There are many factors that contribute to travel and vacation experiences – destination, weather, costs, activities, food etc. But arguably, one of the most important of all is the accommodation you choose that will be your home away from home. Even if its just for 1 night, a good stay simply adds another dimension to an already good experience and makes a bad experience feel bearable. While I have had my fair share of horrid stay experiences, some really good ones are worth a mention. This is an attempt to put together My Top Vacation Stay Experiences starting from the most recent moving down to some old ones that I do have fond memories of. This is a W.I.P as I will keep updating it as I have more experiences. Hope this entry helps travelers discover their own homes away from home.
AN UNFORGETTABLE BEACH VACATION (2018) [Especially for those with kids!]
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo | Cosa Rica | Price ($$$): From $500/night.
Our recent visit to Costa Rica was our first lone trip with our 6 month old son. He is usually a good sleeper and the 1 hour time difference shouldn’t have created jet lag issues. But he had an ear infection when we left and that made for a slightly more cranky baby than usual. Nevertheless, the moment we landed in CR, the warm weather and humidity helped him cope and our cranky little one was not that cranky anymore! (Thank Goodness).
Andaz happened towards the latter half of our trip when we decided to drive from San José via Arenal National Park. It was a super long drive and the roads were horrible. But as we approached Liberia, roads got better, wider and suddenly we were not complaining any more. As we entered the Peninsula, it just got exponentially prettier — like we were on another planet! Peninsula Papagayo is a secluded, almost private area by the bay that contains just 2 big resorts — Andaz and Four Seasons. So once we were past the ‘check-posts’ we entered a world of absolute luxury.
Andaz is a beautiful chain of boutique hotels run by Hyatt. They follow the signature style of Hyatt hotels – understated, yet classy. But the difference with Andaz is that they take utmost care to blend in with their surroundings to make sure they offer luxury but not at the cost of taking away from the experience of the destination. Their lobby was an open gandola with views of a rainforest overlooking the bay. There was no air conditioning anywhere except for the rooms (Not even in the Spa treatment rooms!). The whole exterior was made out of bamboos that blended beautifully well with the forest it sits in. There were monkeys, iguanas and raccoons jumping all around the place and the friendly staff simply smiled and let them make their way without interrupting this natural fauna living in paradise.
After checking in, we were escorted to our room on a Golf Cart. The resort was on a hill. So walking around could be more of a hike, especially with a baby on hand. So golf cart kind of became our primary mode of transportation within the resort. Our room overlooked the bay, had a rain shower that opened into the the little sit out area and best of all, we could watch the beautiful sunrise on the bay from our bed! There was a really good restaurant on property (Rio Bhongo) where we had our luxurious breakfast every morning and dinner on 2 nights. There were 2 other restaurants too which we didn’t try. Nevertheless, there was access to 3 beautiful beaches that quickly became the highlight of our stay there. With all this at our door step, we decided to stay in and enjoy the resort. Something we never ever do. But god knows, it was worth it!
STAYING BY THE GLACIER (2017)
Melkevoll Bretun, Briksdalbre | Oldedalen, 6792 Briksdalsbre, Norway | Price ($): $95/night
Melkevoll Bretun is located at the base of the beautiful Briksdalbreen glacier, one of the most accessible and best known arms of the Jostedalsbreen glacier in the municipality of Stryn in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway. Melkevoll Bretun gets quite busy during summers, but since we visited during the shoulder season (May), we were able to book ourselves into one of the 8 cabins. The cabin we got was a little too big for us with about 3 rooms and a full kitchen, living room etc. But what the cabin came with was a panoramic view that was unbeatable. Surrounded by 2 glaciers and several waterfalls clearly visible from the large windows on all three sides of the cabin, this place was simply breathtaking. The cabin is also a short walk away from the base of the glacier from where a 45-minute hike leads you up to see the glacier up, close and personal.
At about $95/night ($), this place is reasonably priced as well as absolutely worth it for the views and accessibility to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Moreover, the price turns out to be even more economic if you are visiting with family since there is enough space for everyone (at a small additional price/person)!
FARM STAY AT A FJORD (2017)
Westerås Gard, Geirangerfjord | Vesterås, 6216 Geiranger, Norway | Price ($$): From $133/night.
The deep blue UNESCO-protected Geirangerfjord is surrounded by majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks, wild waterfalls and lush, green vegetation. Westerås Gard is a tiny farm stay atop a steep and narrow drive that overlooks the fjord. However, one must get on a ferry to get to this fjord if you are visiting during the off-peak season (May end-August) since the connecting road through Trollstigen is blocked by snow. We got to our accommodation on a clear, beautiful day and we found a whole bunch of sheep, lambs and llamas grazing happily on the lush green slopes of Westerås Gard. This place makes it to the list of my top stays only because of its fabulous location. The cottages are basic and Geirangerfjord area itself don’t have a lot to offer except for basking in the beauty of the fjord and walking a few hiking trails. The fun part about staying at Westerås Gard, however, is not just the picturesque location, but also accessibility to some beautiful hiking trails as well as the opportunity to interact closely with gorgeous farm animals!
REMOTE, UNDERSTATED & A VIEW TO DIE FOR (2017)
Rondane Høyfjellshotell | Rondanevegen, 2674 Mysusæter, Norway | Price (Off-Peak $$): $100/night
Rondane seemingly is not very heavy on tourists. So if remote natural beauty is what you are after, this might just be the place to visit. Rondane was one of Norway’s first National Parks covering almost about 386 square miles in the counties of Oppland and Hedmark. Beautiful, peaceful and sublime, this place might just be one of the best ways to experience the mountains and highlands of Eastern Norway.
Our stay at Rondane Høyfjellshotell was super special as we were the only people staying at the hotel at that time! Apparently, the place gets super busy during winters (flooded by skiing enthusiasts), but we missed that crowd by a few months and reached at a time when the snow had just started receding from mountain tops. We reached around 7pm on a Sunday which meant there was no-one there to greet us. But we were greeted by an open door and note with a key to our room. A bit weird (and scary), at first, since the entire hotel seemed deserted and the elevator to our room reminded me a building from the 1930’s! Our room was pretty low-key with basic furnishing and a cozy bathroom. But it’s the view that won us over. Where else could you see unobstructed views of snow-clad mountains from your bed! With that view, all our jitters were put to rest. We watched the sunset from our bed at 10pm and then had the most peaceful good night’s rest ever.
WILD ADVENTURE ON A MOBILE HOME: A MUST DO FOR ALL NZ VISITORS (2016)
18 Day RV Rental Across New Zealand | Wilderness Motorhomes | Price ($$$): $155/day RV Rental + Gas + InterIslander Ferry ticket for van $259.00 + InterIslander Ferry ticket/person $76
This island country is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. But what made this trip even more special was our experience of it. There is no other, better way to see New Zealand than by road and what more can one ask, when you can be home and be on the road at the same time! We cooked, bathed, slept, played Uno and had endless conversations. Sometimes under the stars and sometimes on rainy afternoons in the middle of a rainforest. At a peaceful lake or sometimes on the shores of a wild coast, falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing against steep mountain rocks. Our first ever RV experience across one of the most wildly beautiful places on Earth — even though it ripped our budget apart, there is no other way I would have rather experienced NZ! Read about our South Island experience in more detail here >>
AN OVERNIGHT CRUISE IN THE FJORDS (2016)
Milford Mariner Overnight Cruises by Real Journeys | Milford Sound, NZ | Price ($$): $440/twin-sharing (2 days, 1 night including meals).
No where else had I seen such high mountains in such close proximity and fjords all along the base of these mighty peaks, channels of flowing, calm water all pouring into the vast and turbulent Tasman Sea. Welcome to the prettiest corner of the world – Milford Sound.
Many people take day cruises at Milford and those are great too. But if you have the time and the budget to take an overnight cruise, don’t miss it. There’s only one tour operator that runs an overnight cruise in the sounds – Milford Mariner by Real Journeys. A slightly less touristy, full board cruise that sails through colorful rainbow waterfalls and docks inside the sound for the night. Guarded by the tall Miter peak and all other snow clad mountains around, the rare, Crested Penguin and Seals float all around you while you kayak and explore the sound at your own pace. At night, you get to mingle with other travelers on board, perhaps take a drink up to the dock and watch the moonlit Miter Peak and then retire to the comfort of your own cabin.
AN UNFORGETTABLE JUNGLE STAY AT SERENGETI (2015)
Kati Kati Tented Camp | Serengeti National Park Tanzania | Price ($$): Part of a Safari package booked with Rickshaw Travels.
An African Safari is incomplete without the thrill of staying in the wild. Our stay at the Kati Kati Tented Camp in Serengeti Tanzania was an experience that is hard to forget. This mobile camp is usually located in Central Serengeti that gives it easy access to most of the plains and a whole lot of wild life. From the outside, the camp looked just like what it is — a tented camp. But it is definitely a notch cozier than you would expect! It has only 10 ensuite tents in addition to a central tent where they serve all their delicious meals. The staff is super friendly and they make sure to welcome all guests with a big smile and a welcome ‘Hakuna Matata’ dance. Their ensuite shower system is probably one of the most interesting showering experience I have ever had — and I am going to leave it at that ;). We stayed there 2 nights and went on safaris 3 times a day. The whole experience was totally worth every minute with animal sightings like never before, a friendly guide and a hospitable meal to come back to. It felt rather special to have your own little rented spot in the wild, amongst roaring sounds of hyenas, leopards and the spectacle of a clear, starry night – a roof that you share with so many different species, all at the same time.
HOSPITALITY AT ITS BEST (2015)
Park Hyatt | Stone Town, Zanzibar | Price ($$$): From $500/night.
Our 3-day Zanzibar experience was a mix of emotions — from being extremely disappointed due to delayed flights, to landing up in a town so far away from home yet looking so familiar and then checking in to one of the best surprises that awaited us at the Park Hyatt, our home for the next 3 days and also a major part of our Zanzibar experience.
As we walked into this building that looked like any other old homes in an old city, we were struck by the understated grandeur of the reception lobby. One of the things that I love about Park Hyatts around the world is that the decor is heavily influenced by the surroundings, yet they somehow maintain the simplicity and class of the brand. It was their first year after opening when we went in 2015. The hotel is housed in two buildings, one of them Mambo Msiige, a building steeped in history, grace and mystique with a story dating back to the 17th century. A typical Zanzibari mansion, centered round a peaceful courtyard, a retreat from the summer heat, Mambo Msiige is a unique gem with architecture that embraces Swahili culture alongside Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. The new and purpose built Zamani residence connects to Mambo Msiige, blending old with new, historic with contemporary.
Our experience at this heritage building was special for many reasons (we were celebrating our anniversary and were upgraded to the presidential suite!), but I can absolutely attest to the unmatched hospitality of the staff and the uniquely different experience of staying at this property. Highly recommended for all those who seek to experience Stone Town’s history and culture — all wrapped in the lap of luxury!
A SAFE, SOULFUL HAVEN FOR THE SOLO TRAVELER (2012)
Sharada Homestay through Kishkinda Trust | Anegundi, Hampi, Karnataka | Price($): <$2/night!
Hampi was a special trip. It was my first and probably the only lone trip I have ever made. And it changed me forever. I traveled here like a traveler, not a tourist – not knowing where I would end up everyday, what I would eat and who I will meet. Low(very low) on cost, but very high up in soulful satisfaction – this trip wouldn’t have been the same if it was not for my homestay here. Below is an excerpt from an old blog I wrote about my trip, but it explains almost everything that I want to say about this place. Read the entire blog here > A walk through time – Hampi.
My room was unlike my expectation. It was really large and overlooked a beautiful paddy field, ready to be harvested. The floor of the house was concrete and the walls were hand-painted. Such rawness, this place was almost immaculate in all it’s imperfections. And then there was Anju, my host. A woman in her 30’s, born to a French mother and an Indian father, she lived alone in that house and maintained it enough to be able to let the extra rooms to wandering tourists like me. Her hospitality played a big part in making this experience a memorable one.
A BEAUTIFUL HOME IN THE OLD CITY OF MARRAKESH (2010)
Riad Al Andaluz | Diour Jdad, Marrakesh, Morocco | Price ($)
A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. Located in the ever so confusing maze-like streets of old city Marrakesh, this Riad promises the most authentic Moroccan experience with traditional breakfast, a courtyard with an actual orange tree and very hospitable hosts. If you don’t mind getting lost in the old city (make sure you know the local language and are not carrying your valuables with you!) and feeling frustrated with pick-pockets and intimidating looking people around you, this place is right up your sleeve. Just make sure to pack a little spirit of adventure with you!