As far as “experiential” travel and “sustainability” go, the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World set the gold standard.
Launched by the scientific and educational society in 2015, the collection features properties across six continents, each one hand-picked to reflect National Geographic’s mission, and embody its main values: exploration, sustainability. and culturally unique, intimate experiences that offer a unique perspective of some of the worlds’ most remote regions.
To make the list, each lodge undergoes an on-site inspection by National Geographic representatives that includes a thorough review of their operations based on the pillars of sustainable tourism, and reflect the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Which is all to say, these accommodations are truly the next frontier of conscious travel.
There are over 50 to choose from, but we’ve narrowed it down to six of the most incredible options.
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
Set against the backdrop of the Mongolian Gobi Altai mountains, on the wild expanse of the Gobi desert, the Three Camel Lodge consists of 40 hand-painted, traditional gers (Mongolian tents) and a main lodge designed by local artisans in the style of an ancient temple.
Everything is made with natural stone and other local materials, and the whole lodge uses solar energy, recycles grey water, and collects unused water to use for irrigation. The surroundings are pretty otherworldly, which adds to the property’s allure.
Why we love it: Not only does it respect and celebrate the cultural traditions of the country’s nomadic tribes (whose homes you can visit during your stay), but it’s also a model of environmental sustainability, as it strives to minimise its impact on the Gobi as much as possible. Two big wins in our book.
Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, Chile
Celebrating the surreal, majestic landscapes of Patagonia, Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa is all about showcasing the natural beauty. The hotel is covered in enormous windows, offering gorgeous views of Torres del Paine National Park. What’s more, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site is just outside the property’s front door.
Within the development, natural materials dominate the space, while the design is inspired by traditional Chilean estancias and the building style of the indigenous Tehuelche people. It’s as if the lodge itself were part of the scenery.
Why we love it: First up, its location. Perched on a bluff on the edge of Chile’s Lake Sarmiento, Tierra Patagonia is in the heart of one of the world’s wildest places.
Secondly, the sheer variety of activities available, from hiking to visiting huasos on their ranches, exploring the nearby grasslands on horseback or, why not, getting a massage at the on-site spa, and then a glass of excellent Chilean wine as the sun sets.
andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania
Sitting on the rim of the world’s largest intact caldera, andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge has to be one of the best safari lodges. From your lodge, you’ll enjoy sweeping views over a beautiful landscape where elephants, zebras, rare black rhinos and pink flamingos roam.
The hotel’s design is striking too: banana-leaf ceilings, mud brick, thatched-palm roofs and textiles inspired by Tanzanian culture, blended with elaborate French interiors.
Why we love it: The lodge works to preserve the surrounding ecosystem, with its main mantra being “doing well by doing good.” To that end, it has planted over 55,000 trees in its nursery over the past decade, helping to spearhead local reforestation efforts, and regularly provides accommodations for wildlife researchers who come to study the crater.v
The property is also deeply connected to local communities, and works with the non-profit Africa Foundation to bring Maasai children on safari here, to raise their awareness of ecotourism.
Topas Ecolodge, Sa Pa Vietnam
Serene and remote, Topas Ecolodge consists of 33 private bungalows nestled on a mountaintop, far removed from the closest town, Sa Pa, in northern Vietnam.
Your only neighbours will be the region’s hill tribe communities. And once the mist lifts in the morning, your window will offer a 360-degree view of mountain peaks, ringed by rice terraces.
Why we love it: Unlike most hotels in Sa Pa, the lodge doesn’t do trekking tours through the hill tribe communities. Instead, it sits among them, meaning guests can truly delve into local country life, rather than skimming through it. Hard to beat as a cultural experience.
Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
If a secluded lodge in a national park framed by the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t sound like the ultimate beach destination, we don’t know what does.
Accessible exclusively by plane, Lizard Island resort rises upon a white-sand stretch of coast amid 2,500 pristine acres on its namesake atoll, and features 40 rooms, a spa, a few modern amenities, and nothing but big and beautiful nature and crystal clear waters all around it.
Why we love it: Properties like this — beautiful, remote and respectful of their surroundings — are hard to come by when it comes to beach developments. But Lizard Island ticks all the boxes.
As one of the world’s first certified eco-lodges, the resort has made it its pillar to minimise its environmental impact with the use of diesel generators and limited solar power, biofuel, LED lights, as well as composting, recycling, and wastewater irrigation systems.
That effort extends to the services: chefs source local food from vendors and markets in and around the Cairns area and all guests receive refillable stainless water bottles upon arrival.
The fact the lodge sits right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, is a pretty big bonus, too.
Hotel Húsafell, Húsafell, Iceland
At this nature-oriented address, 48 rooms feature glass walls and textured furnishings, plus there’s a sustainable golf course and geothermally heated pools.
Welcome to Hotel Húsafell. A haven of Nordic minimalism and elegance, the lodge sits between rippling hills, glacial rivers, and ice-capped peaks at the end of the Borgarfjordur Valley — a lesser-known area of Iceland’s inland, yet still an easy drive from Reykjavík.
Why we love it: Besides the fact that you can catch unobstructed views of the Northern Lights in winter, play golf under the midnight sun in the summer, and immerse yourself in the property’s hot springs anytime you want?
Let’s see… How about the opportunity to explore Langjökull glacier and visit giant lava caves? They’re just minutes away.