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World's most unusual hotels

April 18, 2012 at 8:14 AM ET

Courtesy of Earthship Biotecture /
Before we abandon Earth for another planet, it'd be useful to test out the potential new digs. The Earthship Project in Tres Piedras, New Mexico, has been at it since the 1960s and in 1997 began allowing guests to sleep in its sustainable pods (for periods of less than an eternity).

On a Sri Lankan riverbank stands a lone, slightly misshapen, enormous elephant. As you approach cautiously, you realize this creature isn’t some freak of nature; it’s an eco-lodge of grass and twigs that sleeps up to 10 people in its belly.

Kumbuk Hotel belongs to a peculiar breed of hotels that continue to crop up worldwide, winning over travelers with their sheer novelty. Some of these unusual hotels have never-knew-you-needed-them amenities like an in-room sailboat, while others go for shock factor: ever slept in a coffin bed or a rescue pod? Still others are in improbable locations: the depths of a silver mine; atop a coral reef. But what all the world’s most unusual hotels promise is that you’ll be talking about your stay long after you check out.

Slideshow: See the world's most unusual hotels

Make no mistake: while these unusual hotels may look crazy, they aren’t the result of hoteliers gone mad. The owners are often forward-thinking architects or tinkerers inspired to make their small hotel creations into quirky destinations in and of themselves. They’re well aware that anything strange attracts publicity and curious travelers.

Berlin’s Propeller Island, for example, has become popular among artists, who seek stimulation among the green padded walls, floating beds, and fun-house interiors, which, not surprisingly, have been featured in many music videos. While it jives with Berlin’s artsy reputation, some other unusual hotels go to more radical lengths to blend in with their surroundings. The salt pans of Bolivia make the Palacio de Sal hotel—constructed entirely from salt blocks (even the beds)—a true product of the environment.

Sure, your usual tastes probably run sweeter—say, to a hotel pool, a king-size bed with a down comforter, and tasteful décor. Yet there’s something liberating about letting loose and giving in to a strange suite once in a while—just as there’s something reassuring about knowing these properties exist and thrive. In cases like Sweden’s futuristic all-suites Treehotel, unusual hotels can even be beautiful examples of out-of-the-box design.

Still, that doesn’t account for a life-size hamster hotel where guests are greeted with masks on arrival. That’s just downright strange—and you need to see it to believe it.

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