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Off the grid: 10 places to totally unplug

If the last book you read was Facebook, the last palm you saw was a Treo, or the last tweet you noticed was from Twitter, it's time to break the technological tethers and go on vacation.
Cotton Tree Lodge
Bungalows on Chumbe Island, Tanzania.
/ Source:

If the last book you read was Facebook, the last palm you saw was a Treo or the last tweet you noticed was from Twitter, it's time to break the technological tethers and go on vacation.

Listen carefully: not a working holiday, but an actual get-away-from-it-all, totally unplugged vacation, without cell phones, Wi-Fi, or BlackBerries.

We've found ten top places — from a wireless-free zone on a Mexican beach to a solar-powered lodge in Africa to a tree house on Vancouver Island — that compel you to put away the electronics and hear yourself think.

Now, how's that for a status update?

1. Wisconsin
The hideout:
Spider Lake Lodge, a lakeside, Adirondack-inspired B&B in the dense Wisconsin woods.

Low-tech lowdown: That's a sweet new iPhone you've got there. But unless it's made of kindling, it'll be kinda useless at a 1923 log cabin surrounded by the 858,400-acre Chequamegon National Forest — no EDGE network here!

What Spider Lake lacks in connectivity, it more than makes up for with rustic north-woods kitsch: Expect bearskin rugs, Hudson Bay blankets and old wicker fishing baskets in the seven knotty-pine rooms. Yes, you'll miss your TiVo and the latest episode of “Mad Men” — until you take a deep (uninterrupted) breath of pine-scented fresh air. Or curl up in front of the Great Room's massive stone fireplace to gaze at the gently falling snow.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Explore the Chequamegon by foot, mountain bike, snowshoes or cross-country skis
  • Land a brag-worthy catch from Big Spider Lake — welcome to the “Muskie Capital of the World”
  • Cheer on sawyers, choppers and log rollers at the Lumberjack World Championships (held each July)

The road less traveled: Fly to Duluth, Minn., then nose a 4WD vehicle — especially recommended in winter — 80 miles south to tiny Hayward (population: 2,000). Then keep driving nearly 13 more miles into the woods until it's you, the elk and Spider Lake Lodge.

Don't forget: Your wallet. Fancy an antler chandelier for your own home? Then you're in luck ... much of the art throughout Spider Lake Lodge is for sale.

Spider Lake Lodge
Tel: 715 462 3793
Doubles from $159

2. Alaska
The hideout:
Ultima Thule Lodge, in a tiny village that's so far north, it's run by the Claus family. Really.

Low-tech lowdown: In 1960, John Claus (alas, no relation to the big guy) came to southeast Alaska as a bush pilot and was able to hold on to land even when his 13-million-acre backyard was turned into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Today, his children and grandchildren operate an adventure camp that sits in pure wilderness — 100 miles from the end of the road. “We make our own electricity, find our own water, build our own buildings,” says Donna Claus. “We are our own city.”

That is, if you consider eight cabins — each with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom — to be a city, and those snowcapped, 18,000-foot peaks to be skyscrapers.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Notch your own first ascent (or descent, on skis) of one of the nearby mountains
  • Enjoy dinner and a show — wild Alaskan salmon and the northern lights
  • Raft Class III rapids on the glacier-fed Chitina River

The road less traveled: Fly to Anchorage and connect on Alaska Airlines to Valdez, where Ultima Thule's charter plane will pick you up for the two-hour flight to the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Don't forget: Dramamine. The only way in or out of Ultima Thule is by bush plane.

Ultima Thule Lodge
Tel: 907 688 1200
$1,500 per person, per night (four nights, minimum); includes all meals and activities

3. Texas
The hideout:
Cibolo Creek Ranch, a working longhorn ranch sprawled across the Chinati and Cienega mountains, near Big Bend National Park.

Low-tech lowdown: We're not sure why the concept of personal space has become so “last century,” but Cibolo Creek Ranch brings it back with nearly 47 square miles of luxurious ... nothingness. That's an area about the size of San Francisco, which a handful of privacy-seeking travelers share with only the cattle, buffalo, elk, antelope and camels that roam here.

Some things are new since the ranch was founded in 1857 — notably a hot tub, swimming pool and full spa — but there are plenty of things that haven't changed a bit.

The 32 guest quarters are divided among three historic forts and adjoining haciendas and come equipped with Saltillo-tiled floors and Mexican blankets — but no phones or radios. Instead, you can watch what the ranchers proudly call the “South Texas TV”: a campfire.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Go horseback riding, mountain biking, or skeet shooting
  • Connect the dots between Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Pegasus; at night, the stars are piercingly bright against a velvet-black sky
  • Consume heaping portions of beef tenderloin hand-rubbed with spices, green enchiladas, and tres leches cake

The road less traveled: File a flight plan to the ranch's 5,300-foot landing strip. Or, fly to El Paso and drive 214 miles southeast. The breathtaking West Texas mountains and Rio Grande will appear around the same time your cell stops working.

Don't forget: A digital SLR camera. Cibolo Creek regularly offers photography seminars to help you capture the crimson mesa and lavender skies — ensuring that your friends will be suitably jealous when you upload the pics to Facebook.

Cibolo Creek Ranch
Tel: 432 229 3737
Doubles from $475, including meals

4. The Florida Keys
The hideout:
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Little Palm Island is a sliver of land in the Florida Keys, where “traffic” is an iguana on the crushed-shell path.

Low-tech lowdown: Little Palm has such disdain for disruptive modern devices that one of the island's few telephones is stowed in an outhouse. Said WC once served Harry Truman when he retreated here for fishing.

Today, vacationing couples find decidedly more posh privies (with indoor and outdoor showers) in the 28 thatch-bungalow suites that grace the five-and-a-half-acre property.

Sans boob tubes and alarm clocks, it's Gilligan's Island — only with wrought-iron chandeliers, chilled Champagne and velvet-trimmed throw pillows.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Dive Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, home to 150 fish species and 7,000-year-old coral reefs
  • Tool around in a Boston whaler
  • Decide whether to order the pan-seared diver scallops with lobster pancake or veal chop with truffle risotto

The road less traveled: Unless you're going to wing it in your own seaplane, fly to Miami, Marathon or Key West, Florida, and drive to Little Torch Key, at mile marker 28.5 on U.S. Highway 1. Then board The Truman, a private motor yacht that glides across the three miles to Little Palm while you sip on Gumby Slumbers — rum punch topped with shredded coconut soaked in rum too.

Don't forget: Postage stamps. Between sunbathing on the white-sand beach and a milk-and-honey body wrap at the spa, send some snail mail to your kids back home — under-16s aren't allowed on Little Palm.

Little Palm Island
Tel: 800 343 8567
Doubles from $775 per night; meal plans including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $175 daily

5. Oaxaca, Mexico
The hideout:
Laid-back Punta Placer, a collection of four beachfront bungalows in the tiny fishing village of San Agustinillo, on Mexico's southern Pacific coast.

Low-tech lowdown: For a long time, life in San Agustinillo really did operate at a tortoise's pace. The local fishermen made their living by hunting turtles until the Mexican government banned the practice in 1990.

Now it's a great place to retreat into your shell. There are no televisions, no phones, no wireless connections — and no walls or corners in the eight circular rooms.

Air-conditioning comes from Pacific breezes that blow in through bamboo windows. A mirror ensures you don't totally forget yourself.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Surf San Agustinillo's waves or swim with the protected sea turtles
  • Hike the Oaxaca rain forest
  • Daydream about Mexican residency during an aromatherapy massage

The road less traveled: Book a flight to Oaxaca and drive six hours through the Mexican countryside, or connect from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and take a one-hour taxi ride to San Agustinillo.

Don't forget: An audio recorder. Capture the sound of waves crashing right outside your bungalow so you can remember how soothing it was once you return to civilization.

Punta Placer (no telephone)
Doubles $90

6. Vancouver Island, B.C.
The hideout:
Actually, this one's a hangout ... The Free Spirit Spheres retreat consists of two globular tree houses suspended from the branches of an old-growth rain forest.

Low-tech lowdown: They're not kidding with the “free spirit” stuff at this trippy resort. “Eve” and “Eryn,” the two spheres owner and inventor Tom Chudleigh has built so far, are open to Ewok-wannabes who'd like to literally untether themselves from the earth's constraints.

Made of yellow cedar, Eve sleeps one comfortably — picture a boat's single berth, along with a small sitting area. Eryn, meanwhile, is a larger Sitka spruce orb with a double bed and a loft bed.

Spiral staircases and suspension bridges lead guests up from the ground, and the yacht-style joinery is as much fun to admire as the snow-laden trees outside (Free Spirit is open year-round).

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Relax in the sauna and listen to the sounds of the forest
  • Join a game of Frisbee golf
  • Visit the Vancouver Island Paleontology Museum to see one of the best-preserved Ice Age walrus skeletons in the world

The road less traveled: Fly to Vancouver, rent a car, then board a ferry for the hour-and-a-half crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. Free Spirit Spheres is a 45-minute drive from Nanaimo, in Qualicum Bay.

Don't forget: A flashlight. There's a composting outhouse at the base of each sphere, so you'll have to navigate the stairs to use the facilities.

Free Spirit Spheres
Tel: 250 757 9445
Eve, $125 per night; Eryn, $175 per night

7. St. Vincent + The Grenadines
The hideout:
Never will ESPN or wet T-shirt contests sully private, 133-acre Petit St. Vincent — one of the few Caribbean islands still untouched by a resort chain.

Low-tech lowdown: PSV is more a home than a resort — owner/resident Lynn Richardson and her six yellow Labs just happen to welcome outsiders to its 22 stone cottages.

There's no check-in, no keys, no TV, no telephone. There are, however, two staff members for every guest.

Hoist the yellow flag up your cottage's bamboo pole, and someone will suddenly appear to grant your wish for food, drinks or whatever.

Hoist the red flag, and you'll be left exquisitely alone.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Go deep-sea fishing with Capt. Chester Belmar at the helm of the 28-foot Jahash
  • Cruise through the Grenadines on the wooden schooner Jambalaya
  • Om out during a private yoga session on your terrace

The road less traveled: Fly to Barbados and take a Grenadines Airways flight to Union Island. After the adrenaline-stirring landing on the tiny strip between mountains and sea, gather your wits on the short boat trip to PSV.

Don't forget: Your teeniest bikini. The even more private Petit St. Richardson, a small island off the shore of PSV, has just two sun chairs and a hammock, and is open only to PSV guests.

Petit St. Vincent
Tel: 954 963 7401
Doubles from $675, including meals

8. Belize
The hideout:
A rosewood and thatch cabana at the Cotton Tree Lodge, between the Moho river and the southern jungles of Belize.

Low-tech lowdown: You're swinging in a hammock, admiring the placid Moho river, sampling the Mayan chocolate bar you made earlier in the day and contemplating a soak in the Jacuzzi tub. Off the grid? This is off the hook.

While this eco-lodge eschews energy-guzzling excess in favor of solar power, organic foods and reforestation, that planet-protecting ethos doesn't get in the way of guests' fun or comfort.

The ten cabanas include flush toilets and hot water; the bar and restaurant prepare tropical drinks and seafood dishes.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Go kayaking, bird-watching, or horseback riding
  • Attend a tortilla-making workshop
  • Peer at stalactites and stalagmites in Tiger Cave, a Mayan ceremonial site

The road less traveled: Land at the Belize International Airport in Belize City for a connection to Punta Gorda, then travel by boat 15 miles along the coast and up the Moho river to the Cotton Tree Lodge.

Don't forget: Sturdy water shoes. On Mondays and Fridays, Cotton Tree guides take guests cave-swimming.

Cotton Tree Lodge
Tel: 501 670 0557
Doubles from $139

9. Tanzania
The hideout:
About six miles from Zanzibar, Chumbe Island Coral Park is a national park and sanctuary for both you and the 400 species of tropical fish that swim among 200 types of pristine coral.

Low-tech lowdown: Protected by Tanzania since 1994, Chumbe has no electricity, let alone anything that might need plugging in.

Snorkelers stay in one of seven “eco-bungalows” that were designed to stay cool with Indian Ocean winds, collect rainwater on roof expanses, and store up solar energy to heat showers and power reading lights.

But after a glass of Champagne and a Zanzibari supper of octopus masala, chances are books will be cast aside in favor of a romantic evening listening to the waves off the Indian Ocean.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Walk 30 seconds from your eco-bungalow into the sea
  • Snorkel in one of the world's last undisturbed coral parks
  • Stay awake long enough to witness the island's nocturnal attraction, the rare giant coconut crab, which has a leg span of more than three feet

The road less traveled: Make the 21-hour journey from New York's JFK (with one layover) to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and then cross by hydrofoil to the island of Zanzibar. Take a taxi to Mbweni Ruins Hotel to meet the boat to Chumbe Island.

Don't forget: A deck of cards. Only 14 guests are allowed on the island at one time, so you'll be able to play a round (or two) of gin rummy with everyone.

Chumbe Island Coral Park
Tel: 255 24 2231040
From $250 per person, including meals and snorkeling

10. Finland
The hideout:
155 miles north of the Arctic Circle in a log cabin, snow igloo or glass igloo at Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen.

Low-tech lowdown: Traveling to this resort in Finnish Lapland is like stepping into the wardrobe and entering a frozen Narnia.

Kakslauttanen has stripped away much of the modern world's noise (and electricity) for one of the world's most spectacular sightings of the swirling northern lights.

While each cabin has its own sauna, the snow igloos are surprisingly warm and cozy. But the glass igloos — with their transparent walls and roofs — are the best accommodations for viewing the aurora borealis.

Your new ‘to do’ list:

  • Learn the art of Lappish lasso-throwing and ice-carving
  • Swim in an ice hole before dashing to the sauna (Just watch out for the reindeer)
  • Hike along more than 150 miles of marked trails in the forested Saariselka area

The road less traveled: Fly to Helsinki and hop a second flight to Ivalo Airport; the hotel's staff will drive you the final 30 minutes to the village.

Don't forget: Dog treats to reward your team of six huskies after they've drawn you on a thrilling ride through a snow-covered wonderland.

Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen
Tel: 358 16 667 100
Cabins from $160; glass igloos from $360