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.
Ancient myths of the indigenous Mapuche people are woven into the fabric of daily life on the mist-shrouded isle of Chiloé—and they form the heart of the experience at Tierra Chiloé. Visitors will be entranced by Chilote tales told over a crackling campfire and hotel art incorporating local legends. For a truly enchanting encounter, hike to the Dock of Souls, a modern art installation dedicated to Tempilcahue—the boatman tasked with ferrying souls to the afterlife. Listen for the voices of waiting souls calling out “Balsero!” to the boatman, or the wails of ghosts who were refused passage—likely just the murmur of distant sea lions, but who can say for certain?
Long before the Vietnamese region of Sa Pa became a tourist hotspot, the owners of Topas Ecolodge were forging relationships with the many ethnic groups that live in the emerald folds of the mountains surrounding their remote retreat. Despite close proximity to one another, each community has its own unique story to tell—as well as its own language, customs, and traditions. Explore on foot or mountain bike, from hilltop villages to busy markets, and get to know members of the Flower H’mong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, Nung, and others, enjoying lunch in local homes and in-depth discussions with community leaders, artisans, and elders.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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