Lodges are a popular way to experience something of the Amazon while keeping comfort levels high. Most are within a 3-hour boat ride from Manaus. Some are more luxurious than others, but in all, your meals are taken care of -- usually hearty and healthy fare made with local fish and fruit. You will have access to a shower and toilet, and guides are there to show you around. Nearly all the lodges include the same basic package of excursions: the introductory jungle tour, the sunset and/or sunrise tour, the forest hike, the visit to a native village, the evening of caiman hunting, and the afternoon of piranha fishing (yipes!). What distinguishes one lodge from another is the size of the lodge itself (smaller is better), the quality of the surrounding forest, and the quality of the guides.
Most lodges start off with a reconnaissance tour, taking you out in a motorized canoe to give you an idea what the area around the lodge looks like; this a good opportunity to check out some of the smaller channels. The sunrise or sunset tour is a great way to experience the forest at its most interesting times of the day, when animals are active and there are few disturbances around. All lodges will take guests on a jungle hike. This is where you really get a feel for the biodiversity of the forest; it's not the animals that make this jungle so overwhelming, it's the number of plants and trees and how these coexist. Another standard excursion is the visit to a caboclo village. Caboclos are river people. The visits provide a close-up look at how they build their homes, at the foods they grow, and the tools they use. Even their pets are neat; sloths and monkeys are the animals of choice. Finally there's the obligatory caiman spotting and piranha fishing. Caiman spotting is fun; you head out in a canoe on the river in the pitch-black night. Once you get to a good shallow area, the guide turns on the spotlight and starts looking for a caiman. The caiman should be big enough to impress the lodge-dwellers, but not so big that the guide can't leap into the water and wrestle it back into the boat. (That's exactly what he does.) Once it's in the boat the creature becomes the centerpiece of a short nature talk. Many enjoy fishing for piranhas. You put some beef on your hook and hold your rod in the water, pretty much like fishing anywhere. When you catch one, your guide will pull it off the hook -- very carefully, those teeth really are razor sharp -- and you'll see the little fish back at dinnertime when the kitchen serves it up grilled.
What To Bring: A Checklist
Most hotels will let you store your luggage while you are away at a lodge so you don't have to carry it all with you. The smaller lodges often have a luggage limit. Whatever you leave behind, don't forget to bring the following:
- A small daypack.
- A light rain jacket.
- A few zip-lock bags to protect camera gear, notebook, and so on . . . in a sudden downpour, everything gets soaked.
- Good walking shoes.
- Sunscreen. (The glare from the river can be quite strong.)
- Enough dry clothes; nothing dries once it's damp, so have a couple of changes of shirts and socks.
- Toiletries such as toothpaste, contact lens fluid, tampons. The lodges usually don't carry any such items.
- Medicinal items for personal use (aspirin, antacid, and so on; lodges and tour operators will have proper first-aid kits). Malaria is not an issue on the Rio Negro; the high acidity of the water prevents mosquitoes from laying their eggs.
- Anything you can't live without: chewing gum, dental floss, tissues, cookies, and the like.
Booking A Lodge
You can contact lodges directly or contact a tour operator who can assist you in choosing the right package. In the U.S. or Canada, your best option is to contact the experts at Brazil Nuts (tel. 800/553-9959; www.brazilnuts.com). In Manaus, contact Viverde, Rua dos Cardeiros 26 (tel. 092/3248-9988). They have an excellent English-language website (www.viverde.com.br) with detailed information on both tours and the Amazon in general.
Note: All prices are per person and include transportation, all meals, and basic excursions. Airport transfer is usually included in the price, but always check. The policies for children vary per lodge and per season; depending on occupancy you may have bargaining power. Most lodges offer up to a 50% discount for children 12 and under; ask when making reservations. All rates are given in U.S. dollars only; most lodges work directly with foreign currencies.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.