Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has traveled to 85 countries and stayed in hundreds of hotels. We asked him which hotel stays were his absolute favorites to build vacations around. 

Wherever I travel, I love picking out where we’re going to stay. I look for iconic hotels. I look for the best locations — especially when traveling with kids. I look for the best views (see my post on 25 of the Best Hotel Views in the World). But even then, even with the best possible room in the best location, vacations are still about the destination. When someone asks about your trip to Paris, you may mention where you stayed, but a trip to Paris is never going to be 100% about the hotel.

But what about when it is — when a vacation is completely based around where you’re staying? When the hotel is the destination? Thinking through every hotel we’ve stayed at, I picked eight unique, extraordinary stays that were all about the hotels and the activities at and around the hotels. Some I’ve mentioned before, but many I haven’t. Enjoy! And please comment below with hotels that you’ve stayed at that you similarly think are worth the journey.

Al Maha Desert Resort

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

When you’re sitting by your private plunge pool at Al Maha Desert Resort, there’s no indication that one of the world’s most modern cities is only 45 minutes away. Over the course of three days at Al Maha, we went on desert animal safaris, watched early-morning falconry, walked the desert dunes, took a sunset camel ride and had an amazing dinner in the middle of the desert. I even fit in a massage and pool time as well! I’d route future trips through Dubai just to return to Al Maha.

Extraordinary hotels: Al Maha Desert Resort

Looking out from our room at Al Maha Desert Resort, with our private pool and then only sand as far as the eye can see.

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is the quintessential honeymoon destination, but we found it to be kid friendly as well. The view from the overwater bungalows is so incredible that it’s easy to spend whole days just relaxing and swimming off your deck. But if you want activities there are a lot to choose from, including short trips into the town of Vaitape, snorkeling with stingrays or kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. The kids’ club is excellent, although for the most part our kids preferred to be at our bungalow or participating in the other water sports. Highly recommended, at least once in a lifetime!

Extraordinary Hotels: Four Seasons Bora Bora

Stand up paddle boarding at Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Ashford Castle

County Mayo, Ireland

We only spent two nights at Ashford Castle, but there are so many activities for guests that we want to go back just to experience more. As it was, we were able to fit in falconry (the most fun we’ve had doing that anywhere in the world), horseback riding, hiking and afternoon tea. And the kids played many games of chess in the main hall! Next time we’ll do falconry again but add on archery, zip lining, fishing and a boat trip on the Castle’s lake as well. Plus you get to sleep in a castle! An utterly special experience.

Extraordinary hotels: Ashford Castle

A late afternoon rainbow over Ireland’s Ashford Castle

Giraffe Manor

Nairobi, Kenya

I love giraffes, so I had wanted to stay at Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor for years. When it finally worked to book a one-night stay at the end of our safari around Tanzania and Kenya, it lived up to all expectations! Breakfast with endangered Rothchild’s giraffes was a highlight, but we also loved afternoon tea on the terrace with giraffes and warthogs, and dinner in the hotel’s paneled dining room (sans giraffes). And if you have an upstairs room, you may have giraffes poking their heads in looking for treats! The Giraffe Center is right next door, with constant giraffe interaction, but staying at Giraffe Manor is a more intimate experience. Obviously there’s a lot more to do around Nairobi and Kenya, but I’d book a flight through Nairobi again just to have breakfast with giraffes one more time!

Extraordinary hotels: Giraffe Manor

Breakfast at Giraffe Manor!

The Broadmoor

Colorado Springs, Colorado

I grew up a block from The Broadmoor and took it for granted that my friends and I could walk over anytime and feed ducks at the lake, take out a pedal boat, visit the toy store and soda fountain, go to movies, and otherwise enjoy a 5-star hotel as our personal playground. But the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve realized that it’s truly one of the world’s great hotels, and one that I love returning to with my kids. We play at the playground. We spend hours at the gorgeous pool. We take cooking classes. We enjoy the hotel’s restaurants. We hike and visit waterfalls just minutes away. And we still go to movies in the same movie theater where I saw A Little Romance when I was 8 years old!

Extraordinary hotels: The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs enchants me even more as an adult.

Mashpi Lodge

Ecuador

Mashpi Lodge is in the middle of Ecuador’s cloud forest, a 3-4 hour drive from Quito. Don’t let the drive dissuade you from visiting however — this was one of our favorite hotel experiences ever! The lodge itself is gorgeous, with views out over the cloud forest, but a visit is really about the activities — most of them animal-related. We saw over a dozen different species of butterflies. We had hummingbirds flying around us for hours. We went on night walks to find rare frogs. There’s early-morning bird watching every day (with coffee). There are hikes to waterfalls where you see (and learn about) incredibly interesting plants and insects. And there’s even a chairlift that takes you on an 80-minute journey through the trees and over the treetops all the way down to the rain forest. Parrots flying around? Check. An amazing experience for adults and kids alike.

Extraordinary hotels: Mashpi Lodge

Early morning at Ecuador’s Mashpi Lodge

Six Senses Zighy Bay

Musandam Peninsula, Oman

I’ve traveled throughout Oman and love the country, but when I think of the Musandam Peninsula, separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE, it’s all about Six Senses Zighy Bay — an extraordinary resort in an extraordinary setting. We arrived by driving two hours from Dubai and then…paraglided in to the hotel! How many places around the world let you paraglide in? (Note: the paragliding is optional. You can also arrive by 4×4 or speedboat.) We then spent two days at our beachfront villa with a private plunge pool; we bicycled all around the property; watched the sunset from the Sabatyn plateau; went tubing; ate a lot of really good food; and overall loved living the desert/beach/ocean life. Six Senses is on our short list of places to return to as soon as possible.

Extraordinary hotels: In our Omani Summer House (aka my daughter's fort) between our villa and the beach at Six Senses Zighy Bay

In our Omani Summer House (aka my daughter’s fort) between our villa and the beach at Six Senses Zighy Bay.

Tierra Patagonia

Torres del Paines, Chile

Tierra Patagonia is stunning architecturally, and it’s located in one of the world’s most beautiful locations — Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. Those two features alone make the 4-hour drive from the Punta Arenas airport worth the journey. But once you get there, take full advantage of the excursion options, including leisurely or intense hiking in the park, animal spotting and horseback riding.

Extraordinary hotels: Tierra Patagonia

Sunrise at Tierra Patagonia.

Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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