Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge - the best hotel in the Amazon
Updated: Jan 4
Gently bobbing on the floating bar perched on the side of the river, cocktail in hand, I'm staring out over the expanse of black water.
Across what looks like quite a distance, I can make out another river bank. "How far is it to the other side?", I ask our nature guide, who is lounging on a chair sipping his own drink.
"That's probably about 2 kilometres", comes his reply. "But that is not the other side of the river. That's just an island. The other side is more like 20 kilometres away - you can't see it."
My astonishment must be visible on my face, because he chuckles, and continues: "And this is the end of the dry season. Come back in a few months' time, and most of these islands will be underwater. The river will have risen by up to 20 meters, and it will just be water for as far as the eye can see."
To that, I have nothing more to say. I can scarcely imagine it. We finish our drinks as the sun sinks slowly down behind the trees, the surrounding Amazon forest darkening to match the shadowy waters at our feet.
The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge - Manaus, Brazil
One day earlier we had arrived into Manaus after a 4 hour flight from Rio de Janeiro. Finding this city of 2 million inhabitants in the middle of the Amazon jungle - situated where the Rio Negro and Solimoes rivers come together to form the mighty Amazon river - is a bit incongruous, surrounded as it is by hundreds of water tributaries and seemingly unending forest.
Founded in the mid-1600's, Manaus later became the richest city in South America thanks to its rubber exports. Today, though far less wealthy, it remains one of Brazil's manufacturing hubs as well as the gateway for tourists wanting to access the Brazilian Amazon.
The next morning we are picked up at our Manaus hotel by the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge's shuttle bus for our transfer to the hotel, a service which is provided by the lodge and which is included in the cost of all the accommodation packages. Together with a few other visitors to the lodge, we make the roughly 2 and a half hours drive from Manaus into the Amazon forest and the Anavilhanas National Park. En route, as we make a quick pit-stop for some refreshments, we also get to see in the living flesh some Pirarucu - the gigantic Amazonian fish which would later be turning up on our dinner plates.
Situated just on the edge of the protected conservation area that is the Anavilhanas National Park, on the banks of the grand Rio Negro river, is our accommodation for the next 3 days - the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge.
While our luggage is taken up to our room, we make our way to the reception area where we're welcomed with a refreshing juice made from a local Amazonian fruit, and some dried plantain snacks. We are shown around the common areas, including a bar and pool table area, as well as an open plan lounge filled with books giving information on the surrounding area, and where the only Wi-Fi at the Anavilhanas lodge is to be found.
Next up is the pool area, in a serene setting looking out over the nearby Rio Negro river. During our stay in the Amazon we would spend quite a few happy hours here, relaxing and sipping on juices from the bar made from varieties of exotic Amazonian fruits like cupuacu, bacaba and acai.
And finally, we are accompanied to our room, which is a few minutes' walk from the Anavilhanas lodge's main areas. We have booked one of the Bungalows for our short stay. There are 4 rooms of this particular type, set a little apart from the rest of the hotel complex. These rooms are up a tiny hillock, and raised slightly on stilts, and the effect is one of feeling like you are sat amongst the canopy of the trees, surrounded by forest greenery.
The Anavilhanas Lodge's rooms are comfortably appointed, and come with air conditioning - providing blissful relief from the mugginess that is part and parcel of being in a Brazilian rainforest in November.
There is an en-suite bathroom with a shower, which is basic but suffices for all our needs - though it is open to the elements (grills keep out the mozzies and other insects) and so is as muggy as being outdoors.
And via a sliding door is a patio, protected from flying insects, and replete with 2 hammocks. It is a lovely place to spend some time in peaceful contemplation, surrounded by the Amazonian nature and the sounds of the forest, and we do make a bit of use of it. In the end though, the balcony is as sticky as anywhere else during the warmest part of the day, and we find ourselves spending most of our time between the various jungle excursions and meal times either in the cool of the air conditioned room or at the side of the lodge pool.
The first Amazon excursion of our trip is that same afternoon, as we go for a forest hike on one of the dryland islands in the middle of the river. This being a nature conservation area, walking on the islands in the river is generally prohibited, and the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge has been given special dispensation to take their guests on these tours.
Having stepped off the boat and donned snake protection around our shins, we set off on a fun, easy and highly informative nature walk. Our knowledgeable Anavilhanas tour guide explains the local Amazon forest ecosystem, points out various local plant species and how they are adapted for the change in water level during the jungle's rainy season, and which animal species live and thrive in this environment (including teasing a tarantula out of its nest for us), as well as some jungle survival techniques and which forest plants can be used for traditional medicine.
We are also told about how the natives in the area eke out a living in the surrounding forest, and what is being done to protect the valuable habitat around Anavilhanas and to combat illegal logging activities. It is a great introductory tour of the inner workings of one of the world's great forest ecosystems.
Afterwards, we are dropped off at the Anavilhanas lodge's floating bar, where we relax with a drink as we get to know our fellow visitors a little better and take in the sinking sun over the water.
And a little while later, we make our way to the restaurant area for the first dinner of our stay.
The rates at the Anavilhanas Lodge are full board, with the exclusion of additional drinks, and meals are served buffet style.
But this is not your average hotel buffet. Dishes at the lodge are based around traditional Brazilian and Amazonian food, serving local meat and fish varieties, as well as vegetarian options. We had plenty of opportunity to try out new flavours and experience eating things that would never turn up on a plate in Europe. The buffet meals always included generous side dishes including various salads and vegetables as well as a soup, and we were very well and healthily fed during our stay.
The following morning after a little lie-in we are back again at the Anavilhanas restaurant for breakfast, which is equally plentiful, including abundant fresh local fruits and smoothies as well as tasty breads and cassava pancakes.
As during most meals, the guides at Anavilhanas lodge take the time to stop by each table to introduce themselves before the next excursion, and give instructions on where and when to meet for the tour and what to bring along. It all has a very personable feel, and we love the passion with which these locals, many of them having grown up in the area, share their expertise and love of the forest.
Our morning excursion is a trip to see the local pink dolphins. These native Amazon river dolphins, called botos, are grey at birth, but as they grow older (and in particular for the male dolphins) they become ever pinker.
Though we will visit the dolphins at a feeding point on the riverbank, the Amazonian dolphins are not in captivity. They swim around the river freely, and come and go as they please. One of the local families in the area started feeding the dolphins many years ago, and as a result some of the animals return to the spot each day for an easy snack. It provides a great place for us to see these distinctive animals, as the dark waters of the Rio Negro within which they live would otherwise make them quite hard to spot.
On our return, as we are dropped off at the floating bar again, we stay put. We were told the previous day that it was perfectly fine to swim in the river, and we decide to make the most of the opportunity and give it a try.
The waters of the Rio Negro are surprisingly warm and a very pleasant place to take a dip. It is a bit unnerving though - the black water means that your body quickly disappears into darkness around 20cms below the surface, and it's hard not to imagine what else might be swimming around down there, lurking in the unseen depths. Particularly as we had already seen plenty of caiman on our various boat outings. Nevertheless, we come away unscathed, and it is a very fun and unique experience.
Then we go on a drive through the nearest small town, with the driver giving us information on the way of life in the jungle communities.
We also stop at an Anavilhanas artisan co-operative, where we see the workers creating various carpentry items, wood working remaining one of the main areas of enterprise in the forest. There is also a small shop where some of the wood worked pieces can be purchased for a very reasonable price.
Between excursions, a stay at the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge is a very civilised experience. The lodge lays out afternoon tea with cakes and coffee every day, while otherwise we laze about next to the hotel pool, sipping on exotic fruit juices and peering out over the river and the surrounding forest, the serene environment and jungle sounds a great backdrop for passing some time in de-stressing relaxation.
Even better, and unusually for Brazil, there are hardly any mosquitoes around - the acidic pH of the Rio Negro's water making an unsuitable breeding environment for those pesky bugs.
Before dinner, we hop on a boat for a sunset viewing tour. It is a short excursion, to a small beach on the riverbank a small ways downstream, but it is well worth joining for. Watching the sun set over the vast expanse of water is a singular and poignant experience.
And that evening, after another great dinner, we are off on our archipelago nocturnal sightseeing tour.
We make our way by boat along the banks of the various Amazon river islands and inlets, our guides doing their best to locate some of the relatively scarce wildlife to be found. We see snakes and birds and plenty of the caiman alligators as we chug along in near-silence, the nighttime sounds of the forest our only company.
We had been hoping for a sighting of a sloth, but in this we were unfortunately to be disappointed.
The opportunity to spend time on the river at night is nevertheless a special one, an atmospheric boat ride in a place remote from most human settlements, the many stars overhead and the lapping of the river beneath the hull, and was one of the highlights of our stay at Anavilhanas.
The next morning is a very early start, on what is to be the final day of our short stay at Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
Leaving at dawn is the Sunrise Contemplation boat tour. It will be our final opportunity to take in the beauty of this the world's largest tropical rainforest, home to a greater variety of plant and animal life than anywhere else on the planet.
And like most of the other excursions, this one is unforgettable. The early morning stillness, and the majesty and vastness of the Amazonas as it is revealed by the changing colours of the morning sun, are indescribably beautiful and a rare privilege.
On our return we make our way to our final Anavilhanas lodge breakfast, and then around lunchtime we pile regretfully into the shuttle again for the return journey, the driver taking each set of guests to their individual Manaus accommodations.
Feeling humbled and inspired by the experiences we have had at this amazing jungle hotel, we vow to return again one day to Brazil and to Anavilhanas - quite possibly the best lodge in the Amazon - and the spectacular rainforest it resides in.