on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

The largest tree house hotel in the world is located halfway up the Amazon River, 56 kilometres northwest of Manaus. Ariau Amazon Towers adventure vacation packages include river boat transportation from Manaus to the eco-friendly hotel on the bank of the Rio Negro.

Ariau jungle lodge overlooks the Rio Negro.
Ariau jungle lodge overlooks the Rio Negro.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

One, two and three-night Amazon vacations include buffet meals and most Amazon jungle tours. A few rainforest expeditions cost extra, such as swimming with pink dolphins, helicopter rides and jungle survival training.

Tree house resort

As children, we yearned to live in a tree house like the Swiss Family Robinson. Built on stilts, Ariau Amazon Towers was the place of our dreams.

Eight kilometres of catwalks, 30 metres high, join eight wooden towers, 268 rooms, suites and tree houses, two buffet restaurants, four treetop bars, two treetop swimming pools and a cybercafé. Just looking at the stairs to the Tarzan tree house, 22 meters high in a samauma (silk cotton tree) made us dizzy.

The Ariau treetop hotel is not a site for people with vertigo, but it's certainly the place for anyone wanting to be at eye level with Amazon wildlife.

Piranha fishing

Black-capped capuchin monkeys munched purple tree blossoms, an arm's length from the walkway. Tiny squirrel monkeys scampered at our feet. And ring-tailed, masked coatis ate fruit from our hands.

We weren't the only ones entranced with Ariau Towers. Celebrities, including Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Gates, Olivia Newton John and Julio Iglesias, have also visited the tree house hotel. In 2002, the tree house resort and surrounding Amazon rainforest were film locations for the reality TV series Survivor Amazon.

Guide holds piranha impailed on stick.
Guide holds piranha impailed on stick.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Leaving the friendly wildlife, we went piranha fishing with our Ariau guide, Marco. We returned in time for dinner, which included tasty grilled tambaqui, manioc toasted in butter, vegetables and guarana, a ginger ale-like soft drink made from small red jungle fruits.

Jungle treks

The next morning, we joined a jungle trek from Ariau Amazon Towers. Our guide, Steve, identified the haunting cries of howler monkeys and red-billed toucans. He helped us spot a three-toed sloth slung high in a tree, a neon-green grasshopper and an industrious army of leaf-cutter ants at our feet.

Our jungle guide also advised us to avoid touching the razor-sharp leaves of a navaya plant. Without his expertise, we would have missed 90% of the rainforest wonders.

Steve ventured into the jungle and returned with a spiky round fruit that resembled a scarlet sea urchin. "It's an urucum," he told us, as he split it in half. Also called annatto or achiote (Bixa orellana), it is used as a natural food color and flavouring.

"The Indians use urucum to paint their faces," said Steve. He squished the annatto seeds against one of the half-shells and began painting stripes and dots on our faces with the vermilion dye. We laughed when we saw our reflected images in the mirror, as we cleaned up for lunch.

Panic quickly replaced the smiles. We looked up and saw that water did little to remove the stains. "How do we explain this new look to our friends and families back home?" we wondered. Soap and energetic rubbing eventually removed the Amazonian makeup, along with a layer of skin.

After lunch, we meandered up igarapes (small creeks) in motorized canoes, to visit a small village of caboclos. Part-indigenous Amazonian, part-European, these self-sufficient fishermen live in thatched, stilted dwellings by the water's edge. On the high ground, they plant beans, corn and manioc to supplement their fish diet.

Caboclo children stand next to stilted home.
Caboclo children stand next to stilted home.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Inside their stilted open-sided thatched house, festooned with hammocks, three generations of the family shared a meal. A grandmother, tenderly playing with her grandchild, suddenly became animated, shouting at us and gesturing madly.

Strolling nonchalantly under a tree, we looked at each other with raised eyebrows. "What did we do wrong?" Steve quickly appeared and ushered us away from the most dangerous thing in the Amazon forest.

Brazil nuts. Yes, the delicious white nuts that we eat at Christmastime. Only here, they're found in thick baseball-size shells, 20 at a time. Because Brazil nut trees can easily grow 40 meters high, the ripe nuts drop like lethal bombs.

We returned to Ariau Amazon Towers to dine on succulent pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) steaks, from a man-length Amazon fish, farofa (manioc) and Amazon fruit. We peeled round green tucuma fruits and found orange pulp inside that tasted like carrots. Cupuacu fruit, cooked with sugar, looked and tasted like chocolate pudding.

Amazon rainforest tour

As the sun set, we left Ariau Amazon Towers on a motorized canoe with Marco to look for caimans (alligators) in the flooded rainforest. Marco caught a one-year-old caiman and pointed out its two eye membranes, one for land and one for water.

"This is a tinga or yellow chest caiman. It grows up to three meters long," he said. "In Brazil, you can also find pedre caimans, named for the stone-like bumps on their backs, and assu caimans, which can grow up to six meters long."

After releasing the caiman, we paddled into ever-narrow channels between trees, brightly lit by a half-moon. An electric eel darted for cover under submerged leaves. A fish jumped, rippling the water in concentric circles.

Riverboat on Rio Negro Amazon tributary
Riverboat on Rio Negro Amazon tributary
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The cacophony of the jungle was music to our ears. There were no buzzing mosquitoes, just a balmy breeze punctuated by the rhythmic dipping of our paddles. All are indelible memories of a moonlit night canoeing in the flooded Amazonian rainforest.

Ariau Amazon Towers closed in 2016.


Ariau Amazon Towers

More things to see & do in Brazil:

Tropical Hotel Manaus

Cruising the Amazon River

Brazil Boi Bumba Festival

Rio BBQ Restaurant

Iguacu Falls Brazil