MANAUS, Brazil -- In South America, there is no shortage of Amazon
lodges, but what sets the Ariau Amazon Towers apart from the rest
is that it is built in the treetops.
The hotel's 260 rooms are housed in seven towers, linked by
wooden catwalks, high in the jungle canopy in the heart of the
Catwalk bridges through the trees connect the accommodations and
"People told me they wanted to come to the Amazon, but they were
afraid to walk in the forest," said the resort's owner, Francisco
"At Ariau, you can walk for more than three miles and never
touch the ground."
The Ariau is not for every client; however, those who want to
get closer to nature will love this jungle hideaway.
Ritta credits the late marine explorer Jacques Cousteau with
having given him the idea to open the hotel, which debuted with 60
rooms in 1986, to provide a jungle spot for people to commune with
"Tourists come here intending to stay one or two nights," Ritta
said, "but they end up staying longer -- and they keep coming
Like Tibet a few years back, the Amazon has become something of
a trendy destination for the rich and famous.
Compaq, Sony, Visa and IBM are among the companies that have
held meetings at Ariau, and the hotel has hosted its fair share of
celebrities, including Martha Stewart, Susan Sarandon, Sweden's
royal family and Bill Gates, who occupied the Cosmic Suite, fitted
out with computer, fax, big-screen TV and video games.
Most clients, however, will have to be satisfied with rooms that
are as cramped and dark as tombs.
They will also have to learn to enjoy a cold-water shower and be
prepared to read by the light of a bare fluorescent bulb.
Although Ariau may seem spartan, it is downright luxurious when
compared with some jungle lodges, for Ariau has electricity and
air-conditioning -- though minimal -- that is welcome after a long,
sweaty day in the bush.
Do warn clients to heed signs advising them to keep their doors
locked at all times, for indeed, marauding monkeys are apt to break
in and trash the place.
Another item of note is the meals, which are served
buffet-style, often lukewarm, and are most often uninteresting:
chicken, freshly caught fish (including toothy piranha) and some
sort of meat.
But who cares about rooms and food, for guests don't come to
Ariau to soak up the resort atmosphere.
They come because they want to explore the most magnificent
ecosystem on the planet, and Ariau offers a multitude of ways to do
"We can provide you with just about any sort of jungle
experience," said Michael Kartwright, Ariau's chief guide, who
pointed out that, among other things, guests can:Canoe down the river at dawn, when they're apt to spot sloths
hanging from trees and a variety of colorful birds.Visit a family of ribeirinhos (river people), who carve farms
from the jungle to grow manioc, the starchy staple of Amazon
cuisine.Hike through the jungle and discover the Amazon's wealth of
animal and plant life.Go on a nighttime hunt by boat for caimans (crocodiles) or
tarantulas.Try to hook a piranha before one catches you.Witness a torch-lighted ritual performed by body-painted
If you get a couple of these once-in-a-lifetime adventures under
your belt, it's easy to overlook Ariau's flaws, which include
plastic vines festooning public areas -- real ones attract snakes,
Ritta explained; a pyramid filled with crystals for New Age
meditators; a mini-zoo where a margay prowls his tiny cage and
parrots squawk to be set free, and walkway feeding dishes that
encourage monkeys to swoop down from trees.
Sure, it's kitschy, but it's these sorts of contrasts that give
Ariau its frontier color.