Appreciating True Ecotourism: the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon

Cristalino Jungle Lodge - White whiskered spider monkey - Will Carter_

White whiskered spider monkey (©Will Carter)

In 2013, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge was selected as one of National Geographic Traveler magazine’s 25 Best Ecolodges.

In South America, the term ‘eco’ has little meaning. People market a lodge as ‘eco’ just because it happens to be situated in the woods. Hence I have grown somewhat allergic to the term.

To my great pleasure I discovered some notable exceptions in Brazil. Places that truly embrace eco tourism, which reflects in where, how and why they build their lodge and/or bought a reserve. The Cristalino Jungle Lodge, at the southern edge of the Amazon, is one of them.

Private Bungalow Outside by Night (© Katia Kuwabara)

Private Bungalow Outside by Night (© Katia Kuwabara)

Getting to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge – Only by Boat

Getting there was an adventure in itself as the lodge, as well as the Cristalino Reserve for that matter, isn’t connected by road. Taking a boat is the only way to go. With a group we set on our way and at one point it looked as if somebody had drawn a line across the water: We moved from a white patch to an almost black one: the confluence of the black Cristalino River and the white, wide Teles Pires River.

The open motorboat suddenly slowed down while the guide looked intently to the left and pointed out an otter. For a couple of seconds it stayed above the water surface and gracefully dove under again, only to reappear a few meters downstream between the aerial roots of tropical plants. The otter was clearly enjoying his little game of hide and seek. It once more disappeared out of sight and we continued our journey to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge.

Red-handed howler monkey (©Rudimar Cipriani)

Red-handed howler monkey (©Rudimar Cipriani)

Woodpecker (©Jorge Lopes)

Woodpecker (©Jorge Lopes)

A Lodge with Worldwide Fame

The lodge is located in Cristalino’s Private National Heritage Reserve in the southern edge of the Brazilian Amazon. The reserve is home to 600 bird species, 2000 butterfly species and a diverse wildlife, which can be seen from some 20 kilometers of hiking trail. The exuberance of the rainforest attracts scientists and lovers of nature from all over the world, who come to enjoy the reserve’s excellent hiking trails and viewpoints for birding and wildlife spotting.

Guides introduced us to the world of tropical trees and plants with their nutritious and medicinal qualities and pointed out all kinds of animals, such as birds, butterflies, frogs and monkeys. During boat rides on the Cristalino River we admired waterfowl, capybaras, caimans, otters. The lucky ones may spot an iguana or anaconda (large water snake).

Nice bonus: The acidity of the Cristalino River keeps mosquitoes away.

Bird Watching at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Brazil (©photocoen)Butterfly in the Brazilian Amazon (©photocoen)

There is a trail especially for butterfly enthusiasts. We saw them in tinges of purple, yellow, red and blue when flying, but showing camouflage patterns of brownish and beige hues when sitting still with folded wings. Extraordinary were the large, blue butterflies that, when sitting still, showed brown hues with big eyes drawn on them – the so-called owl-butterflies.

Sunrise Above the Amazon

One of my favorite, most intense, moments of our stay here was the sunset from the 60-meter-high observation tower. The entire rainforest was shrouded in mist which gently receded while the sun crept above the treetops. The mist broke up into drifting patches, vanishing into thin flying spirals. The views of the forest from this tower are simply mind blowing. Animal sounds resonated all around us in 360 degrees: birds, insects and monkeys. It is a place to stay for hours and stand in awe of the natural wonder called the Amazon.

Sunrise in the Brazilian Amazon (©photocoen)

Sunrise above the Brazilian Amazon (©photocoen)

The Ingenuities of Nature

On our way back to the Cristalino Lodge I noticed a large calabash lying on the trail, open. “Isn’t that a practical, natural water reservoir,” I remarked. It happens to be the nut of thé tree that gave the country its name: the Brazil tree.

This nut can only be opened by one particular animal: the rodent agouti, or cotia in Portuguese. This awkward-looking, large cavia-type animal has a small head in proportion to its body and has no tail. After it has opened the calabash, it takes out the 15 to 25 small nuts and hides them in the ground. In this way new trees will grow, that is if the agouti doesn’t retrace the nuts later to eat them – or if the monkeys don’t find them. The monkeys are smart; from the treetops they watch the agouti hiding the nuts and subsequently dig them up.

Brazil Nuts (©photocoen)

The Brazil tree is fertilized by a specific, large bee. This bee needs one specific orchid to keep it alive and this orchid can’t be too far from a Brazil tree – because of its large body the bee can’t fly too far. So a solitary Brazil tree will never bear fruit, which is just one example of how intricately interdependent life is. Take an orchid away or one bee species and in time the Brazil tree will disappear. Isn’t that incredible?

Practical Information

There are direct flights between São Paulo and Alta Floresta, as well as between Cuiabá and Alta Floresta. From the airport, or from the Floresta Amazônica Hotel in Alta Floresta, you are taken to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge by car and boat.

The central open area of the lodge has a dining room with a bar as well as an open-air restaurant where at times candle-lit dinners are served. Adjacent to the dining room is a lounge with easy chairs, a selection of books – among which some extraordinary photo books of birds and butterflies – and a limited collection of souvenirs.

Private Bungalow (©Katia Kuwabara)

Private Bungalow (©Katia Kuwabara)

Candle lit dinner at Cristalino Jungle Lodge (©photocoen)

Floating Deck in the Cristalino River, Brazil (©photocoen)A short walk through the woods – well-lit at night – leads to a second clearing, where three types of rustic accommodation have been set up: standard and superior rooms, and stylishly designed bungalows. The accommodations have two to four single, comfortable beds, a ceiling fan and a bathroom with hot shower. The difference between the accommodations is in design, space and amenities like an outdoor shower and veranda.

The goal of Cristalino Jungle Lodge is for travelers to relax and enjoy the Amazon’s grandness. Its focus on ecotourism means that the lodge is managed with a minimal environmental impact. All waste is recycled, hot water is generated through solar heating systems and dirty water from toilets and showers is recycled through permaculture.

Usually the day starts early (the exact time depends on your wishes) with an elaborate breakfast. Morning programs consist of hiking or a visit to the observation tower. A well-programmed schedule ensures that there is only one group (maximum eight people) at a time on a trail or in the observation tower.

White Whiskered Spider (©Benjamin Freeman)

White Whiskered Spider (©Benjamin Freeman)

Blue-headed Parrot (©Will Carter)

Blue-headed Parrot (©Will Carter)

You return to the lodge around ten or eleven and can relax in your bungalows, take a dip in the Cristalino River or sunbathe on the floating deck. Lunch – and dinner – consist of a variety of regional dishes and are prepared with care. Late afternoon you will set off again, either for another walk or a boat trip. Canoeing is also an option. Each group has its own guide for the duration of the stay with whom specific goals and interests can be discussed.

Due to the lodge’s popularity I recommend making reservations during high season (May-Sep. The price depends on the type of accommodation, the time of year and whether you require an English-speaking guide. The price includes board and lodging, the guide and all activities. Drinks are not included. Payment is possible by Master Card, VISA and Solla. For more information, check out Cristalino Jungle Lodge’s website.

Additional Reading

All photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow him on Instagram here and here.

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2 thoughts on “Appreciating True Ecotourism: the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon

  1. Beautiful place!
    I have a question: Location near a natural environment in combination of a conscient resources management could make a hotel an ecolodge?
    This was my idea and thus I named Batel “ecolodge Batel Alagoas”.

    • Michel,
      I would argue that there’s much more involved to call a place an ecolodge. Being in a natural environment rather than nearby one, is one (e.g. if your hostel is one block from a park in a city that is being near a natural environment but has nothing to do with ecotourism). Of course responsible waste disposal is an important one, but there are more elements to consider, like respecting local customs and contributing to e.g. jobs / empowerment for local people. Here’s an article I quickly found on Google. It’s written from the traveler’s point of view but you can easily turn the points around to read them from, for example, a guesthouse owner’s viewpoint. http://untamedpath.com/eco-tours/defining-ecotourism.shtml

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