If you want a taste of off-grid living without making a full-time commitment, these are the communities that will welcome you with open arms.
The urge to quit it all and live an off-grid lifestyle on some remote Nordic island might overcome us all sometimes. Mostly, however, we’re just after a temporary reprieve from incessant emails, rush-hour traffic, and the convenience of electric light. Off-grid communal living has had something of a renaissance since its heyday in the 1960s, with many now seeking to digitally detox and simplify their lives. While these communities are often for residents-only, some invite outside visitors to experience life without WiFi where wilderness and human connection can take center stage.
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WHERE: Cabo Polonio National Park, Uruguay
Since the government designated the area a national park, this small community on the eastern coast of Uruguay has been frozen in time. Part rustic fishing village, part hippie cooperative, the village consists of around 70 houses dotted across a sandy outcrop bordered by stretches of beach on either side. There’s no running water, no electricity, and no roads. The few generators available power the single shop and a handful of makeshift bars. For everyone else, cooking by candlelight is part of the charm. Walk down to the lighthouse and watch the enormous colony of sea lions barking on the rocks below. Come evening, join the locals around the bonfire for some maté–just don’t forget your torch or you’ll struggle to find the way back to your posada.
INSIDER TIPTo get here, head to the visitor center at the main entrance of the Cabo Polonio National Park. From here, it’s either a four-mile walk or wait for one of the 4×4 trucks to transport you through the sand dunes for a small fee (cash only).
WHERE: Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
A two-story home, a dance floor, a lighthouse, four greenhouses, a studio, a half-acre garden, and an art gallery are hewn together on 12 floating platforms, strewn with plants, and attached to shore by a few lines. This 500-ton floating art project is the work of Catherine King and Wayne Adams, who live here with their two children. They fish for their dinner and grow their own produce, offering a model of subsistence living that allows them to continue their pursuits as artists. While you can’t live here–as much as you might like to be adopted by Catherine and Wayne–you can visit via boat charter. Browning Pass offers boat tours of the artist studios, gardens, and sustainable living quarters.
WHERE: Wester Ross, Scotland
If your aim is to escape from civilization, this remote wind-blasted settlement on a narrow peninsula in the Scottish Highlands should satisfy. It’s only accessible by the occasional ferry or a five-mile walk from the nearest road. The latter rewards visitors with stunning views across Little Loch Broom and the Summer Isles, with the occasional dolphin spotting en route. The community is powered by solar and wind and includes just 40 croft houses and a six-student school. It’s home to an interesting collection of people, from a violin-maker to a physicist. Spend your days wild swimming, fishing, or looking out for the Northern Lights. What else do you want? That said, it’s Scotland, so even in August you’ll need a waterproof jacket and the midges (any small fly) are incessant.
INSIDER TIPThere is a pop-up cafe which opens at random times, but otherwise, you should bring your own food and drink.
WHERE: Somerset, England
A shaggy shire horse drags a Victorian plough across a field. A 1930s steam-powered sawmill cuts the timber. A small wood-burning stove heats water for a shower. This is the “olde worlde” existence at Tinkers Bubble, a small almost entirely self-sufficient community of tiny houses and thatched huts in England’s West Country. The group is united by a shared philosophy of living off the land and eschewing fossil fuels. Duties are divided amongst the residents–called “Bubblelites”–which include harvesting apples from the orchard to make juice, collecting honey from the hives, or washing clothes by hand. These are the duties you would be undertaking as a volunteer, one of 300 that visit every year. It can be a damp experience, but fulfilling; get your hands dirty and discover the joys of an outdoor toilet.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
WHERE: Rutledge, Missouri, U.S.A.
Yes, you’ll have to join hands in a circle before the weekly potluck, but other than that there’s nothing cultish about this spot. While many off-grid communities focus on escaping the anxieties of the 21st-century world, here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, the community of about 60 residents is busy reimagining that world. Started in the late ’90s by a group of Stanford and Berkeley grads, it’s founded on principles of sustainability, with its own internal economy and system of self-governance. The village of ramshackle houses and whirring wind turbines is set in one corner of the 280-acre property, with woods, hills, creeks, and swimming ponds to explore. You can join the two-week visitor program here and study permaculture or natural building––if you don’t know what that is, you soon will.
WHERE: Niland, California, U.S.A.
They call it the “last free place” in the U.S., so arrive prepared for anything to unfold. While the Wild West attitude is liberating, the art is as much of a draw. The massive expanse of desert terrain is a veritable al fresco museum, with sculptures ranging from the downright bizarre to the spectacular. Most famous is Salvation Mountain—which featured in the 2007 film Into the Wild—with its staggering display of colors and scripture. The hundreds of artists, free thinkers, nomads, and general oddballs who call “the Slabs” home camp out in the ruins of a WWII-era military base, which adds to the Mad Max appeal. Make sure to check out the art commune East Jesus, one of the many neighborhoods here. It’s free to stay at the Slabs; just bring your own camping gear or there are a few hosts on Airbnb.
INSIDER TIPThere’s no running water, no electricity, no sewer system or waste disposal, and no law. In the summer, temperatures soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, this isn’t for the faint of heart.
WHERE: Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A.
Earthship Biotecture sounds like the future in which we have relocated to Mars. Except in this instance, Mars is the striking landscape of New Mexico where more than 70 dwellings are redefining sustainable living as something playfully elegant. Designed by architectural savant Michael Reynolds, each Earthship is built with recycled or local materials, such as rammed earth tires and repurposed glass bottles, and produces enough water, electricity, and food for its residents to remain happily self-sufficient until the end of time. More than 130 people live in the Greater World Earthship Community, as it’s called, but visitors can experience life inside an Earthship through one of their public rentals. These feel more like staying in a high-end hotel that just happens to save the planet.
Ecovillage Torri Superiore
WHERE: Liguria, Italy
This 14th-century village is made up of one multilevel, labyrinthine stone structure with more than 150 rooms, nestled in an Italian hillside. It had fallen into total disrepair with only a single inhabitant remaining when Torri Superiore was founded in 1989, with the aim of restoring the building and establishing an eco-village as a new social model. In short, it worked. The building is stunning and continues to welcome guests to join the 20+ permanent residents here. Share meals in the large communal dining hall and help out on the various farming projects. Or simply explore; the village is surrounded by Mediterranean beaches, medieval villages, and hiking trails through the foothills of the Ligurian Alps.
WHERE: El Bierzo, Spain
This is one of the many former ghost towns across Europe that was repopulated by people in search of a more holistic self-sustaining lifestyle. They built yurts, pitched tents, cleared paths, and dug a canal in the ruins of an old mining town, nestled in the rugged mountains of northern Spain. Now Matavenero is home to around 60 people, and 30 years on, it has retained its rustic ramshackle charm. There’s a free school, a sauna, a village bar, a bakery, and a library. The village is off-grid, but they aren’t completely disconnected; they share a single computer and maintain a community social media account to share their way of life with the outside world. The occasional visitor is welcome for up to two weeks—no reservation needed—as long as they appreciate the way of life here.
INSIDER TIPDespite being sunny, at 1,000-meters altitude, it’s often cold even in summer.
Finca Bellavista Treehouse Community
WHERE: Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica
“Off-grid” and “sustainable” don’t have to mean shabby. This treehouse community is positively upscale, geared toward the adrenaline junkie in search of a deeper connection with nature. The 600-acre property deep in the dripping Costa Rican jungle is crossed with hiking trails, swimming holes, hanging bridges and ziplines, and the nearby beaches offer excellent surfing. Each of the hand-built state-of-the-art treehouses is fully functional carbon-neutral homes with drinkable water and plumbing, thanks to a gravity-fed filtration system. Visitors can rent a treehouse and take part in yoga classes, movie nights, and the daily happy hour. Meals are shared with residents in the communal open-air restaurant, where 80% of the produce is supplied from the gardens on the jungle floor below.
INSIDER TIPIt may feel remote, but there are a number of attractions nearby and there’s even WiFi available at basecamp.
WHERE: Skinnskatteberg, Sweden
In the mossy, mysterious forests of central Sweden, on the shores of a pristine lake, 12 charcoal huts are camouflaged under a canvas of mud, berries, and grass. Kolarbyn is billed as a “primitive hotel,” but the project began to preserve Sweden’s 400-year-old tradition of charcoaling and the communities this craft supports. Life is basic and that’s why you’re here. There’s no electricity, meals are prepared over an open fire, and you’ll have to fetch your own water from the spring, but the floating sauna keeps burning year-round. And who needs a shower when you can take a dip in the lake? Each hut has an inflatable mattress with a sheepskin blanket and a fireplace. Rent canoes or wander the woods in search of wildlife. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a moose in the misty distance.