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These 6 Hotels Bridge the Divide Between Travelers and Locals

By AFAR Editors

Jan 22, 2020

From the March/April 2020 issue

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Travelers to Mauritius can do more than lounge poolside at Salt of Palmar; skill swaps with locals are on the docket, too.

Courtesy of Tekla Severin

Travelers to Mauritius can do more than lounge poolside at Salt of Palmar; skill swaps with locals are on the docket, too.

Don’t just book a place to sleep; check into lodgings that will connect you to locals.

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Forward-thinking lodgings around the world have introduced innovative programs to make connections and foster empathy between travelers and locals. So if you want to converse with Tanzanian women about their lives or learn about traditional Omani agricultural practices from a longtime farmer, these hotels are for you.

At Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, guests can “talk story” and learn about Hawaiian culture.

Dive into native Hawaiian culture

Set on 32 secluded acres along the northwest coast of the Big Island, the newly renovated Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, has all the trappings of a luxury ocean retreat. But Danny Akaka, Mauna Lani’s resident kahu hanai, or knowledge keeper, is the resort’s real treasure. Akaka grew up visiting the area and now leads a team of locals who help guests understand Hawaiian culture through ukulele lessons, lei making, and interpretations of ancient petroglyphs carved in the volcanic stone found on the property. As part of the Living Culture Department, he also brings residents and guests together for weekly talks, in which he shares Hawaiian myths about supernatural eels and warrior kings, along with tales of his own canoeing adventures. In the same spirit of community connectedness, he emcees “Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a,” a monthly jam session that has attracted the likes of ukulele maestro Jake Shimabukuro and the late Don Ho. —Jennifer Flowers

In addition to conversing with local women, guests at Gibb’s Farm can help with harvest in the organic gardens.

Converse with Maasai women in Tanzania

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Gibb’s Farm, a 1929 farmstead in the northern town of Karatu, serves as the home base for AdventureWomen’s eye-opening programming, which facilitates dialogue between female travelers and local Maasai women. (The CEO of AdventureWomen owns the farm.) The itineraries include land safaris, bird-watching with naturalists, and visits with women in their bomas, or traditional huts. It is in those private homes, and with the help of a translator, that travelers are invited to participate in a discussion about the female experience. Recent meetups have turned into spirited conversations on topics such as childbirth, polygamy, and gender-defined domestic roles. —J.F.

In Chile’s northern desert, guests of Tierra Atacama connect with locals (and their own creativity).

Learn from artisans at Tierra Atacama

The new Ancestral Excursions outings at this remote resort in Chile’s Atacama Desert introduce guests to local Atacameños, including members of the Coyo Ayllu, Toconao Ayllu, Quitor Ayllu, and Sequitor Ayllu communities, which have thrived for centuries in the harsh desert climate. The resort has partnered with Chile’s Foundation for Heritage Conservation and Sustainable Tourism to provide opportunities for travelers to learn how to knit using cactus needles at a women’s knitting collective; visit with makers of jams and collectors of honeys; tour a farm to learn how crops, including carob and quinoa, are grown and irrigated in the desert; and converse with a shaman, who explains the magnetic healing energy of the salts in the ground. —J.F.

A guest of Salt of Palmar takes a pottery class with Janine at her Pamplemousses studio.

Swap skills with talented Mauritians

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At the Salt of Palmar resort in Mauritius, guests and locals share their time and talents through a unique skill-swapping initiative. Coordinated via the hotel’s guest relations team, visitors volunteer their knowledge on a topic of their choosing (such as soccer coaching or painting) with resort staff and community residents, including special-needs children from a nearby school. In turn, guests can sign up to learn about rattan weaving or pottery from the local makers who furnish the hotel with beach baskets and ceramic dishware. Other offerings cover traditional Sega dance, hair braiding, candle making, and palm heart farming. —Jeanine Barone

Cultivating damask roses is a time-honored practice in Oman’s Al Hajar Mountains, where Abdullah Saif al Saqry, left, continues the tradition.

Smell the roses (and pomegranates) in Oman

Anantara makes it easy for its guests at its Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort to experience the agricultural side of life in the Al Hajar Mountains, a region notable for its rose blooms. There, families have relied on their small organic farms for generations. The hotel’s local “Mountain Gurus” accompany travelers and provide translation for Omani farmer and elder Abdullah Saif al Saqry. From March till May, tour his aromatic damask rose garden and the distillery where he continues the ancient tradition of making rosewater, a specialty of the area. In September and October, travelers to his four-acre farm harvest pomegranates. The encounters not only lend insight into farming techniques and customs in al Saqry’s village of Sayq but also encourage cross-cultural conversations. —Sara Button

Traditional gers are home for the night at Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia.

Run with the nomads in Mongolia

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The rugged journey to the remote Three Camel Lodge in the heart of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert is only the first step to experiencing traditional nomadic life. Step two: Settling into a cozy ger, a circular tent used by Mongolian herders for centuries. With sparse cell service and no WiFi, travelers spend their days meeting nomads who water their flock at the nearby well, enjoying musical performances of khoomei (throat singing) and morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), visiting the Altai Mountain home of an eagle hunter, or just ogling the spectacular scenery. Itineraries with parent company Nomadic Expeditions incorporate a stay at Three Camel Lodge and attendance at cultural gatherings such as the Naadam Festival, a midsummer competition of archery, wrestling, and horseback riding that predates Genghis Khan himself. —S.B.

>>Next: The Best New Hotels in the World: The Stay List

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