From the desolate, foreboding highlands of Iceland to the species-rich rainforests of Costa Rica, these far-flung destinations hide stunning lodges that require more than a little bit of extra effort to reach. But, as they say, getting there is half the adventure.
Pacuare Jungle, Costa Rica
Costa Rica isn’t exactly at the end of the earth—it’s a quick flight from just about anywhere in the United States—but the nation’s virgin old-growth Central Caribbean rainforest is another matter. There, you’re more likely to run into Cabecar Indians, howler monkeys, and whitewater raft guides than you are traditional tourists. With only a handful of lodges, the approximately 25,000-acre Pacuare Protected Zone has remained blissfully undeveloped.
Getting there requires a dry bag and a flight to San José, where a minibus will transport you through the historic capital city of Cartago to the banks of the Pacuare River. After a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto and fried plantains, Aventuras Naturales’ professionals will guide you down 2.5 miles of Class III rapids to Pacuare Jungle Lodge’s muddy shores. En route, keep a watchful eye on the dense tropical rainforest to catch glimpses of monkeys, brown sloths, and jaguars’ pint-sized brethren, ocelots.
Once you’ve settled into your bungalow, you can take a dip in your private, freshwater stone pool, nap in your rope hammock, or embark on a handful of adventures. Horseback ride 2.5 miles through narrow jungle pathways to the rural village of Bajos del Tigre, zip line through the rainforest’s canopy, or trek to a Cabecar Indian’s isolated household to chat with a shaman. Your departure brings Class IV rapids and the infamous Upper Huacas and Lower Huacas. Translation: Graveyard. Beginning at $413 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive; pacuarelodge.com.
Three Camel, Mongolia
The seemingly desolate 500,002-square-mile Gobi Desert hides a rich Mongolian nomadic culture; rare wildlife, such as goitered gazelle, golden eagles and snow leopards; and a Nomadic Expeditions-owned and -operated eco lodge dedicated to cultural, environmental and species preservation. Pack a bandana. Nomadic Expeditions’ dusty 14-day Gobi Trek begins in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, with a 90-minute prop-plane flight to Dalanzadgad. There, the real journey begins. Your first stop is Flaming Cliffs, the site where Roy Chapman Andrews discovered the first nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs, and then it’s off to Khongoryn Els sand dunes. There, your 70-mile trek through the Gobi’s barren, rocky expanse begins. Each day, you’ll sit atop a lumbering Bactrian camel and wind through miles of sand dunes, past clay cliffs and through forests of saxaul trees. Each night, you’ll set up camp on the arid desert floor. Respite comes in the form of Three Camel Lodge’s handmade felt gers and unobstructed views of the Gobi Altai Mountains. The wind- and solar-powered outpost’s Thirsty Camel Bar serves up steamed mutton dumplings and Altan Gobi, a Mongolian lager. Dig in and watch native Mongolians perform traditional songs and dances. Rest up: The exploration of Ongiin Khiid’s ancient temple ruins is next. threecamellodge.com.
At 1.4 billion acres, the Amazon Rainforest may seem infinite. But at a destruction rate of nearly 10,000 acres a day, 55 percent of the Amazon will vanish in the next two decades. Head deep into the world’s richest and most varied biological reservoir now before it disappears.
Fly to the outpost town of Tefé in Brazil’s Amazonas state. From there, a riverboat will pick you up at the edge of the Solimões River to take you on an hour and a half journey through the Amazon Rainforest to Uakari Lodge and your floating thatched bedroom deep inside the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve.
Uakari is linked to the Mamirauá Institute’s Ecotourism Program and is a testament to Amazon conservation and protection: this solar-powered lodge accommodates up to 20 people and donates the majority of its profits to anti-poaching surveillance efforts and community development projects. Bring a camera; the lodge’s freshwater surroundings are frequent haunts of playful, endangered pink river dolphins.
Your trip is fully planned and outfitted. From a night hike to spot tarantula spiders, opossums, two-toed sloths, Amazon bamboo rats, and bats to the option of helping local naturalists gather data on their latest studies, Uakari is determined to show its guests why the Amazon is worth saving. Beginning at $600, three-night minimum, all-inclusive; uakarilodge.com.br.
Rimba Orangutan Eco, Indonesia
Orangutan habitats once sprawled across Indonesia and Malaysia. Today, their habitat has been reduced to two rapidly dwindling Indonesian rainforests. Visit Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas’ Camp Leakey, located on the Indonesian island of Borneo, to view these great apes in one of their last two remaining holdouts.
Fly from Jakarta, the capital and largest city of Indonesia, to Pangkalan Bun, a small city in Central Kalimantan, and drive 20 minutes to the port of Kumai. From there, you’ll board a traditional wooden klotok for a two-hour ride on the Sekonyer River to the Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodge, a remote lodge adjacent to Tanjung Puting National Park and Galdikas’ 41-year-old feeding and research station. On site, you'll explore the rainforest by foot and klotok, scouting feeding stations to watch orangutans chow down on seasonal fruits and nap in self-fashioned nests.
The rainforest is home to nine primate species, including black-handed gibbons and proboscis monkeys as well as crocodiles and giant monitor lizards. Stay up late for a night hike to see fireflies lighting up the sky above glowing mushrooms in Indonesia’s nipah palm forest just down river from the lodge and its resident troop of macaque monkeys. Beginning at $150; ecolodgesindonesia.com/rimba/.
Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, Easter Island
Your journey to the so-called Navel of the World begins in Santiago, Chile, and heads five hours due west to Easter Island, a volcanic Polynesian island guarded by 887 moai statues.
Located 1,289 miles from its nearest inhabited neighbor, Easter Island is one of the world’s most remote colonized islands. Today, it’s also one of the most mysterious in large part due to the still unexplained origin of these towering monolithic human statues.
Head to the brand-new, solar-powered Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, on the edge of Easter Island’s town, Hanga Roa. Hangaroa offers a number of Rapa Nui-guided tours, including a trip to Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater, former quarry, and home to nearly 400 moai statues, as well as a surf safari of the island’s surrounding breaks.
Local Rapa Nui brothers Vaenga and Mai Teao offer a two-hour safari ($30; 569-9816-5381) out of a shack near the beach. Experts should head to Pakaia, where swells range from nine to 26 feet. Beginning at $640, double occupancy, all-inclusive; hangaroa.cl.
Kerlingarfjöll Resort, Iceland
In the summer, Iceland’s isolated interior is home to roughly 35,000 Icelandic horses and some 8,000 tourists, horse ranchers, and tour operators. But come winter, the central Highlands’ combination of uninhabitable volcanic desert, imposing mineral-streaked mountains, and deadly winter squalls, forces horses and tourists alike to retreat to the island’s milder coastlines, leaving the interior seemingly lifeless—until this winter.
For the first time ever, Kerlingarfjöll Resort will pick you up in a super Jeep to take you from the island’s southwestern coast to its inhospitable interior. The drive, depending on conditions, can take upwards of 10 hours. To get there, you’ll cross multiple rivers and navigate the vast snowy, treeless terrain, guided predominately by GPS, to Kerlingarfjöll’s picturesque outpost of A-frame cabins.
Once there, your guides dig out your snowdrift-buried accommodations. Fuel up on barbecued lamb and salt fish before blazing cross-country ski and snowshoe trails on the surrounding untracked hillsides. Kerlingarföll may be surrounded by thermal hot springs, but, at more than 212 degrees F, the nearest swimmable option is a must-hit at a 20-minute super Jeep ride away.
With only four hours of daylight in the heart of Iceland’s winters and zero light pollution, the Northern Lights are brighter in the Highlands than anywhere else in the country. Turn off your cabin’s lights and wait for the dark sky to awaken. Packages begin at $1,200, all-inclusive; kerlingarfjoll.is.
Sani Mountain, South Africa
The first time anyone drove up South Africa’s Sani Pass, then a mule trail, was in October 1948. It took ex-RAF Spitfire pilot Godfrey Edmonds nearly six hours and required the assistance of a Basotho labor gang, ponies, a chain pulley block, and a handful of petrol cans.
Today, Sani Pass and its 4x4 road make the trip to the mountain’s top and Sani Mountain Lodge slightly more achievable. Perched on the border between South Africa and Lesotho at 9,429 feet above sea level, the lodge is home to the highest pub in Africa and is the launch point for several backcountry hikes.
To get there, rent a 4x4 vehicle in Johannesburg and begin the 375-odd-mile drive south through the western end of KwaZulu-Natal province. Buckle up; Sani Pass ascends 4,363 feet in just five miles and is littered with previous wrecks.
From Sani Mountain Lodge, you can bag several nearby summits. Hodgson’s Peaks is a five-hour round trip hike across alpine meadows, home to grazing sheep and angora goats, to its 10,498-foot summit for views of Lesotho’s mountainous interior. Hardier hikers should commit to a 14.8-mile round trip hike to 11,424-foot Thabana Ntlenyana, Lesotho’s highest peak and the highest point south of Kilimanjaro. Beginning at $133; sanimountain.co.za.
Awaroa, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park may be New Zealand’s smallest national park at just 87 square miles but its world-famous coastal track is well worth a trek down under. Known for its pristine white sand beaches and sculptured granite cliffs, this park hides an eco lodge that’s only accessible via foot, sea kayak, or boat.
Backpackers should begin their trek to Awaroa at Marahau, the eastern entrance to the park, with a five-hour hike to the Anchorage campsite. The next day, Awaroa Lodge emerges from the native forest of manuka and kanuka tress in the northern end of the park. Once a shed that served tea and fresh scones, today Awaroa is a luxury wind and solar-powered eco lodge.
Settle into your room, overlooking the surrounding wetlands, and hike the trail system to spy paradise shelducks navigating the waterways, 60-year-old eels swimming through the plant foliage, and bioluminescent glow worms lighting up at night. Refuel on big-eyed tuna and steamed New Zealand clams.
Backpackers should pack a lunch and hike to Separation Point and Totaranui Beach, a 2.5-hour tidal hike across the inlet of a wide bay. For more nights under the stars, set up camp on the beach. Beginning at $298; awaroalodge.co.nz.
Sweet Escape Resort, Samoa
Head to Sweet Escape Resort on Samoa’s Manono Island to escape cars, dogs, and, with a population of only 889 islanders, crowds. Just a 2.4-mile boat ride from Samoa’s main island, Upolu, Sweet Escape is home to a small outpost of bright yellow and blue open-air fales perched on Manono’s rocky coastline.
Upon your arrival, take part in a kava ceremony where a local family will welcome you to the island as their guest by passing around a traditional drink extracted from the roots of a kava tree and mixed with water.
The people on Manono live a simple life reading, strolling, fishing, and snorkeling the calm turquoise waters that hug the island. Rent a Paopao, a traditional canoe, to explore the island’s coastline and try your hand at fishing. Attempt to match the local teenage boys’ prowess at spearing, or just watch for a while to gain insight into the technique. The teens wear fish-laden ropes around their shoulders, parading the day’s dinner, and often snack on fresh fish as they clamber out of the water.
Pack in a case of Vailima, Samoa’s own lager, and end each night listening to the waves batter the coastline while you sip on local brew. Beginning at $100; Sweet Escape Resort.
Desert Rose, Kenya
In the far northwest corner of Kenya, situated near the southernmost tip of Lake Turkana, sits the eco lodge Desert Rose. The earth-toned lodge juts out from the slopes of Mt. Nyiru and is reachable via a 10-hour road trip—pack surplus gas and precisely follow the lodge’s extensive driving instructions—or a 90-minute flight on the resort’s private Cessna 206 aircraft.
Tucked away in 62 acres of orchids, cedar, and cycad trees deep inside Kenya’s Northern Frontier, the isolated, solar-powered lodge is miles away from any other sign of human habitation. Upon arrival, you’ll move into one of the lodge’s five Samburu-built houses carved out of local rocks and timber. Each morning, you’ll wake up to a traditional cup of freshly brewed Kenyan black tea and biscuits.
Adventures from the Desert Rose include dawn bush walks; climbing Kenya’s remote crags in the Ndoto Mountains; or riding a camel to spot wild boar, wild dogs, and elusive leopards. At night, indulge in sundowners, cocktails in the bush at sunset, and eat by the river to the twilight symphony of the bush. Beginning at $540, all-inclusive; desertrosekenya.com.