Brazil has 60% of the greatest equatorial rainforest in the world. The Amazon forest is by far one of the most iconic and alluring destinations on the planet – vast, with abundant wildlife and with communities of indigenous peoples that only 2 years ago were found to be still untouched by modern civilization. Sounds like a script of a possible movie right? But it is the reality of this environmentally key area of the world.
As an avid traveler, the Amazon has been on my imagination as the last frontier of great adventures. Flying over from Rio de Janeiro, the grandiosity of the forest hits you much sooner than expected – halfway through the flight I had the first glimpse of the vastness of the Amazon: it was a ‘sea’ of endless green, so vast I could only gasp at the sight of it. It was breathtaking!
I had that feeling, my skin tingling as when something extraordinary is about to happen. The Amazon forest was expecting me.
I was heading to Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, but first I would stay at the gateway to the Amazon – Manaus, the bursting capital of Amazonas State. Once, one of the most important cities in the world, during to the rubber heyday, the city holds remarkable tropical palaces and a stunning Opera House – built to host the greatest artists of its time and furnished with chandeliers from Murano, fabrics from Paris and exquisite panels painted in Paris and Rome. Around the Opera House, the pavement was – guess! – made of rubber bricks to avoid the noise of the carriages disturbing the ambience around it.
Staying at Villa Amazônia, a modern hotel housed in a converted former mansion from the turn of the century, was a boho introduction to a city full of character. The spacious rooms are designed with indigenous inspired art and furnishings and the pool is surrounded by a lush tropical garden. The nights here were full of chatty locals, great vegan food and endless fresh dives into the pool, which I often swam in under the rain. It was interesting to already notice that the hotel’s garden was full of cacophonous sounds – crickets, beetles, dragonflies, night birds. Nature was already making itself very present.
Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge is a remarkable operation in one of the most pristine areas allowed to welcome visitors in the Amazon. The Anavilhanas Archipelago is a protected area of 400 islands, the largest river archipelago in the world in the Rio Negro, which means ‘dark river’ due to its earl grey hued waters. It is possibly like swimming in dark coffee. The good thing is that due to the water’s PH, more acidic, there are very few mosquitoes.
The hotel has high-standards of conservation and sustainability. The cabanas and common areas were all built with reclaimed and sustainable approved wood and followed the design of local indigenous structures – high ceilings and straw roofs assist on waterproofing and ventilation. The design was well crafted to immerse the visitor in the forest, yet hosting the guests comfortably.
The trove of experiences is remarkable, a unique and conscious way of exploring the forest on foot, during night expedition on speed boats, canoeing and learning more about the trove of medicinal plants that the forest offers its inhabitants – a lab of the future. All guides are locals and the hotel not only support educational projects in the area but also sponsors conservation and research outposts – key in the region to avoid poaching and illegal wood extraction.
During a daylong boat expedition, with only our boat on site, we navigated through the vast network of canals and lagoons that form the archipelago. At a certain point, we moved to a smaller speed boat to visit the conservation station and were followed by some noisy flock of toucans. Then we saw it, a ‘solid’ wall of rain coming towards was. It was remarkable to be hit by the force of that mass of water dropping from the sky like the river had been turned upside down. I could feel the raindrops hitting my skin like small marbles. We were soaked and happy: “It also cleanses the soul” – the captain said jokingly.
Lunch was served on the deck of the main boat that had navigated in a different direction to meet us later on by a calm lagoon – a black mirror of the sky above us. Having lunch to the sounds of the forest – it is never silent here – we then were graced by a shawl of pink river-dolphins playing around the boat.
“ François, you can jump in and swim with them if you want to, they are very friendly and curious – just don’t force any contact, they might even come closer” – said our guide.
It was magical to float in that almighty river, so close to remarkable wildlife. A few of us jumped in the dark cool waters trying to spot the dolphins only to catch glimpses of their pink flesh when they were emerging for air. I could feel them swimming underneath us – you can feel the bubbles they make tickling your body as they pass near or under you. How to explain the feeling one feels when faced with the grandiosity of nature? I was glad I come here, I was glad to have spoken and learned from the locals who love this land. Luxury travel is becoming something way beyond bespoke hospitality, it is aiming to change your perspective, to transform you. At Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge it is all about the experience – unique and otherworldly. I then realized I did not come here to see nature; in the Amazon, I was reminded of the fact that I am part of nature and that is priceless.
Photography by François Correia & Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge