While the term "edu-vacation" has been used to reflect family travel with learning opportunities for children, the term can certainly apply to an uptick in general interest for meaningful travel that provides the chance to enrich oneself. According to the American Express 2022 Global Travel Trends Report, 81 percent of respondents want to visit destinations where they can immerse themselves in the local culture and direct their tourism dollars back to the local economy. And one of the best ways to do that is to stay in a hotel that offers educational cultural-immersion workshops.
The best hotels are mirrors, reflecting the places they call home. Besides employing members of the community, shining a spotlight on local cuisine, and utilizing indigenous materials in the design, a major way this culture-forward hospitality philosophy comes to life in many properties is through cultural education programs designed with the goal of expanding guests' minds.
The cultural education programs highlighted below teach visitors about local culture in a real, tangible way and provides practical skills for travelers to bring back home.
10 hotels with cultural programs
1. Thai Clay Molding at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
As part of its ongoing effort to foster connection between guests and the Northern Thai way of life, the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai recently launched a cultural center called the Chaan Baan that works with the local community to draw attention to ancestral crafts, such as Thai clay molding.
Rest assured, no prior pottery-making knowledge is necessary for taking part in this engaging session. During the 60-minute workshop, artisans from In Clay Studio Pottery share traditional Thai techniques and guide visitors through using the wheel or hand-building and then decorating the ceramics with natural-ash glazes.
2. Natural Remedies Workshop at NIHI Sumba (Sumba Island, Indonesia)
NIHI Sumba honors indigenous rituals in its natural remedies workshop. Guests are able to walk through the organic garden and gather the ingredients to prepare time-honored Indonesian plant-medicine remedies. These include jamu, an anti-inflammatory drink made from roots, herbs, and spices, and aloe vera and virgin coconut oil serums to treat sunburns.
3. Beading Maasai Jewelry at Mara Bushtops (Masai Mara, Kenya)
Between peeping elephants and lions in the wild on this safari retreat, guests at Mara Bushtops in Kenya’s Masai Mara have the unique chance to stay in a stunning camp that centers the beauty of nature and local traditions, including with its beaded jewelry.
In East African culture, beaded jewelry isn’t just for decoration, but rather the shapes and colors of the beads carry individual significance. Local bead-making experts share the history and importance of the time-honored craft while guiding safari-goers through the process of creating their own works of art.
4. Guided Meditation with a Buddhist Monk at Capella Bangkok (Bangkok, Thailand)
Finding moments of relaxation in daily life and on vacation is beneficial to overall well-being. After all, meditation has been found to help reduce stress, boost emotional regulation, calm the sympathetic nervous system, and improve sleep. And in Buddhist culture, it’s employed to develop concentration and achieve a content state of mind.
Absorbing the foundational elements of this practice from a Buddhist monk in Thailand? Well, that certainly stands to offer some benefits. Monk Prasert, the mindfulness meditation master from Wat Yannawa, the 200-year-old Ayutthaya-era temple near Capella Bangkok brings serenity and spirituality seekers along on a guided journey through your consciousness towards inner peace.
5. Tali Kato at Turtle Island (Fiji)
Turtle Island in Fiji is a 500-acre luxury private island resort that employs more than 120 staff members from local villages. It features 14 traditional Fijian wood-and-straw bures overlooking a sparkling blue lagoon, and visitors can learn tali kato, which means weaving traditional Fijian baskets.
6. Little Ram Oyster Company’s Farm Tour and Shucking Classes at the Shoals (Southold, New York)
Fishing is an essential part of life in many coastal communities on the North Fork of Long Island, including Southold. The Shoals, a hybrid “boatel” housed in a rehabbed marina building that used to be a fish market and bait shop, embraces the area’s rich aquaculture and natural resources. The robust on-site oyster operation, run by local- and female-owned family business Little Ram Oyster Company, gives guests a chance to gain first-hand knowledge about oyster farming, step-by-step shucking techniques, and how to taste the nuance of the sustainable bivalve delicacy (which, fun fact, can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day from pollutants).
7. Mayan Hammock Weaving at Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)
Hammock weaving is a traditional Mayan craft that dates back centuries. While buying a hammock from a tourist shop in Playa del Carmen might be an easy way to add a little flair to your house, it certainly won’t teach you anything about the history or artistry that goes into the vibrant new decorative object of your affection.
The immersive offering at Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya walks guests through the process of turning colorful string into a functional hammock while learning about Mayan heritage and culture. Afterward, why not test drive your new creation during a sunset hang session by the ocean?
8. Ukulele Lessons at Montage Kapalua Bay (Maui, Hawaii)
The ukulele was introduced to the Hawaiian people In 1879, and since then, the stringed instrument has become as synonymous with the aloha spirit as the gentle lull of waves lapping the sand. For many, the mere utterance of the word ukulele conjures images of strumming sessions under swaying palm trees.
Montage Kapalua Bay endeavors to preserve Hawaiian traditions through immersive programming. Silla Kaina, the resort’s longtime cultural ambassador, teaches visitors how to hold and finger the ukulele, as well as the basic chords, in an idyllic, breezy setting on the picturesque coast of Maui.
9. Agave Paper Making at Casa Salles (Tequila, Mexico)
The UNESCO-listed town of Tequila in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco is best known for its namesake spirit. But the parts of the blue agave plant that aren’t utilized for distillation don’t just get chucked.
Casa Salles, a boutique retreat located next to a working distillery, partnered with local artist Norma Macías Zambrano to upcycle the discarded agave fibers and other byproducts from the production process into paper as she does to create art. The immersive classes, which take place at her studio down the street from the hotel, shine a light on the myriad ways people in the region use its most precious plant.
10. “Be a Farmer” at Six Senses Con Dao (Con Dao, Vietnam)
While it’s not particularly difficult to find an eco-oriented hotel that offers garden tours and farm-to-table cooking classes, Six Senses Con Dao goes a step further. At this five-star beachfront oasis on the tropical island of Con Dao, it’s not just about traipsing through rows of endemic plants and mingling with animals, but rather gaining a deeper appreciation for long-standing local agriculture practices.
Guests get to feed the chickens, collect eggs from the coop, and learn traditional Vietnamese hand-harvesting methods for organic vegetables and herbs—all skills that, with any luck, you might be able to put into use at your local community garden.
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