I’ve been traveling around the world for years and always attempt to practice socially responsible tourism. I had read about the Ariau Amazon Towers for several years and decided to make it my eco-lodge destination this year.
Ariau is the largest treetop hotel in the world built completely at tree top level (on stilts) in the jungle on the banks of the Rio Negro in the Anavilhanas Archipelago (the largest freshwater archipelago in the world). It has its own heliport used by Bill Gates for his stay, and Survivor: Amazon was filmed here. The Travel Channel designates Ariau as one of the 1,000 places to see before you die.
When you arrive by a very slow 35-mile boat ride from Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, you immediately notice beautiful scenery, pristine landscapes and wildlife galore, including playful macaws and monkeys.
The hotel's five miles of wooden catwalk offer views of undisturbed canopy forest and its inhabitants. Monkeys are a regular attraction of the lodge, so you're advised to keep your door locked – people have reported their cameras or other items stolen from rooms ransacked by curious primates.
The rooms are basic with an air conditioner (you might need it), but remember that you're in the jungle. Lodge facilities include observation towers, treetop swimming pools, restaurants and bars, activity desk, and a cyber cafe so you never feel completely cut off from civilization. When you arrive and check in, you purchase prepaid cards to use so you don’t have to worry about burdening your pockets with money.
The lodge's cuisine was not the highlight of the stay. Everything is transported from somewhere else. But the uninspiring food is compensated by the camaraderie at the dinner table with fellow travelers from around the world. The four treetop bars are a great place to meet people and enjoy the tropical drinks.
If you have an affinity for wild creatures, you won’t be disappointed – activities include a night boat trip on the Rio Negro to touch a juvenile caiman, swim among pink dolphins, fish for piranhas and jungle treks. You’ll have plenty of time for walks and exploring; there are no TVs in the rooms.
An alternative to visiting this rather expensive lodge ($400+/night) would be to start in Manaus and take a 5+ day guided trip up the Amazon. It might not be as exciting as sleeping in the jungle, but it will be less expensive.