18 November 2018Last updated


6 of the world’s most unusual hotels

From an ex-prison to a ship atop a cliff, here’s some of the most memorable holiday spots around…

Imogen Lemon
4 Dec 2016 | 05:31 pm

Elqui Domos Hotel, Chile

Elqui Domos - All images courtesy of Istock/Shutterstock/Reuters

If this planet isn’t quite enough to satisfy your holiday needs, the Elqui Domos Hotel looks towards the stars to make your stay there out of the ordinary. The hotel is located in the Elqui Valley in Northern Chile, 500km north of the capital, Santiago, and surrounded by the Andes.

Above the hotel is one of the clearest atmosphere points in the world and that, coupled with the area’s good weather, means that at night the sky is lit up by the Milky Way. The hotel itself consists of two-storey igloo-like tents and wooden cabins, all of which have windows in the roofs above the bed allowing you to watch the night sky as you lie there. Each room is also provided with a telescope, and astronomical books and lectures are available for guests. 

If you’re worried that stargazing might be limited to your hotel room, don’t be. Elqui Domos organises guided night excursions both on foot and on horseback, and an observatory has recently been opened on the hotel site.


Need to know 
A two-person room costs Dh570 per night from April to October, and Dh700 from November to March. Return flights to Santiago with Qatar Airways start from around Dh6,400, and return flights between the capital and La Serena, the airport closest to the valley, are available for less than Dh200. For details see

Icehotel, Sweden


The original Icehotel, set up in 1989, is reborn in a new guise every winter, with the help of international artists, in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. From 2017, however, the additional brand-new adjacent Icehotel 365 is, as the name implies, open all year round.

The permanent structure includes luxury suites with saunas and bathrooms, and suites sculptured by artists. There are around 50 cold rooms and 70 warm rooms, as well as a restaurant, lounge, large ice bar and an ice gallery. When booking you select a combination of warm and cold nights – the hotel suggests booking the cold room for either the first or last night. The beds in the cold rooms have a bedframe made of ice, with a mattress and reindeer skins to keep you snug. No matter which season you go, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy, including dog sledding, skiing and snowmobiling in winter, and river rafting and cycling in summer.


Need to know
 Flights on Emirates to Stockholm start from around Dh8,750. From there fly by SAS or Norwegian airlines to Kiruna airport, from where you take a shuttle arranged by Icehotel. For details and booking visit

The Manta Resort, Tanzania

AQ_UH_Tanzania 1

The amazing Swiss-engineered underwater room at The Manta provides three levels of ocean bliss for aquaphiles. The landing deck, at sea level, has the lounge area and bathroom facility with open-air freshwater shower, but climb a ladder to the roof, and you can sunbathe during the days or stare mesmerised at the night sky, enjoying the spectacular view that comes courtesy of zero light pollution. Downstairs, flop on to a soft double bed and take in the 360-degree views of fish swimming past your glass windows.

By night, the underwater spotlights beneath each window attract the shyer and more unusual sea creatures such as squid, while coral has established itself on the anchoring lines and around the underwater structure. This is the ideal spot for any couple not wanting to be disturbed – the room lies approximately 250m from the shore, and after a two-minute boat ride over the crystal clear waters of the Manta house reef you’re left alone to enjoy the room. You don’t have to fend for yourself though - staff will bring you your meals at prearranged times and the room has a security guard in the waters nearby. 


Need to know 
Pemba Island is accessed via most airports in East Africa via Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam. The underwater room costs around Dh5,500 per night. To book visit

Karosta Prison, Latvia


Like most normal people, you probably avoid having to spend time in prison. Especially Soviet naval prisons. However, in the Karosta Prison, about 175km from Riga in Latvia, you get the chance to experience what is was like to be imprisoned there but with the knowledge that you’ll be free to leave the next day. This prison-turned-hotel was fully functioning until 1997 and during its run not one single prisoner escaped.

Now, Karosta offers museum tours and activities including an escape room, as well as an accommodation package that involves sleeping in a room with barred windows, eating prison food, and being made to do physical exercise and face verbal abuse if you disobey orders. While it’s certainly an experience, you’re unlikely to want to stay more than one night, and the hotel’s popularity means that advance booking is required. 


Need to know
 The full overnight treatment is only Dh70 per night, and return flights to Riga with Aeroflot start at around Dh1,900.

Das Park Hotel, Germany & Austria


Das Park Hotel is a basic, low-cost hotel with the twist that each room is contained in a piece of repurposed concrete sewage pipe. Obviously, the pipes are completely clean now and other than the source of the materials there is nothing remotely sewer-like about staying in one of the rooms, with the back wall of each room decoratively painted to make it more hospitable. Each pipe segment comes with a double bed and bedding, storage space, and a power outlet, while all other amenities are available in the nearby public space.

One of the most attractive aspects of this hotel is its pay-what-you-want policy, and so the cost of your stay is completely up to you. This isn’t a hotel you’d choose for a luxury holiday but it serves as a great cheap and alternative base for if you want to explore the surrounding area. There are currently two Das Park Hotels open along the Danube, one near Essen in Germany, and the other in Ottensheim in Austria. 


Need to know 
Etihad offers return flights to Düsseldorf in Germany for upwards of Dh2,700, and Lufthansa offers return flights to Linz in Austria starting at Dh2,800.

Sun Cruise Resort and Yacht, South Korea


Sun Cruise Hotel, located on Jeongdongjin Beach in South Korea, fills the unlikely service of providing visitors with a cruise experience without ever leaving the mainland. Perched atop a cliff along the beach, this hotel looks like a cruise liner that has somehow run aground and become stranded high above the waves. This elevated position gives guests the sights and sounds of being at sea, but without all the motion sickness that usually accompanies them. On the boat, the expanse of the Sea of Japan can be admired from the top-floor rotating restaurant or the glass-floored observation deck, and in the morning a glorious sunrise is reflected in the water.

Need to know
 Room prices start at Dh600 per night and Qatar Airways offers return flights to Seoul from Dh2,400. See to book.

Imogen Lemon

Imogen Lemon