Ariau (Ar ee ah oo) Towers
The operatives word are FUNKY and SURREAL!! A lost world resortslightly decayed, amusingly rustic luxury with a twist. Trade your tanga for a poncho. Plan on getting wet, dirty, sweaty and educated. Bring plastic for the sudden and torrential downpours and pack all your grubby casuals and light boots. And take plenty of 30+ SPF lotion. Insects are not prevalent on the river, but climbing 50 ft to your Tarzan house in the jungle has chompable momentsbugs also enjoy the comforts of your arboreal abodedont leave home without DEET 25% (or more).
Arrival at Ariau is FUNKYlike going to an old drive-in theater or a trip through the Twilight Zone. Youre almost back in timethe 2+ hours transfers from Manaus (we stayed at the Tropical Hotelright by the pier) remind you of The African Queen. You ride the double deck open boat, chugging your way to the entrance of Ariau (which means big potato). Theres music; famous Brazilian rhythms reach out and draw you up concrete steps to the main tower that houses the restaurant and lobby. Ariaus warm greeting includes a bead necklace from a scantily clad Amazonian girl (how does she make her hips move that way?) Lots of monkeys looking for new suckers to feed them and huge blue/red/yellow parrots flying from tower to tower. Everything is on a platform or a scaffold or a raised walkwaymost above waterSURREAL! Check-in is quick, since there are only a few of us today. The hotel capacity is currently 500+ but typically there are less than 100 guests. (This would be a good opportunity to buy 2 pkgs and travel with friends.)
Our bellman took us to our tree house (there are 7.) Four sets of just-a-bit-rickety open steps and two decks later, we were 40 feet up in a HUGE tree overlooking water one way, trees and jungle everywhere else. The room was small, filled with a large bed, fridge, small table, tv and lounger chair (for my Tarzan, of course!) Nice closet with shelves, small rod, a few hangers and a safe. Plenty of extra linens and robes. The bathroom was moderate size--shower with screen windows, hand-held bidet sprayer and warning sign to NOT put toilet paper in the system.( The real puzzle was the electrical outlet in the showerinstant widow-maker?) AC was for the room only. We had a nice deck with chairs and a small, shallow swimming poola one-piece type of fiberglass thingclean and wade-able. FUNKY.
All excursions are included in the LuxuryLink packageas are all transfersManaus airport to pier, as well. Our first trip was to be piranha fishing at 3. First, lunch and a bit of orientation. Off to the third floor buffet (this place is not suitable for those with more than minor physical disabilitiesok for bad knees, etcthings can be treated with Ibuprofen!!)
Food was adequate, plentiful and somewhat varied each day, but y the end of our stay, it got tedious. There were always 2 fish dishes and a meat one (all a bit overcooked) but great array of salads, beans, rices, breads etc. Breakfast offers eggs/omelet station. They LOVE desserts in Brazil, so usually 3 for each meal plus fruits. Beverages were extra, and they offer water cooler self-service. Wines are very priceya small glass of house white was R$15 (almost $10) and bottles are $40US and UP. Local drinks were well-priced at $5-6 and tasty! Fresh pineapple juice was $1.50yummy!
We missed the fishing trip because of our first Amazonian downpour! The windows of our shaking, swaying tree house blew open and we had trouble keeping them locked. The sad part of Ariau is that maintenance is lacking [most likely, money]. But we held out and weathered the storm. When we reported the difficulty, the assistant manager, Emanuela (aka Mano) who was very accommodating, moved us to another house the next day. Our new house was deeper into the forest, 10 feet higher up and HUGE with 2 floors and 2 bedrooms! It also had a screened-in lower level play room. The bath was the size of our other housewith a jacuzzi tub (only cool water and the motor blew out, but it was a TUB!) We had a flat-screen TV/surround sound and a sitting area. There was a BIG pool with a vast deck, a lanai and another bathroomall reached by 50ft of scaffold walk! SURREAL.
We expected computer access from our room and a phone, but there was a misunderstanding with the website, so they offered us free wireless at the bar. The internet they offer is rather pricey otherwise. The gift and convenience stores werent too terribly overpriced, but we were captives until our returnplan accordingly. Our Manaus hotel had a duty-free wine store; I should have brought more than one bottle of bubbly!!
The quality of Ariaus excursions was outstanding. Our guide, Alan, took great care to teach and entertain ussafety as priority. We took every tour offered, except for the 5am sunrise boat tripwe were so tired some mornings or it was raining way too hard... The nocturnal trip was the excellentour boatman jumped in the water to fetch a small caiman nearly 3 feet long, which we had opportunity to hold and study with Alans information. We spotted alligators, fed and swam with pink dolphins in the open river and slogged thru grassy waters. We visited a small village and a local family to learn about their livesfishing, farming manioc, Brazil nuts, etc. We trekked in the jungle and got soaked on the way back to our boat. We had a chance to fish again and I caught 2 piranhas!! We loved it!!
The Black River, which partially parallels the Amazon is called the Solimoes River, but changes name near Manaus, our originating city). The river is dark clear water, like cola, due to the decaying plant materials, so bugs are hardly noticed while boating on the main waterways. If you have the opportunity to see the meeting of the waters, take the time and effort. Its a natural phenomenon totally unique to these 2 riversThe Amazon (Solimoes) is creamy caf au lait and when it meets with the Rio Negro, they do not mixtemperature, density and velocity differences prevent their co-mingling. We hired a speed boat and guide in Manaus to bypass the tourist masses spending the day overpaying for the same experience we had close-up, hands-in. Manaus is an expansive commercial-shipping city, but it boasts a fabulous world-class opera house, quite a peculiarity in the Amazon. Not much else to see in the city. Taxis are very priceyhire a guide if you want to see more.
After spending so much time talking with other guests, we concluded that the LL package is the absolute best deal at Ariau. Even though 4 nights are not really necessary, you can take time to rest after all the excursions are over. Its good to breathe and relax at your pool, or bike along the 16kms of walkways. You can also rent an electric car and pretend to be the Flintstones in the jungle! The entire experience was like being at summer camp. FUNKY. SURREAL.
1) Visa for Us citizens is $130travel must begin within 90 days of issue, and expire after 90 days.
2) Getting there: via Sao Paulo or Rio (4-5 hrs flight north) or via Panama (3 hrs south)
3) Standard rooms are awful (think Motel 6), Tarzan house is the only way to go (2 are actually street levelhead for the Trees)
4) Tropical Hotel is best/largest in Manaus(ask for wood floor roomsome have balconies)