In our waterfall-themed travels around the world, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how some of the unforgettable stays that we’ve done became every bit as much a part of the journey as the waterfalls we chased. Indeed, these world-class accommodations were far more than just a bed to rest on; these were places that captured the essence of their surroundings and provided a gateway to extraordinary experiences.
As much as I’d like to think that waterfalls are the centerpiece of any of our travel itineraries, I’ve come to appreciate that accommodations have also become a fundamental part of our travel stories.
Indeed, they have evolved from mere conveniences to destinations in their own right – centers of cultural immersion, ecological wonder, or historical enchantment (as well as enrichment).
So I’m going to share with you our most memorable accommodations that you may want to incorporate in your travel plans to craft your own unforgettable travel memories. These exceptional lodgings range from lush island paradises to moody atmospheric escapes to charming historical stays in the middle of the action.
Each of these places offer something special that can’t be found just anywhere. It’s a living list that’s sure to change as we continue our lifelong pursuit of chasing waterfalls around the world (and collecting unforgettable moments and experiences along the way).
Keep in mind that this list is completely based on our own personal experiences (as we recognize things can change over time), but this list at least gives you an idea of the types of stays that still stick with us to this day! So without further ado, here are our most unforgettable stays so far in chronological order…
Nestled among the white cliffs and sandy beaches of New Zealand‘s Coromandel Peninsula, with breathtaking views overlooking Mercury Bay, Villa Toscana beckons couples seeking a romantic getaway with a taste of Italian finesse.
In addition to the setting, the entire experience here oozes love and indulgence.
Picture this: You wake up to a sunrise over the bay making the beachside town of Whitianga glow.
The quiet villa, crafted with Tuscan charm, stands as a testament to luxury and personal touch.
It’s easy to lounge around in their private guest villa downstairs from their main home; adorned with Tuscan decor, where every window frames a postcard-worthy view.
However, this side of the Coromandel offers plenty to explore such as the natural splendors of Cathedral Cove’s giant sea arch, digging up hot water at the appropriately-named Hot Water Beach, having a sandy beach to yourself at the quiet Otama Beach, and cooling off at the Waiau Falls.
There’s also the opportunity to cruise on a private yacht as well as strolling around the quaint beachside town of Whitianga.
Now our hosts, Giorgio and Margherita were Italian expats, and their knowledge of food certainly took the gastronomic delights to another level.
From scrumptious hearty breakfasts to an unforgettable dinner that introduced me to Brasato al Chianti, the superb flavors are bound to leave you mesmerized.
The hosts, glorious in their hospitality, wove the charm of Tuscan living into every conversation and meal.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
The Villa Toscana Lodge was the venue of our destination wedding in November 2004.
Giorgio and Margherita really went out of their way to make the experience special for ourselves as well as our guests that managed to make it to the Land of the Long White Cloud from overseas.
In fact, we even paid them a surprise visit when we returned to New Zealand five years later just to rekindle the memory of our first stay.
Indeed, this was the place that opened our eyes to how an unforgettable stay made the experience, and it definitely stood out to us as one of the major highlights of our month-long honeymoon in Aotearoa.
At Villa Toscana, the narrative is one of romance and heartfelt hospitality artfully intertwined with the soothing allure of New Zealand’s natural beauty.
Island Luxury in Paradise
Back in the days when Julie was a travel agent, she did a business trip in February 2007 that included a property visit to the Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora in French Polynesia (also known as Tahiti).
And what she saw and experienced there blew her away – compelling her to call it one of the best places she had ever stayed at (and that’s saying something considering how many places around the world that we’ve been). Indeed, when it comes to opulence on the ocean, this place sets the benchmark.
At the Thalasso, you’ve got an unmatched view of Mt Otemanu (the mountain in the center of Bora Bora) seen across its picturesque turquoise lagoon.
The waters of that lagoon were calm enough and shallow enough to go right in from beneath the overwater bungalow itself.
By the way, overwater bungalows (or OWBs for short) were a concept that started in the Tahitian Island of Moorea, but it definitely went to the next level in Bora Bora, and it pretty much caught on in other parts of the world.
The OWBs at the Thalasso were “extremely spacious” (bigger than most apartments or flats we’ve been in) with a large en-suite bathroom.
Heck, their top end OWBs even had private swimming pools above the lagoon itself!
It wasn’t until years later when we stayed as a family in their sister property at the Intercontinental Le Moana when I finally got to take advantage of their free boat shuttle to experience the Thalasso to at least get a taste of what Julie got to experience firsthand.
Our daughter was too young to remember what it was like here back in December 2012, but we had a good time enjoying the warm bath-like lagoon waters on the property.
The property also housed a restaurant featuring excellent French-Tahitian fusion cuisine accompanied with outstanding service.
And, of course, if the rest of Bora Bora Island beckons, an excursion to explore the island’s features were just a concierge call away.
Or, they could be as simple as just self-driving or even riding a bike around its main island at your leisure.
Wild and Contemplative Seclusion
Imagine a place where the echo of a forgotten era softly brushes against the timeless backdrop of Nature, where rugged cliffs embrace the icy blue of the North Atlantic.
That’s Hotel Djúpavík for you, in the starkly and hauntingly beautiful Strandir Coast in the Westfjords of Iceland.
It’s not your typical hospitality experience; it’s a journey into a cozy seclusion contrasting the Arctic chill and grand mountainous landscape surrounding the fjord Reykjarfjörður.
Indeed, this place made us realize how solitude has a charm all its own, and Hotel Djúpavik is a preserve for this enchanting solitude.
Now, what is it that makes this hotel ‘the loneliest’ in Europe?
Well, it’s 70km away from Hólmavík along an unpaved road clinging to the driftwood-lined Strandir Coast.
The hotel itself was once a dormitory for the women working the herring factory in the 1930s, nestled beneath the Djúpavikurfoss waterfall.
The area’s historical remnants of rusted ships, abandoned buses, and giant fish oil tanks haunt the already moody landscape where the ghosts of a bygone era felt palpable, leaving an intriguing ghost town vibe that you can explore.
Speaking of ghosts, even Sigur Rós did a concert performed inside the factory during their Heima tour the year right before we showed up, and we could almost hear their emotional ambient music echo among the village’s eerie silence.
As for the amenities, the Hotel Djúpavík is certainly not a luxury accommodation given its isolation.
However, the homey and charming book-filled interior with simple rooms along with a nice restaurant serving excellent food ensured we had everything we needed for a cozy stay.
Indeed, this place lent itself to an unparalleled experience – where luxury takes a backseat to authenticity and serenity.
If you’re the kind of traveler who values experience over extravagance, you’ll appreciate this raw slice of Icelandic charm.
Of all the accommodations on this list, perhaps none was as polarizing as our stay at the Campamento Bernal deep in Canaima National Park in Venezuela.
The camp was basically a means to the end of witnessing the tallest waterfall in the world – Angel Falls.
In fact, this was one of our most unforgettable stays, but Julie and I had very different reasons for making this declaration after having done this adventure in late November 2007.
Indeed, for me, I’ll never forget the full immersion of pushing our comfort levels to earn what not many people in the world get to witness in person.
However, for Julie, she had vivid memories of this trip due to the sheer adventure involved.
Essentially, we had to devote an entire week to do the out-and-back journey, which involved multiple flight connections, including a scary twin-propeller plane ride.
Then, we had to ride on river boats for several hours before finally going on a jungle hike where we had to cross a long, knee-deep creek before doing a rooty jungle climb up for nearly a couple hours to a mirador to get close to the bottom of the waterfall.
Each night in the indigenous Canaima National Park, we had to sleep in hammocks under a tin-roof shelter while covered in mosquito nets.
Heck, it wasn’t even guaranteed that for all this trouble that Mother Nature would reveal Salto Angel as she could very easily shroud it in clouds (which she did but for a few fleeting minutes).
We even managed to get an overflight of Angel Falls when the weather cooperated as well as have a nice view of the swollen waterfall after an overnight rain storm finally relented.
That made the reward all the more sweeter due to the uncertainty of outcome, and hence this was the very definition of what it means to have an adventure – where you’re not really sure what you’re gonna get!
Indeed, sometimes it’s for the adventure alone that makes the experience so memorable, and that’s why I felt compelled to put this place on this list even if Julie doesn’t really agree with me on this one!
Now, if you think the entries so far in this list are impressive, I’ve got something else lined up for you.
At the Mutinondo Wilderness Ecolodge, you’re getting a place where the namesake wilderness, wildlife, and sustainable eco-friendly amenities are all skillfully blended together in one of our most unforgettable experiences in the African nation of Zambia.
In this accommodation, none of the chalets have neither doors nor windows, which gives you a sense of just how isolated and remote this place is.
The furnishings were aesthetically appropriate for the settings while built to last.
They’re built by local craftsmen versed in the practicalities of the environment there as well as their cultural identity while each chalet was named after the trees harvested within the Miombo woodland.
All electricity is generated from solar power, including the rechargeable batteries for the handheld lanterns, the fresh water pumped from the ground, and the solar heating of the water for the hot showers.
The delicious food consisted of fresh fruit, veggies, and meat all wholesome and locally sourced.
All in all, this was glamping with self-sustainability and eco-friendly responsibility in mind.
It’s by no means a luxury resort, but we felt very comfortable in a place where you wouldn’t expect there to be much comfort out in the African bush.
As for the wilderness itself, it featured a 10k hectare landscape full of granite domes (very similar to what you’ll find in Australia’s Red Centre) with lots of hiking trails to cascading waterfalls and swimming holes that don’t harbor Nile Crocodiles.
It’s basically a safari experience without the pretense, and it was definitely the surprise hit (along with Isanga Bay in the far north of Zambia by the Tanzanian border) during our very adventurous and off-the-beaten-track experience of Northern Zambia in May 2008.
Holy Zen-like Retreat
Even though this place has been gaining in popularity over the years, I still consider the Hotel Urashima to be off-the-beaten-path in Japan.
This is especially when you consider just how well-visited the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara are – all of which are on the opposite side of the Kii Peninsula (kii-hanto) in the Wakayama Prefecture.
It’s situated on a dramatic mini-peninsula with a coastline surrounded by the Katsuura Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
It’s an immensely huge complex consisting of four buildings all connected by a combination of tunnels, elevators, escalators, roads, and trails.
In fact, you’ll probably need a map and more than a night to really get to know this place.
Heck, Julie and I have stayed here on two separate trips to Japan (once in 2009 and another in 2023), and we still haven’t experienced all there is to experience here.
Nevertheless, in a country known for bathing in hot springs or onsens, this accommodation’s claim to fame is the Boki-do, which is an onsen (actually multiple gender-separated pools) in a huge sea-cave (they switch sides at different times of the day as well as on different days).
It’s a great place to watch the sun rise while soaking and listening to the waves crashing below.
There’s even a smaller, narrower sea-cave onsen called Genbudo, which looks towards a natural sea arch.
There’s also a handful of other onsens, including an indoor one called Yohonoyu at the very top of the property’s complex, which is great for watching the sunset if you happen to be staying in their uppermost luxurious rooms within the Sanjokan building.
Speaking of the top of the mini-peninsula, there’s a park called Noroshiyama with viewing decks, a shrine, and a trail leading as far as we could safely go to a top-of-the-world sea view.
To get up there, we took the Space Walker, which is said to be Japan’s longest escalator.
And in exploring other parts of the property, there was an arcade-like game room, numerous shops, interpretive displays, and restaurants.
As for the rooms, they were spacious tatami-style rooms, which provided plenty of space to both sleep and to chill out.
Having stayed in the cramped hotels of Japan’s urban centers where space is at a premium, we really appreciated these traditional rooms that were every bit part of the Japanese charm along with the polite hospitality that comes standard almost everywhere you go.
While there’s lots to see and do on the Hotel Urashima property itself, there were even more activities and sights nearby in the Kumano Mountains.
There, we experienced some of the UNESCO World Heritage holy temples, including one nestled right by the Nachi Waterfall.
There were also other temples and waterfalls deeper within the Kumano Range if you have your own rental car.
Indeed, to think that the vast majority of visitors to Japan only experience Tokyo, Kyoto, and maybe Osaka and Fuji-san, it speaks to the depth of the experiences that can be had if you’re willing to spend a little more time and effort to explore the off-the-beaten-path locations such as this.
Adding all these things together, it’s no wonder why we remember this place so fondly and why we consider it to be one of our most unforgettable stays in the world.
Like What You See So Far?
I’m going to take you to the heart of Fes, Morocco, and I’m not exaggerating when I say Riad Ahlam offers a cultural stay that’s simply unforgettable.
This accommodation isn’t just about comfy beds and room service; it’s about immersing yourself in Moroccan tradition and feeling like a part of history.
The hospitality at Riad Ahlam is something I think about even now.
The hosts here (including the kitchen staff) really went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we were quite sad when we had to leave.
It’s not often that I can say a stay was a highlight of the trip, but this was definitely the case during our Morocco trip in May 2015.
They also wove the genuine hospitality perfectly with the spacious rooms that showcase traditional Moroccan décor, including intricate tile work, ornate wood carvings, as well as colorfully patterned sheets, rugs, and upholstery.
Each morning we awoke to a birds eye view overlooking a breathtakingly decorated atrium with a fountain.
Believe me, it’s a view you’ll want to take your time over every cup of Moroccan tea.
I remembered one of our Moroccan guides who explained to us that their culture values what’s inside more so than what’s on the outside.
There’s so many layers to this mentality, but when it’s applied to Moroccan architecture, it was clear that much of the beauty is revealed in the interior of properties and buildings while remaining restrained with displays of opulence on the outside.
Well, that’s certainly true in this former Moroccan palace.
And you’re not tucked away in the backstreets; you’re a stone’s throw from the Bab Boujloud door, the perfect spot to start exploring the sensory overloaded sights and sounds of the Old Fes Medina.
Don’t get me started on the food here.
Tagines full of flavor, freshly baked bread, and sweets that’ll have your mouth watering before you’ve even taken a bite.
They didn’t just feed our stomachs, they fed our souls.
Throughout our visit to Morocco, we visited numerous mosques, medersas, kasbahs, and riads, and it almost felt like we were literally living the culture when staying at the Riad Ahlam, and that’s why it remains an experience that we’ll never forget.
Seclusion in the Tropics
The Le Meridien Ile des Pins in New Caledonia was perhaps as close to a secluded paradise as you can find.
Heck, even the island nation is not a common destination (at least for Americans), which further ensured that it wouldn’t be overrun with mass tourism.
So why paradise?
Well, you’re looking at an islet surrounded by shallow turquoise lagoons fringed by white sandy coral beaches all while full of Araucaria pine trees (a rare tropical species of pines) as sentinels providing both shade and that sense that you’re in a special place.
Nestled within these features are private bungalows with direct views of the lagoon.
The property is within walking distance of the famous, jaw-dropping Piscine Naturelle (natural pool) of Oro Bay, a spectacular coral lagoon that will make you rethink what clear water really looks like.
Since we rented a car on the island, we were also able to experience other sights on its other side.
Such sights included the likes of Kuto Beach, Kanumera Bay, the Vestige de Bagnes, and the unusual monument at Baie de St Maurice.
And with French influences omnipresent, you can anticipate impeccable service paired with a menu showcasing the freshest of seafood and illustrious French wines – c’est magnifique!
Even the restaurant looks out across the Baie d’Oro surrounded by the namesake pine trees for a memorable dining setting to go with the excellent food.
Indeed, this resort is an enclave of seclusion and sophistication in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable.
Dreamy Beachfront and Forest Escape
Situated atop a hill overlooking the body of water known as Apollo Bay just to the east of the town by the same name, this ocean front accommodation is as elegant and stylish as they come.
So we stayed in many different places throughout this November 2017 roadie, and the Seafarers Getaway was heads and shoulders above the rest on this trip.
What made this place stand out to us was the unsurpassed 180-degree view right from our spacious self-catering studio, and the on-site alpacas were also something to remember.
In fact, the views were so wide that we managed to see the sunrise and (almost) the sunset from our unit!
It’s the kind of place that features the unattainable million-dollar views only attainable from multi-million-dollar homes except this place did not break the bank.
By the way, our studio also had enough space to simply relax and stare out into the ocean without Julie and I getting in each other’s way.
Speaking of staring, our room was also equipped with a telescope because it’s possible to see the Southern Stars at night thanks to the combination of clean air and relatively little light pollution.
While we could be as economical as we wanted with the food and the ability to self-cook here, we also had the option to save on some precious time and enjoy the fresh crayfish, abalone, and other local seafood in a restaurant or cafe at Apollo Bay town.
And if we’re looking to get a little further away, we were well within reach of the world famous Twelve Apostles as well as the forests and waterfalls within Otway National Park, which even featured a tree-top walk of its own called the Otway Fly.
Indeed, when you’re there out road-tripping as much as we did, sometimes you just want to sink into luxury that otherwise seems unattainable.
And this place certainly overdelivered on the experience for a price that made it seem like the steal of our 2017 trip down under.
Urban Family-Friendly Fun
Over the years, as our daughter has grown, we’ve come to appreciate that sometimes the most memorable stays can also be a lot of fun.
That’s where the Grand Hyatt Hotel Jeju on the famous Jejo-do Island in South Korea comes in.
While it turned out that mass tourism in South Korea is pretty much concentrated in three places – Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they pulled out all the stops when it comes to making a place focused on family-friendly fun… and doing it in style!
Indeed, when it comes to this tropical island, there’s a reason why Jeju-do is pretty much like Korea’s version of Hawaii; and the competition for making the stay memorable in such a well-visited destination is fierce.
The consequence of this competition is that there’s no shortage of amenities at this hotel, and they did their best to make sure there’s something for everyone in the family.
A major standout feature of this hotel was its iconic rooftop pool towered over by twin glass high-rise towers while overlooking the city, the airport, and the northern foothills of Mt Hallasan all in one place!
In addition to the family-friendly swimming pool, there were also jacuzzies and plenty of lounge chairs to take in the scenery while the kids have a ball in the water.
There’s also a fun game room full of classic arcades from the 80s as well as skiball, foosball, air hockey, and other games to try to win souvenirs.
The hotel is linked to a massive shopping mall complete with a food court, offering a taste of local and international cuisine.
There’s even a casino for those adults looking to get lucky while its location in the heart of the city meant there was no shortage of options outside of the property if you’re looking for something more local and more affordable.
As for the accommodation itself?
Our room was spacious and luxurious featuring a huge floor-to-ceiling window wall facing Mt Hallasan.
Accentuated with a modern décor and an expansive layout with a huge bathroom (that’s even larger than a traditional guesthouse that we stayed at in Daegu earlier on in the trip), it was a great way to end our nearly three weeks of our trip throughout South Korea.
As for sightseeing? Well, you’re going to need a car to fully experience Jeju-do’s sights on your own time (though in my experience, be aware that the drivers here tend to be very aggressive).
Nevertheless, you’re within reach of the island’s scenic sandy beaches full of colorful and tranquil lagoons as well as happening beachfront towns in the north.
And, you can even use this hotel as a base for day trips to the rocky and jagged lava cliffs as well as Korea’s best waterfalls in the south side of the island downslope from the opposite side of Mt Hallasan.
Heck, you can even drive further to the east to experience a refreshingly cool lava tube as well as the largest aquarium in the country (an option that’s handy especially if the weather’s bad).
Our only regret was that we only spent one night (i.e. the last one of our June 2023 trip to Korea) when we probably could have (and should have) spent more time here, but hindsight’s 20/20 and never say never when it comes to a return trip!
Heart of History
Have you ever wondered if you could wake up to the history and charm of Venice, steeped right beneath your window?
Guess what? You can.
When you stay at the apartment unit atop the Hotel Rialto, you’re not just lodging at a hotel; you’re living in a slice of Venetian history.
In addition to the unmatched views, you also get to embrace an era.
The oldest bridge across the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge has been the bustling heart of Venice since the 16th century.
Now what is the big draw for this place?
It’s the views, of course, and it’s what drew us here at the end of our November 2023 visit to Italy.
Imagine an exclusive, incredible private view overlooking the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge as well as bell towers protruding above the tiled rooftops in the heart of Venice.
There’s something truly magical about watching the golden sunset reflecting off the water while gondolas and vaporettos (or vaporetti) glide below.
It’s a painting come to life every evening without needing to compete with hordes of people crowding the southwest-facing side of the Rialto Bridge.
Speaking of the heart of Venice, we were a short jaunt away from… everything.
This included iconic spots such as St. Mark’s Square, the Venetian markets, the Fondamente Nove docks leading us to the colorful island of Burano, and tucked-away restaurants serving up seafood with a Venetian twist (squid ink pasta or tender octopus in olive oil, anyone?).
Wander the narrow alleyways or take a moonlit gondola ride; the romance of Venice is at your doorstep.
Did I forget to mention that our unit featured a real spacious living room and kitchen with windows on three sides facing the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal with the rest facing the neighboring rooftops?
There’s also a bedroom, a modern bathroom, and a narrow corridor leading to a workspace that also looks out over the canal and the historic bridge.
Even the furnishings in the hallways and lobby area featured Venetian mirrors and Murano glass accents, which reminded us that we were living in a treasure chest of history.
Granted, this place was an absolute splurge, but it’s one of those experiences where place and moment intertwine to create memories that’ll cling to your soul forever.
Choosing Your Unforgettable Stays or Accommodations
Choosing the right place to stay can transform a simple trip into a lifetime memory.
In our experiences, the accommodations you choose can be as important as the destination itself.
It’s not just about luxury or comfort, but about how a place resonates with you, how it ties into the local culture and environment, and how it lets you create your own story.
Indeed, a key takeaway from these unforgettable stays around the world is the emphasis on experience.
Whether it’s waking up to a historic view in Venice, feasting on the freshest seafood in Ile des Pins, or bathing in a sea cave onsen in Japan, it’s these unique offerings that stick with us long after we’ve returned home.
Immersive eco and cultural travel is more than just a trend, but a pathway to truly connecting with our world.
By choosing to stay in places that emphasize local culture as well as flavor, responsible tourism, and genuine hospitality, you are investing in memories that will last well beyond your stay.
So my question to you today is, what’s going to make your next vacation unforgettable?
That said, we’ve found that you shouldn’t go out of your way just to stay at a particular place, especially if a place ends up blowing up on the socials and the prices go up accordingly.
That’ll just set you up for disappointment, especially since it’s probably not wise to go across the world just to stay at a particular accommodation when I’m sure there are other priorities going on.
Instead, go for the experiences and itineraries that compel you to want to go to your destination in the first place.
Once you’ve worked that out, then you can start choosing accommodations that promise more than just a place to sleep, but a doorway to new experiences.
And if you want to know how you can book a stay at any of these top accommodations, remember that most can be booked through their own websites or through major travel platforms (e.g. Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Vrbo, Kayak, TripAdvisor, GetYourGuide, and more).
Go ahead and read up on the reviews, but realize that everyone has different tastes and different standards (some can be very unrealistic) so always keep an open mind and don’t treat everything you read as gospel.
Nevertheless, whatever and however your plan out your trip, make sure the stays that you book resonate with you.
That way you’re sure to have an experience you’ll never forget.
Looking for more of our favorites?
Although this list isn’t our usual Top 10 List, which typically pertains to the waterfalls that we’ve visited, you’re welcome to check out those lists…
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