Best Places to Get Immersed in Another Culture

A sense of place and a respect for local culture are integral elements of all of the properties in the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection, but the following lodges are deeply infused with the culture of the region—and stand out for the opportunities they offer to get to know the local community. You might sip Moroccan mint tea with Berbers in the High Atlas Mountains, spend time with Mongolia’s nomad families in their gers in the Gobi, or learn to bake partridgeberry pie with a family in Newfoundland.

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Kasbah Du Toubkal

HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS, MOROCCO

Kasbah Du Toubkal was fashioned out of the fabric of its community, beginning with the local villagers and artisans who—by hand, stone by stone—transformed it from crumbling ruins into the spectacular retreat it is today. Here, you'll find yourself surrounded by Berber culture and hospitality, from the Moorish décor and Moroccan cuisine to the restorative rituals of the lodge’s on-site hammam, or steam bath. Against a backdrop of high peaks, traditional Moroccan mint tea is served with typical flourish and a local woman bakes bread in outdoor ovens.

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Three Camel Lodge

GOBI, MONGOLIA

Three Camel Lodge is owned, managed, and staffed by Mongolians, and everything about the lodge reflects its surroundings—including the traditional, felt-lined, hand-painted gers that house guests. The furnishings were made by local artisans using time-honored designs, and the lodge provides a full spectrum of activities to experience the Gobi. Visit nomads in their ger settlements, experience traditional throat-singing performances, and even participate in the excavations at the Flaming Cliffs with leading paleontologists.

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Kapari Natural Resort

SANTORINI, GREECE

Kapari's embrace of Greek culture begins in its very walls. The lodge's founders renovated the 300-year-old cliff-side cave dwellings of their ancestors to create a remarkable hamlet where modern minimalism meets an ancient architectural style. The lodge's cuisine also celebrates timeless tradition, sourcing all its produce from a farmer whose roots on the island go back generations.

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Fogo Island Inn

NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA

A stay at Fogo Island Inn is a personal invitation to become part of a centuries-old culture, to fish for mackerel as the islander’s ancestors did, to forage for wild berries and mushrooms, to watch boat builders or bakers at work in their homes, to sit back and listen to the lilt of local music. You are a guest of the whole island here, and whether you spend your days hiking amid raw and beautiful coastal scenery or sketching it with a local artist, the experience is enhanced by the vibrant culture the lodge was built to protect.

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Longitude 131°

THE NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA

Longitude 131˚ is built into the curve of a sand dune, invisible to the township where most tourists stay, isolated from everything but the raw beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The culture of the region's native Anangu people is inextricably bound with the surrounding landscape. Here, the outback is alive with ancient spirituality and conservation is—quite literally—a religion and way of life.

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Zhiwa Ling Hotel

PARO, BHUTAN

In décor, dining, and relaxation, Zhiwa Ling takes its cues from Bhutan's many Buddhist traditions. You can join monks at the Meditation House, soak up the tranquility of the Tea House, and enjoy a unique selection of spa treatments imbued with spiritual symbolism. A variety of nearby hiking trails lead to age-old monasteries and typical villages, and an hour’s drive through stunning scenery will have you peering at peaks and prayer flags from spectacular mountain passes like Chele La.

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SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCA, PERU

When you arrive at Hacienda Urubamba, you’re greeted with a cool glass of chicha morada, a refreshing beverage made from purple corn. You sip it looking out the wall of glass towards green mountains, where folding slopes and high peaks harbor Inca ruins and vibrant Andean villages. Closer in, farming families tend to their land as they have for centuries. The Sacred Valley comes alive in a personal way here, as lodge guides take you out to artisan villages, and introduce you to local traditions, the legacy of the Inca, and the flora and fauna of the Andes.

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NAMUNYAK WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY, KENYA

While many guests come to Sarara Lodge for the wildlife, the cultural experience here is just as rewarding. This is Samburu country, and members of the semi-nomadic tribe are deeply involved in lodge operations and stakeholders in the surrounding conservancy. They are your safari guides, offering unique insights about the flora and fauna on game drives and bush walks. They welcome you into their homes and workshops, inviting you to learn local crafts and participate in their daily lives.

 

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SHANGRI-LA, CHINA

Just outside the gates of Banyan Tree Ringha, an ethnic Tibetan village bustles as it has for centuries. Families raise livestock and tend the land, living in typical dwellings that inspired the architecture and décor of the lodge itself. Enjoy a coffee on your private balcony overlooking the hills of Shangri-la, and then set out to experience ethnic Tibetan culture, meeting with families in their homes, hiking to local temples, and learning the music and dance of the region of the lodge’s local staff.

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WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA

The ancient San were one of the earliest civilizations on Earth, hunter-gatherers who once inhabited the Kalahari and its environs. The spirit of this tenacious people is very much alive at Bushman’s Kloof, home to some 130 ancient San rock art sites. National Geographic guests get an in-depth look, meeting with a rock art curator and visiting some of the more remote rock art sites with a guide. You may also catch a glimpse of contemporary culture—local Riel dancers often perform at the lodge.

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ARISTI, GREECE

Within the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece, the Zagori region harbors a culture all its own, cut off by geography from the rest of Greece, but influenced by the Ottoman traders who used to pass through. The timeless stone-and-slate villages of Zagori—of which Aristi is one—are linked by hiking trails that were once mule tracks on the trade route. Trek between these hamlets, stop for a coffee at the village taverna, and, for National Geographic guests, be one of the few to step into a 16th-century hermitage that is closed to the public.

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