring 14 inches were mortared together with salty water to construct everything--even the beds, chairs, and dry sauna. Just pray it doesn't rain.

Source: Travel + Leisure

The Beer Moth, Inverness-shire, U.K.

Part carnival camper, part parade float, the canvas-sided Beer Moth is an ingeniously converted Commer Q4 1950s fire truck that began hosting overnight guests in 2011. The pieced-together approach resulted in a Victorian brass double bed, an oak parquet floor (taken from a Tudor mansion), a wood-burning stove for those chilly Scottish nights, a fire escape for a staircase--and all the fresh air you could want.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Earthship Biotecture, Tres Piedras, New Mexico

Before we abandon Earth for another planet, it'd be useful to test out the potential new digs. The Earthship Project has been at it since the 1960s and in 1997 began allowing guests to sleep in its sustainable pods (for periods of less than an eternity). Made from recycled or sustainable materials, the earthships recycle their own grey water, generate their own power, and grow their own food. They're also equipped with amenities unlikely to be found in outer space: Wi-Fi, TV, and streaming Netflix.

Source: Travel + Leisure

La Balade des Gnomes, Durbuy, Belgium

The proprietor of this Belgian hotel has taken inspiration from myths, fairy tales, and quite possibly his psychiatrist to create 10 fantastical guest rooms. The Trojan horse is just the beginning. One surreal room on the third floor even has a wooden sailboat floating in its very own pond.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Seaventures Rig Resort, Pulau Mabul, Malaysia

An oil rig is planted on top of the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most spectacular dive locations. But this is no environmental disaster waiting to happen--rather, it's an avid scuba diver's dream hotel. A lift lowers divers into the water below to wend their way through the reef system, and all dives are included in the cost of your stay. But not all the entertainment is underwater: the hotel also offers live bands and BBQ nights.

Source: Travel + Leisure

Sala Silvermine Underground Suite, Västmanland, Sweden

At 500 feet underground, this hotel, hewn from the rock by 18th-century silver miners, is the deepest in the world. Comprising only one room, with silver furniture (naturally), the suite in the abandoned Sala Silver Mine is not for the claustrophobic. On check-in, a guide provides a brief tour of the mine then leaves guests to endure the constant 36 degrees, with possible side effects of loneliness and paranoia, until morning.

Source: Travel + Leisure

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