SHTN, Trecho 1, Conj. 1B, Bloco C, Brasília
A well-rounded and organized introduction to the Anavilhanas National Park region of the Brazilian Amazon for those who appreciate the comforts of home and a structured land-and-water activity schedule.
Just about a 3-hour drive from Manaus, Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge offers a cozy glimpse into Amazon life without pushing guests too far out of their comfort zone. The lodge has a very privileged location, as sits right in front of Anavilhanas National Park in the mosquito-less Rio Negro region. Comprised of about 400 islands, the area was recategorized from a reserve to a National Park in 2008 and today is managed by the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio).
To arrive at the lodge, ground transportation from Manaus is provided in comfortable vans. The drivers make the rounds to the main hotels in the city, but highly recommended is a stay at the lodge's sister hotel, the Hotel Villa Amazonia, which is located right across from the main plaza and the gorgeous Amazon Theater. Morning transfers pick up hotel guests between 8-9 a.m. and afternoon transfers leave from the airport around 2:30 p.m. At the end of a lodge stay, a morning transfer leaves at 8 a.m. sharp and heads straight to the Manaus airport. Guests that need to leave in the morning will miss one of the scheduled activities and discounts will not be given. A second shuttle leaves after lunch at 1:00 and heads for the hotels in Manaus. The drive is nothing to write home about—the real scenery begins only as you enter the lodge complex and are met with a verdant jungle path that winds you deeper into the jungle.
For guests who want to arrive quicker or more memorably, there is a scenic seaplane transfer available (at guest expense) over the Anavilhanas' archipelago. The trip takes about 35 minutes and is offered by Rico Transportes Aéreos. The booking desk at the lodge can help arrange a flight, but flight times should follow the ground transfer timetable. In the event of rain, the plane is not allowed to fly and guests can then be transported by the ground shuttle.
Check-in was less than impressive. While refreshing drinks were offered and appreciated, one staff member was assigned to multiple guests and my daughter and I had to sit through the orientation of a family who was on an entirely different activity schedule than we were. We had just gotten out of a three-hour van ride, really just wanted to check in and unwind, so I was a bit impatient with how that was managed. We were then told that we could not enter the room until after lunch, eliminating any chance to rinse off and change clothes before eating. At this time we were also given a life jacket for our boat activities, and were expected to drag it back to our room after every boat tour. It got a bit annoying having to keep track of it (we forgot half the time so always had to send one of us running back to the room as the tour group was waiting for us). In the end we nicely asked the reception desk to put ours in storage between activities and we would just pick it up before every boat ride. Highly recommended if you don't feel like babysitting equipment. I wish we would have asked that from the start.
Rooms themselves are spacious and cozy. The lodge has 16 Standard Cottages, 4 Superior Bungalows and 2 Panoramic Bungalows. All rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, a 32" LCD TV, minibar, private safe, hair dryer, and hot shower (hot water is never a guaranteed amenity in the jungle, so this was a treat). There is also a sofa in the room and huge private hammocks available. The large Panoramic Bungalows are highly recommended if you can book one. They are over 700 square feet and have a 30-foot long glass wall overlooking the Amazon rainforest.
In order for the lodge to be compliant with regulations put on the tourist trade within the park, visitation must have an educational component. And that it does. The activity schedule is a bit intense. Between scheduled mealtimes and both morning and afternoon activities (with add-ons of sunrise and nocturnal tours), it got a bit exhausting and overwhelming for me and my daughter. We did talk to many other guests, however, who thrived off of the pace; they felt they were getting a lot of bang for their buck. I will hand it to the guides though, for being top-notch and dedicated to their job. Their genuine passion for educating guests about the Amazon was tangible.
For example, the 3-day/2-night package will, depending on what is possible in the time of year you visit, take you on a wide variety of adventures. Ours included a dry land hike, dugout canoeing through wetlands (by far our favorite experience there), piranha fishing, nocturnal sightseeing, on a visit to a nearby local community to learn about their way of life and to have the opportunity to buy quality handicrafts straight from the source, and on a sunrise contemplation boat ride. My daughter bailed on me for the 5 a.m. leave time for that last one and I honestly couldn't blame her. On the night exploration we crossed paths with some sloths, a few snakes in trees, and a just-born baby caiman.
If I were to do it all over again, I would take out a scheduled activity or two to allow myself time to relax into vacation mode. On our last day we realized how many enticing on-site "vacationy" things we still wanted to do but we never had time for, so we quickly dipped into the pool with a well-made caipirinha, did a fast stand-up paddle trip in front of the cute riverside bar (this bar itself deserves an entire leisurely afternoon), and climbed the stairs of the 40-foot tall Observation Deck which has a gorgeous view over the river and the Anavilhanas Archipelago. We jumped into hammocks on the lounge deck and we squeezed in a visit to the handicraft shop. I would have liked much more down time to unwind, as those last-day rushed moments were still somehow some of the most entertaining and relaxing of the stay for us. The hotel also offers a decent library and board games in a large open lounge area.
Longer stays allow for a boat tour 30 miles from the lodge followed by a 3-hour hike to the Madada Caves—less active guests could opt for an all-day boat tour of the Rio Negro region. Guests on longer stays also have the chance to practice archery with Waimiri-Atroari's original indigenous artifacts. I would have liked to have more of a conversation about and input on which activities interested us the most, but it was all fairly cookie-cutter with who was placed in which activity group. All of the activities were group tours with multiple other guests, which, again, some guests loved and others would have preferred something more personalized. I will say that this is an incredibly family-friendly place and the pace of activities means kids never have time to be bored. It is not, however, set up for guests with mobility issues. There are long boardwalks to get to the rooms, stairs to enter the dining hall and a fairly steep descent to get to the boat docks.
Speaking of the 50-seat dining hall, the food situation was abundant and on-point. All meals and an afternoon snack (finger sandwiches, fruit and cake) are included in the room rate. Alcoholic beverages must be purchased separately. There are both a la carte and buffet style options to choose from. My daughter is a vegetarian and I am not, but we always had plenty of choices to keep us both happy. The food is local and healthy: lots of fresh river fish and tropical fruits, but with enough "Americanized" options for those who don't want to stray from what they know.
In summary, Anavilhanas is a solid choice for those who are looking to get a peek into Amazon life in a very comfortable, curated way for a few days. Depending on what you are looking for, at least consider blocking out some free time one of your afternoons to simply lounge in a hammock listening to the birds or sit on a dock with a drink in hand dipping your feet into the water. Allowing yourself to slow way down to calibrate to jungle time is as "authentically Amazon" as a vacation here gets.
Total Number of rooms: 22
Published rates: 3-day/2-night packages $811 to $1,137 per person including ground transport to and from Manaus, 3 meals a day plus snack, and activities.
(Seaplane transfer option, pricing and bookings managed separately by Voerica Brazil.)
Review and photos by Cathy Brown.