Q: I am traveling to Manaus, Brazil this fall. I know it is the low season, but I am hoping to do an adventure trip for a few days a bit off the beaten path. Do you have any tips for finding lodges to stay in? Thank you!
Rio de Janeiro
A: This time of year, you'll have little trouble getting off the beaten path, especially with the current slump in worldwide travel. But, in general, the farther you get from Belém and Manaus, the fewer people you'll see. Traveling up the Rio Negro and Rio Branco (northwest of Manaus) will separate you from the day-trip traffic and expose you to a stunning variety of plant and animal life. If you have time to travel all the way up to the confluence of the Rio Solimões and the Rio Negro, you'll be treated to one of the most biologically diverse navigable sections of the Amazon basin. Be sure to bring along binoculars and a naturalist who can point out the river dolphins, caimans, anacondas, etc. Though it's not always the case, you'll get much more out of this particular trip with a guide than if you go it alone.
When you're choosing a place to stay, keep in mind that the ecotourism boom of the 1990s prompted more than a few not-so-eco entrepreneurs to exploit the unique Amazon ecosystem by opening up tourist facilities in the basin. The term "eco-lodge," though prevalent, has little meaning. Look for accommodations that don't use wood cut from primary forest, that are set on pieces of land that weren't cleared just for them, and that have systems set up for waste removal and pollution prevention. It may sound like a lot of research, but any reputable lodge should have that information readily available. If you ask for it and they hesitate, move on. For tips and recommendations, contact The International Ecotourism Society (www.ecotourism.org).