5 Hotels Carved From Nature

Choose from sub-zero temperatures, walls of sodium chloride or an underwater lodge.  
Sweden Icehotel
Some of the Icehotel actually returns to the river in spring, such as this Narcissus art suite by Nina Hedman and Magnus Hedman. Photo: Christopher Hauser

Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Towering 40.2km north of the Arctic circle is Sweden’s Icehotel, the world’s first and largest hotel constructed of snow and ice. Open between December and mid-April – after which the frozen lodgings begin to melt back into Torne River – Icehotel has been attracting nearly 50,000 visitors annually for the last 23 years.

Spread across 5,500m, Icehotel never looks quite the same as it did last season. Between March and April, 5,000 tonnes of ice are hacked out of Torne River and preserved until November, when guest artists, builders and light designers converge to carve up an ephemeral wonderland. The “cold accommodations” promise sleeping bags laid on ice blocks topped with a mattress and reindeer hide; there are also “warm accommodations” like cabins. The hotel can arrange for watching killer whales, skiing, and viewing the Northern Lights by dog-sled, snowmobile, or plane, but you can just stay in and hit the Icebar, or exchange vows in the glacial church. “Although our Ice church returns to the river in the spring, love is eternal,” reminds the hotel website.

Palacio de Sal, Bolivia

Bolivia Salt pans Hotel

Licking the walls at this hotel on the world’s largest salt flat is, of course, off limits. Photo courtesy Palacio de Sal

At the edge of the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, looms Palacio de Sal, a luxury hotel built from a million 35cm blocks of compressed sodium chloride. Everything from the ceilings to the furniture and sculptures comprise the white grains. There are even saltwater baths and a nine-hole salt golf course. Licking the walls is, of course, off limits.

Ariau Amazon Towers, Brazil

Brazil Amazon Hotel

Spend your time gazing out on the Amazon river. Photo: Leonide Principe

The world’s largest treetop hotel rests on stilts up in the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, inspired by none other than oceanographer Jacques Costeau. Built nearly 30 years ago on the banks of the Rio Negro, the eco-friendly resort sports eight wooden towers that are linked by 8km of wooden catwalks built 30ft above the forest floor. Tarzan House, standing tallest at 22m above the ground, is astride a living mahogany tree. Gaze out on the Amazon River while gorging on Brazilian cuisine and exotic fruits, or hit up the four treetop bars. Wake up to the calls of macaws and monkeys, saunter to your private balcony armed with a swig from the minibar, and plunge into the exotic surroundings with archipelago tours, swimming with pink dolphins and piranha fishing.

Kokopelli’s Cave, New Mexico

Mexico Cliff Hotel Kokopelli

Carved out of the side of a cliff, this stay isn’t for the faint-hearted. Photo: Kokopelli’s Cave/Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Gouged out of a 65-million-year-old rock formation by geologists, Kokopelli’s Cave is a bed-and-breakfast with stunning views and surprising comfort. The hotel is named after a Native American fertility god. Carved out of the side of a cliff 280ft above La Plata River, the stay isn’t for the faint-hearted. Guests arrive via a 70ft descent and a ladder. For those who make the trek, there’s an indoor Jacuzzi and oodles of quiet in the gorgeous wilderness of Farmington, New Mexico.

Jules Verne Underwater Hotel

Pizza and hot showers under the sea? We’re in. Photo: Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Jules Undersea Lodge, USA

The only up-and-running undersea hotel in the world, Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida, U.S.A., lies 21 feet below the surface, accessible only to divers. Christened for the author of the magnificent book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the lodge is a former research lab that now caters to certified and novice scuba divers. The no-frills stay includes hot showers and pizza (which a member of the staff dives to the surface to pick up from the delivery guy).

Large windows overlook the marine life of the tropical mangrove habitat of Emerald Lagoon. It is, of course, the only hotel to offer weddings five fathoms deep. Everyone from the chef to the public notary and the guests has to make the dive, and the lodge presents the newlyweds with Aquanaut Certificates.


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    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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