By: Bruno Teixeria
I spent three nights at the Cristalino Lodge, in the south of the greater Amazon region. This area is rich in wildlife and vegetation, a piece of untouched forest in the heart of Brazil. Cristalino Lodge is located in the north of the Mato Grosso State near the town of Alta Floresta. The property is located by the Cristalino River inside a Private Reserve of Natural Heritage (RPPN in Portuguese), 11,399 hectares of preserved land, and 30 percent bigger than the island of Manhattan in New York. From its spring to where it ends on the Teles Pires river, the Cristalino flows only through protected land, either indigenous, federal, state or private. The result is a pristine ecosystem that only the lodge’s guests or scientists get to explore.
Getting there involves flights, land and a boat transfer. After your flight to Alta Floresta your adventure starts. The next part of the transfer is by van, mostly on dirt roads that cross farmland, for approximately 50 minutes to get to the Teles Pires river. There, a fast boat and the lodge’s bilingual guide will be waiting for you. This leg of the transfer takes 30 minutes and is the most beautiful, as you are already in the forest and start to see birds and caimans.
At the lodge, you are received by the manager of the hotel to learn the lodge’s safety and preservation rules, meal times and daily tour logistics. He also introduces the guide that will be assigned to you.
The lodge rooms are charming, decorated in light tones, using certified wood, wicker furniture and Brazilian art. The headboard wall acts as a divider between the bed and a large bathroom and closet area. The high ceiling and screen-covered windows allow for great air flow. There is no telephone or TV in the rooms. The main complex includes the restaurant, bar, a deck with fire pit, a reading room with lots of books on the Brazilian fauna and flora, and a presentation room.
The lodge was built in the middle of the jungle, with well-kept lawns between the buildings and the forest. They smartly populated the gardens with fruit trees, so I saw macaws, capybaras, toucans, monkeys, and other birds feeding on those and roaming the premises. Get ready for a dinner with a delicious tambaqui (large Amazonian fish) grilled over open fire. I told the cook—a lovely lady—how much I liked her Brazil-nut cake with guava sauce; she made it a second time for my last night there.
There are several tour options available, and the length of your stay will determine which tours your guide will recommend. Trails can go from 2 to 5 hours long, from easy to intense effort.
We took the boat and then a short hike to one of the observation towers on the first morning. It’s 50m (165ft) to the top, equivalent to 16 floors, with a couple of decks in between, so we could both rest and observe the different canopies as we went up. On the highest point, you are above the forest, and this is a breathtaking view. At this hour of the morning, the humidity is rising from the trees to the sky, and the green carpet is engulfed in a blanket of clouds that slowly melt as the sun goes up. Through binoculars and a portable telescope, the guide pointed out macaws, parrots, eagles, bright blue tanagers and cotingas, and monkeys.
In the afternoon, we went on a forest trail. We passed majestic giant trees such as Brazil nut, samauma and jequitiba. We tried Brazil nuts picked from under the tree! It tastes more like coconut when it is this fresh. We reached the clay lick where dozens of peccaries were eating the clay. On the return boat journey, at dusk, our guide transformed this ‘transfer’ into a caiman spotting opportunity.
On the second day, we left just as early to hike up one of the hills. Different than the lower plains of the Amazon River, here the geography is more mountainous, resulting in a bigger variety of vegetation. This trail had some steep climbs that required grabbing guardrails and ropes. The reward was an awe-inspiring view of the reserve. The return trail meandered through rocky terrain that was dotted with bromeliads and beautiful bushes in bloom, as we were coming out of the rainy season. We saw a group of spider monkeys, agoutis, peccaries, colorful tiny frogs and the footprints of a jaguar. On the boat ride back, we roamed into the flooded forest.
In the late afternoon, we hopped on two-seat kayaks to paddle downriver. The best time of year is when the water level is high, and you mostly slide over it. We saw countless birds and a couple of river otters. We took the boat back to the lodge, with a stop to admire the sunset and watch a flock of birds flying over the river and taking shelter on the trees. Our last tour went to the second observation tower. This time we left at 5 a.m. to capture the sun rising from above.
Alta Floresta is in the Amazon region, so expect it to be hot and humid year-round. Any time of the year will guarantee a different and spectacular experience. We had some light rain on the afternoon I arrived, but beautiful clear days all the rest. I really wanted to see the clouds rising from the trees phenomenon and part of the forest still flooded, so I chose May to go. The vegetation, animals seen, and river flow change with the seasons, so there is always something special going on.
Overall, I was moved by their deep respect for the environment. The decision to become a private reserve (RPPN) is definitive, once you apply for the title that is forever, you can sell the land, but it can’t be used for anything other than a natural reserve. The Cristalino Foundation is supported by the conservation fee all guests pay upon booking and the profits of the lodge. They employ local workforce, utilize sustainable management practices, and limit the number of guests so not to disturb the ecosystem. We are there to observe, not interfere.
Bruno Teixeria works for Blumar Turismo, which has unsurpassed local knowledge on building custom-made itineraries to the most fashionable and trendy LGBTQ+ hot spots in Brazil. The company has been built with a very strong commitment to offering an authentic Brazilian experience, mixed with the must-see attractions of the incredible country.