Best High-Altitude Hotels
Luckily, all you have to do is call room service. Within minutes, the staff at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge will deliver steeped coca leaves, a local cure-all with a green tea–like taste, and the fog in your head will lift. Then you’ll realize once again how perfect your whereabouts are: you’re cocooned in comfort, but still on top of the world.
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge is just one of many high-altitude and skyscraper hotels where a bird’s-eye view is the number-one selling point. Who can blame travelers for wanting to ditch “garden-view” and “pool-view” rooms in favor of a view of the Matterhorn or the Shanghai skyline?
“People are always looking for indelible memories, and there’s nothing like a dramatic setting,” says Jaume Tàpies, international president of Relais & Châteaux, an association of hotels with high-altitude getaways from Monaco to New Zealand. “Our guests vie for locations providing extraordinary views—so much so that our highest properties are often booked a year in advance.”
Sometimes the biggest challenge of staying in a sky-high hotel isn’t landing a reservation or adjusting to the altitude, but actually getting there. Guests at Whare Kea Chalet in New Zealand, for example, can access their lodgings only via private helicopter; visitors to Switzerland’s 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat arrive after a steep climb on a narrow-gauge railroad. You can steer your own car to the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, but you’ll be squeaking around cliff-side hairpin turns en route. And at Yeti Mountain Home Kongde, a new Nepalese spot that, at 13,900 feet, is the highest in the Himalayas, helicopters can be arranged—but the ecologically minded owners prefer you arrive on foot with the help of local guides.
Why are we willing to risk vertigo to stay in such places?Stacy Allison, the human skyscraper who in 1988 became the first female American to summit Mount Everest, has some ideas. For some people, Allison says, high hotels give the feeling of adventure, without the hardships that go along with it. Also, she says, “many cultures believe gods live on mountaintops—so mystics and enlightened people are naturally drawn there.”
Sandy Liu, a spokesperson for the Park Hyatt Shanghai—currently the world’s tallest hotel—says culture can be a factor, too: “In the Chinese way of thinking,” Liu says, “being high above is a symbol of prosperity and wealth.
3100 Kulmhotel Gornergra
3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat, Switzerland
The Altitude: 10,170 feet.
The Perch: Since 1907, the Kulmhotel Gornergrat has drawn visitors with some of the Swiss Alps’ most stunning scenery. Twenty-nine peaks over 13,000 feet ring the property, including the infamous Matterhorn. Claude Nicollier, a Swiss astronaut who stayed here to use the hotel’s two attached observatories, once wrote that the property has “the widest and clearest sky of the whole of middle Europe.”
The Journey: It takes 33 minutes to get here via Europe’s highest outdoor cogwheel railway, with cars that glide up over almost completely vertical mountain terrain. You can also hike up from Zermatt, Von Trapp–style, in about five hours.
The Best View: All rooms have mountain names, and their numbers coincide with the altitude (in meters) of their namesake mountains. Book a stay in Monte Rosa (room No. 4633) and you’ll see the Monte Rosa itself—plus twin peaks Castor and Pollux from the bathtub, and the Matterhorn from your cozy bed.
Purcell Mountain Lodge
Purcell Mountain Lodge, Canada
The Altitude: 7,200 feet.
The Perch: Set in an alpine meadow right in British Columbia’s Glacier National Park, the 11-room Purcell Mountain Lodge is surrounded by snow-capped peaks and with no sign of civilization for miles. You won’t find many other visitors—except for the handful of grizzly bears who return year after year with their cubs.
The Journey: Taking a 15-minute helicopter flight from Golden, British Columbia (the nearest town), is the only way to get here. You’ll fly over craggy peaks, glaciers, and teal-blue alpine lakes, but not a single access road—because there aren’t any.
The Best View: All guest rooms overlook the surrounding mountains and meadows—but book the lone suite and you’ll get your own private fireplace, lovely after a day of snowshoeing.
Amankora Gangtey, Bhutan
The Altitude: 9,843 feet.
The Perch: High up in the Himalayas’ last surviving Buddhist kingdom, the eight-suite Amankora Gangtey has broad views over Gangtey Goemba, a 16th-century monastery, and the remote farmland of the Phobjikha Valley.
The Journey: Amankora, which means “circular journey” in Dzongkha (the local language), has five lodges scattered among the mountains around the town of Paro. Many guests at the Gangtey property—the highest of the five—visit as part of a circular journey that takes in all the lodges, but if you want to come directly from Paro, it’s best to make the six-hour drive via chauffeured car.
The Best View: All rooms overlook the forested hills and sweeping meadows of Black Mountains National Park, Bhutan’s largest nature preserve. If you come in winter, you may get to watch the hundreds of endangered black-necked cranes that swoop into the park each year from Tibet.
Park Hyatt Shanghai
Park Hyatt Shanghai, China
The Altitude: 1,358 feet.
The Perch: When it opened this past September, the Park Hyatt Shanghai stole the title of world’s tallest hotel (from its sister property across the street, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai). The Park Hyatt occupies the 79th through 93rd floors of the Shanghai World Financial Center—also known as the Vertical Complex City.
The Journey: From a courtyard on the first floor of the building, high-speed elevators will whisk you to the 87th-floor lobby in 51 vertiginous, ear-popping seconds.
The Best View: All guest rooms have views of the bright Shanghai cityscape: look for Jin Mao Tower (the second-tallest skyscraper in mainland China), the Huangpu River, and the Bund historic district, which provided a Western-style home base for European expats in the early 1900s.
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
The Altitude: 7,710 feet.
The Perch: Machu Picchu’s remote mountaintop ruins feel amazingly accessible when you’re staying next door; the Sanctuary Lodge (part of the Orient-Express group) is the only hotel to abut the 15th-century ancient Incan site.
The Journey: It takes a four-hour trip by train and bus to reach Machu Picchu (from the nearest city, Cuzco), but you’ll be whizzing past Jungle Book–worthy vistas en route. Want to arrive like Hiram Bingham did when he “discovered” the place in 1911?Take the old Inca trail (a five-day journey by foot) and bring your bug spray—mosquitoes here are no strangers to human sacrifice.
The Best View: From Mountain View Rooms (which, unfortunately, have twin beds), you’ll see the looming, craggy peaks of Huayna Picchu as well as the Urubamba River valley—with its 300-odd species of orchids—from your personal garden-side deck.
Whare Kea Chalet
Whare Kea Chalet, New Zealand
The Altitude: 5,700 feet.
The Perch: Tucked into the glacial snow of the South Island’s Southern Alps, the steel-and-glass Whare Kea Chalet at first looks like a forest ranger’s hut as interpreted by architect I. M. Pei. But looks aren’t everything: those are solar cells adorning the A-frame roof; a small wind turbine whirs on-site.
The Journey: You’ll be picked up by helicopter in the nearby town of Wanaka, then lofted on a 20-minute ride over Lake Wanaka and among the craggy Southern Alps to the lodge. If you visit in winter, bring your “fat boys”—heli-skiing is big here, and a great way to carve your own path in the adjacent, powder-heavy Buchanans Range.
The Best View: There are only two rooms in the chalet; both have equally sweeping views. Look for Mount Aspiring, the Lucas Glaciers, and Aoraki/Mount Cook—the highest peak in New Zealand—from your bed.
Yeti Mountain Home Kongde
Yeti Mountain Home Kongde, Nepal
The Altitude: Almost 14,000 feet.
The Perch: Nepal’s Yeti Mountain Home Kongde is the highest altitude lodging in the world, with expectedly knockout views. (Yes, that’s Mount Everest framed in your guest room window.)
The Journey: Getting to Kongde, the highest of Yeti Mountain Home’s five Himalayan properties, requires an eight-hour, sherpa-guided trek through high alpine terrain—you’ll pass snow-encrusted streams, waterfalls, and herds of wild goats and sheep. Once you’re there, though, it’s fairly easy to hike from lodge to lodge (all are run by members of local Nepalese communities).
The Best View: At this elevation, all rooms have postcard-perfect overlooks. By day, you’ll see Everest and the only slightly less spectacular surrounding mountains of Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Tawache; by night, the stars are so numerous and bright you’ll feel like you’re one of them.
Far View Lodge
Far View Lodge, Colorado
The Altitude: 8,000 feet.
The Perch: The aptly named Far View Lodge sits in Mesa Verde National Park, on the same soaring bluff where Ancestral Pueblo Indians made their now ancient cliff dwellings.
The Journey: You’ll take a steep, 15-mile former wagon trail from the park entrance gate to the lodge, teetering over canyons, ridges, and hairpin switchbacks the whole way.
The Best View: Many of the Santa Fe–style Kiva rooms have vistas that take in hundreds of miles across four states. Book a Kiva suite to see into Soda Canyon, or stay in the main lodge to spy New Mexico’s volcanic Shiprock in the distance. Scan the closer terrain too—you might spot a bobcat, mountain lion, or the herd of wild horses that have staked a claim here.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab, Dubai
The Altitude: 1,053 feet, or 27 double-height stories.
The Perch: A towering monument to oil-industry lucre—and to Dubai’s taste for over-the-topness—Burj Al Arab is taller than the Eiffel Tower and a mere 196 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.
The Journey: Super-cushy; you’ll be picked up at the airport by one of the hotel’s fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms, Park Wards, and Silver Seraphs. Once your private driver whisks you to the hotel’s man-made island, you’ll be plied with rose water, refreshing cold towels, and the local snack du jour—dates and strong Arabic coffee.
The Best View: Windows in all suites (and every room here is a suite) are floor to ceiling, with views over the Persian Gulf, the man-made, frond-shaped Jumeirah Palm Island, and Dubai’s skyline.
Explora en Atacama
Explora en Atacama, Chile
The Altitude: 8,015 feet.
The Perch: On a 42-acre oasis in the Atacama Desert—the world’s highest—the explora looks out over volcanic peaks by day, and incredibly clear starscapes by night (even clearer when viewed from the hotel’s on-site observatory).
The Journey: Explora vans will pick you up from the airport in Calama, the closest major town (and a two-hour flight from Santiago); then you’ll take a one-hour drive through stretches of desert and mountain ridges to reach the lodge.
The Best View: No view disappoints, but any room between 35 and 43 overlooks the 19,000-foot Licancabur volcano, on the border where Chile meets Bolivia. Say the word and explora will lead you on a two-day trek to its summit, where you’ll find ancient Incan ruins and Laguna Verde, the world’s highest lagoon.