From Scorched Deserts to Lush Jungles, Here’s Where to Find Nature’s Most Striking Landscapes
A little over a decade ago, it was easy to arrive in a new-to-you destination with a guide book in hand and little expectation of what awaited you. Thanks to the internet and the proliferation of social media, today’s travelers can scroll through thousands of photos to see every angle of their next destination before stepping foot off a plane. For all the good things about this, it can also have drawbacks. Aside from crowds at sites from Angkor Wat to the Trevi Fountain, and inception-style vacation photos filled with hundreds of smaller LCD screens glowing with the same view, having already seen hundreds of photos can take the wow-factor out of visiting a new spot.
The cure? Heading out into the wild to check out some of nature’s most striking landscapes. Whether that means paddling through the flooded Amazon with sloths dawdling overhead or gliding past snow-capped peaks in New Zealand’s South Island, there are some places that must be seen to be believed.
And while camping under the stars in the middle of a desert might appeal to some intrepid travelers, there’s good news for everyone else: You don’t need to forgo creature comforts to get up close and personal with nature. Around the world, some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes are also home to destination resorts — and if there’s something better than watching the Northern Lights flash through the sky, it’s doing so from an indoor spa tub.
Here are 10 destination resorts that take the idea of “a room with a view” to another level.
Qualia — Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is known around the world for good reason. Within the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are unbeatable, with green sea swirling through alabaster-white sand, thick rainforest and fish darting beneath the surface of the water.
The challenge in the Great Barrier Reef is how to choose where to go and where to stay, but it’s hard to go too far wrong. Still, Qualia is known for its quiet location on the tip of Hamilton Island, and for offering guests unmatched luxury. Rooms use wood and glass to complement rather than compete with the surrounds, and boast serene views into tropical bush and across the Coral Sea to other Whitsundays Islands.
Le Meridien Bora Bora — Bora Bora, French Polynesia
It’s hard to picture a place more idyllic than Bora Bora. Northwest of Tahiti, in French Polynesia, the volcanic island is famous for its postcard-perfect beaches dotted with palm trees, and for its crystal-clear waters.
In case that wasn’t enough, the thatched-roof bungalows perched above the water have now become part of the scenery, and make for a perfect location for guests to base themselves. At Le Meridien, the stilted bungalows offer a blend of luxury and style. With steps from the balcony leading down into the lagoon, it would be hard to feel any closer to the water — and yet, the glass floors mean guests are able to watch marine life without even leaving their rooms.
The Rees — Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand, is popular in the winter, when the slopes fill with snow bunnies, but its dramatic scenery means it’s also a perfect destination year-round. Just outside town, The Rees offer views of snow-capped mountains dipping into glassy Lake Wakatipu. Aside from large, well-appointed rooms, it’s also the perfecting jumping-off point to see some of the surrounding attractions, including Milford Sound.
Scenic flights depart from Queenstown Airport, a few minutes drive from the hotel, crossing through the mountain range and down into the fiord. Flying in one of the tiny planes can be unnerving, but it also offers an unmatched view of the sharp peaks of the Southern Alps before dropping visitors deep in the fiord, where they board a boat to take in the sheer cliffs mirrored by still water.
Palacio De Sal — Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The salt flats are almost exactly what they sound like — a flat expanse of salt — but that simple description doesn’t come close to explaining what visitors should expect when they arrive. As far as the eye can see, the ground is covered in dry, hexagonally patterned salt. In the distance, the Andes rise out of the unimaginably flat floor, and when the rain comes, a coating of water turns the ground reflective. The flats have been called “the world’s largest mirror,” an apt description of a site that tests the limits of what makes sense to the human brain.
Just on the edge of the flat, Palacio De Sal is a hotel built of (you guessed it) salt. It’s furnished simply, with polished wood furniture and bright accents, but surprisingly plush and comfortable: Rather than the salt construction making it feel rustic, the design complements the surrounds without competing for attention.
Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge — Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge is exactly the kind of accommodation you’d hope to find tucked away in the Brazilian rainforest on the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon. Set on an archipelago in the Anavilhanas National Park, the lodge sits across from more than 400 islands. Rooms and bungalows are surprisingly luxurious for a hideaway two hours from the city, with spacious beds, air conditioning, and hammocks on the balconies.
Outside the hotel, guests have access to some of the most incredible experiences of the region, including canoeing between trees, looking for the Amazonian pink bottlenose dolphin and visiting a forest after dark to search for local wildlife. (Yes, there are sloths here.) As a bonus, the pH of the water means that insects are largely absent, so travelers spend less time fighting mosquitoes.
White Desert — White Desert Camp, Antarctica
A little over a century ago, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott led a team across Antarctica in an attempt to be first to reach the South Pole. The operation was intense, involving dog teams and ponies that were used first for transport, and later as meat. It took the team well over two months to reach their destination. By that time, the competing Norwegian party had already arrived, claiming the glory. But the worst was yet to come: In the end, treacherous conditions and starvation killed the explorers before they made it back to base.
Lucky for today’s would-be Antarctic explorers, getting to the South Pole has gotten a lot easier, and staying there a lot more luxurious. White Desert offers four- and eight-day trips departing from Cape Town. Activities depend on the length of the trip, but can include walking through ice tunnels, visiting Emperor Penguins and even a flight to the geographical south pole. Guests stay in dome-shaped, heated ‘pods’ fitted with simple but chic decor, including a bed, desk and half-bath, and find everything else they need in separate shower, dining and lounge pods. While the trip may take less fortitude this century, you’d still be better off with a government funding the expedition: be prepared to shell out $32,000 per person for the four-day trip, and $84,000 for eight days.
andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge — Namib Desert, Namibia
Inside Namibia's largest conservation area, the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sossusvlei is a striking desert landscape where towering burnt-red dunes giving way to a white clay floor.
Harsh desert conditions don’t equate to an inhospitable stay. With activities like dining on the dunes and hot air balloon rides, andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge offers visitors a luxury stay with easy access to the environment that drew them there in the first place. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with views of the desert stretching out over the horizon, and the lodge has an on-site astronomer to teach guests about what they see overhead.
Arctic TreeHouse Hotel — Rovaniemi, Finland
Finland’s Lapland region offers another fascinating experience. Located on the Arctic Circle, the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel gives travelers the perfect setting, with stylish suites tucked amid the forest.
Though Finland has plenty of activities and sites for visitors, one of the most compelling reasons to visit is the spectacular Aurora Borealis. Red and green beams flash through the sky during this dazzling natural lightshow. There’s no guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights, but those staying at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel have a head start: The glass-front cabins mean guests can tuck into bed or their private saunas and stay cozy while waiting for the display. For the best chance of catching the aurora, go between September and March. The lights are typically visible every second cloudless night, so on clear, starry nights, grab a glass of wine and curl up by the window.
Enchantment Resort — Sedona, Arizona
From the Grand Canyon to Bryce to Zion, America’s Southwest is home to some of the more breathtaking views on the continent. When it comes to resorts, though, Sedona is in a league of its own. Driving into Sedona during the day, it’s obvious this place is special: the forest gives way to desert, with red rocks jutting into the sky. It’s at sunset though that the view turns truly magical, with the famous rocks glowing orange.
Enchantment Resort lives up to its name, giving visitors a resort experience in the midst of an extraordinary landscape. The ultimate option here is the pool suite. An outdoor area with a private spa pool and fireplace plants guests in the middle of a natural wonder, without sacrificing any comfort.
Oasis at Death Valley — Death Valley, California
Four and a half hours northeast of Los Angeles, and two northwest of Las Vegas, the Oasis at Death Valley rises out of the middle of the desert, hills giving way to palm trees and bright lights. This oasis is not a mirage. Since 1927, the Inn at Death Valley has been hosting guests in the biggest national park in the lower 48. This isn’t the Inn of the 1900s, though. Following a major renovation last year, guests can expect interior updates as well as the addition of casitas by the garden and cabanas by the pool.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the surrounding scenery. Death Valley is home to diverse landscapes, from mountains to wildflowers to salt flats, and the Oasis sits in the midst of it all. Because the park is so big, it’s important to plan ahead to see as much as possible. And in case the name wasn’t enough of a hint, be warned: Death Valley gets extremely hot in the summer, with mercury rising past 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.