Bored of standard hotel rooms on your holidays? From converted jet planes to Geodesic domes, here's how to spice up your accommodation options on a trip to Latin America
727 Jet converted into luxury accommodation, Costa Verde
The Costa Verde team have transported and refurbished a 1965 vintage Being 727 airframe to create a fantastic, two bedroom suite in this resort – a favourite for weddings, honeymoons and romance. Set out on a concrete plinth that juts up 50 feet into the jungle canopy, you'll feel like you're flying when you look out of the windows. Furnishings are hand carved teak, and the rear bedroom has a handcrafted deck atop the wing.
In its former life under the colours of South Africa Air and latterly Avianca Airlines (Colombia), it shuttled the well heeled to exotic destinations. Now refitted with custom built luxuries and en suite facilities it once again caters to the needs of pampered travellers.
Four totally unique bars and restaurants will satisfy your every taste and need. From the social scene at El Avión – a Fairchild C-123 transporter converted to a bar, to peaceful, breathtaking views of Anaconda, to the music and barbecue at La Cantina to the casual dining and wood-fired pizza at El Wagon – Costa Verde has something special for all tastes!
Costa Rica's Pacific coast enjoys a classic, predictable monsoon climate. There are only two distinct seasons: rainy and dry. Normally the rainy season runs from mid-April to mid-November. During this time, mornings are usually clear and it often rains in the early evenings.
Get me there now! From $350 per night; open all year round; address: Costa Verde Resort, Puerto Quepos, Quepos; more info: www.GoUnusual.com/CostaVerde
Disused radar tower in the rainforest
Built in 1965 by the United States Air Force to house radar used in the defence of the Panama Canal, the tower was demilitarised and transferred to Panama in 1996. Located on top of Semaphore Hill, in the heart of the semi-deciduous Soberanía National Park, it rises above the tree canopy. Dominating the roof is the 30 foot (10m) high geodesic dome with an observation deck surrounding it from which you can see the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and the skyline of Panama City. The top floor is used as the main dining area, and is completely surrounded by panoramic windows. The second and first floors provide the living space with en-suite bathrooms and large windows to observe lower levels of the forest canopy.
You are never more than 40 feet from the birds and should pack earplugs if you are a light sleeper and don’t wish to be woken at first light. Dawn awakens the birds on this migratory route and you’ll have ample opportunity to see birds normally glimpsed high in the tops of trees, right outside your room.
Your host is the friendly Raúl Arias de Para, who not only is knowledgeable about the birds and wildlife, he is a teller of some great light-hearted stories over evening drinks.
If you’re not a bird watching fan yourself, then the activities of the Panama Canal are likely to be the main attraction. There are two sets of locks on the Pacific side of the Canal, Miraflores and Pedro Miguel a short drive from the Tower, as well as the Panama Canal Visitor Centre.
There are 12 rooms in the tower and the two-three person suites on the second floor have best views. Canopy Tower does not accommodate children younger than 13 years of age.
It takes only about 30-45 minutes to drive to the Canopy Tower from Panama City and one hour from Tocumen International Airport. You can get within a mile (2km) of the tower by public transport, although should ask for exact directions so that the bus driver can drop you off nearby.
Get me there now! From $400 per night; two-night minimum stay; full-board dining; address: Semaphore Hill; Semaphore Hill Road, Soberania National Park; more info: www.GoUnusual.com/CanopyTowerEcolodgeandNatureObservatory
Hotel made of salt
Palacio de Sal Hotel, newly remodeled and unique in the world, is completely built in salt. Walls, floors, ceilings, and most of the furniture too, are all made of salt.
The property offers 16 rooms (eight double rooms and eight twin bedded) with private bath, solarium, central heating and electricity in every room. Facilities include a Games Room with Billiards.
Located at the port of Colchani, on the east coast of the salt flats, only 25km from Uyuni town. Covering 12.000km2 the Uyuni salt flats are the biggest salt desert on earth, at an altitude of 3,650 meters above sea level.
Seasonally, there is a unique nine-hole Par 36 golf course here, open from May to November. Designed by Christian Pensu, the fairway and playing area are salt crust and the green is granular salt. If you enjoy playing different courses, this must rate as one of the more extreme!
Get me there now! From $100 per night; breakfast provided; bar and restaurant on site; address: Palacio de Sal, Salar de Uyuni, Uyuni, Potosi; more info: www.GoUnusual.com/PalaciodeSal
Born as a dream between the owner Esteban Zárate and his wife, and located in the famous Elqui Valley, which is well known for its clear sky, this Astronomy themed hotel offers night sky horseriding tours and your own telescope. Built around the dream of watching the stars from your bed, Esteban discovered geodesic domes on holiday, and said: "that's it!”. Leaving his job as a Regional Director of the National Tourism Board the journey to Elqui Domos began. Wanting guests to enjoy their dream and learn from the sky at the same time, they've included telescopes in each room and can share their passion and knowledge of the heavens.
The dome tents have everything inside: a full bathroom, comfortable beds, heating, snack bar etc but you should still dress warmly. Night temperatures can drop to below freezing during winter nights (down to -10°C). However, cold air makes for clear skies, and the absence of light pollution in the remote location makes viewing conditions close to ideal.
The two storey domes have a living room and bathroom on the ground floor. Upstairs is the main bed with detachable roof. Each dome also has a large terrace and you are provided with a quality telescope to use. You'll also find a stocked fridge, tea and coffee facilities as well as maps and magazines about astronomy.
Their on-site restaurant, Carinae (named after the most beautiful star you can see from the Southern Hemisphere) serves fusion food using local produce. Daylight provides an opportunity for picnics and barbecues by the river.
For those unfamiliar with night skies, Esteban and his team provide a stargazing tour and telescope-operating session to help you get the best from your evening viewings. They can also arrange a horseback stargazing tour, which should not be missed.
Elqui Domos is about 1 1⁄2 hours drive (96km/60 miles) from the nearest large town of La Serena, on a road that is paved for all but the last 3km (2 miles).
Get me there now! From $100 per night; breakfast provided; bar/restaurant on site; address: Elqui Domos, Camino Público Pisco Elqui KM 3.5, Pisco Elqui; more info: www.GoUnusual.com/ElquiDomos
Geodesic domes in Torres del Paine
Patagonia's first fully sustainable accommodation and the world’s first Geodesic hotel, EcoCamp opened its eco-friendly doors in 2001 and has been welcoming trekkers and nature-lovers ever since. EcoCamp offers upscale camping in domes inspired by the region’s ancient nomadic inhabitants, resistant to the wild Patagonian outdoors and utilising sophisticated green technology. Guests trek through scenic landscapes by day past rivers, glaciers, mountains and wildlife, and relax in EcoCamp's domes at night with delicious food and wine.
EcoCamp has 25 bedroom domes in total and three large community domes where guests eat breakfast and dinner overlooking the towers and unwind in the bar in the evening or plan excursions in the library.
The 13 standard domes have a cosy 10m2 interior and come equipped with fleece sheets, blankets and feather quilts. Guests can upgrade to a 23m2 superior dome with a private bathroom and gas heater, or choose one of the ten suite domes which are 28m2 with an en-suite bathroom, low- emission wood stove, bathroom heater and outdoor terrace.
Patagonia is a vast and diverse region, with scenery ranging from dramatic mountain formations and smoky volcanoes to flat barren pampa and expansive ice fields. These lands are crowded with glaciers, lakes, fjords, ancient forests and wildlife such as guanacos, flamingos, condors, ñandus and huemules and also offer some of the most magnificent trekking and nature in the world.
The Torres del Paine National Park in Chile ishome to an incredible array of wildlife and exciting Patagonian tours including the W Trek and the Paine Circuit.
EcoCamp runs specialist trekking tours and wildlife trips with nights spent at EcoCamp Patagonia.
Get me there now! From $306 per night; open from September-April; address: EcoCamp Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; more info: www.GoUnusual.com/EcoCampPatagonia
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