This post was last updated on September 27th, 2014
When a lodge is chosen by National Geographic as one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world, you tend to expect good things. Such was the case with Cristalino Lodge, a sanctuary in the Amazon Jungle. But would Cristalino live up to our high expectations? Read on for our ultimate review!
Cristalino Lodge all started when a Brazilian family dreamed of doing their part to preserve and protect the precious biodiversity of the Amazon. So, they did what any passionate environmentalist would do and bought over 28,000 acres of rainforest to create the first RPPN (Private National Heritage Reserve) in northern Mato Grosso, ensuring the reserve’s preservation in perpetuity. Cristalino Lodge takes up just a tiny portion of that land and seeks to protect the Amazon through education and sustainable tourism. Considering deforestation of the Amazon is still continuing at an enormous rate—and that by 2030 the Amazon could be reduced in size by 40%–Cristalino Lodge is an inspiring testament to taking action that makes a real difference.
We’re guessing that it’s not easy to create a stylish but sustainable lodge in the middle of the Amazon—especially when said lodge is only accessible via a boat ride down a river. But despite whatever inherent difficulties, Cristalino Lodge is pulling off eco-luxury like we’ve never seen before.
Don’t get us wrong. You won’t find amenities like an infinity pool, a fully stocked mini-bar, air conditioning or satellite TV. (We would question the lodge’s commitment to sustainability if you did.) What you will find are comfortable bungalows integrated harmoniously with the jungle; indoor and outdoor private showers; a delightfully comfortable bed; a writing desk; a private veranda with idyllic hammock; and surprisingly fast WiFi from the comfort of your bed. How they can manage to have super-speed Internet in the middle of the jungle when we so often struggle to find it for the most mundane tasks in major cities we’ll never understand.
The bungalows were designed with natural materials and include excellent ventilation, high-vaulted ceilings, solar water heating and banana wastewater treatment. Though only a few minutes walk from the lodge’s common areas, the bungalows feel fantastically private. Daily cleaning service and high-quality construction ensure most of the wonderful but wild elements stay out of the bungalow and in the jungle where they belong.
At the center of Cristalino Lodge is the gorgeous restaurant, bar and fire pit.
The restaurant is best described as spacious and serene, constructed of dark wood, floor-to-ceiling windows and surrounded by dense jungle and huge, natural boulders. The meals are self-service buffet and feature Brazilian cuisine with fresh, organic produce. We’ve stayed at other eco-lodges before and typically the food is good but understandably not great. However, at Cristalino Lodge I think I might have gained a few pounds for every day we were there, probably because of the decadent dessert that accompanied each meal.
The bar features an extensive wine and beer list (craft beers, not just Brazilian Skol), caipirinhas, juices and quality espressos. We were quite impressed by the range of quality wines available, but we preferred to stick to caipirinhas while we could. Enjoying a drink next to the fire pit before dinner was definitely the ultimate way to relax after a long day of exploring the jungle, and probably one of our favorite aspects of the entire trip.
Also in the common area is a library and conference hall. The library is stocked with numerous books detailing the flora, fauna and animals of the area, along with comfortable couches and chairs to enjoy them on. The nearby conference room is equipped with a large screen, perfect for power point presentations or workshops.
One of the most distinctive features of Cristalino Lodge are the two, 50-meter towers that guests can climb for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding jungle canopy. Though not necessarily recommended if you suffer from vertigo (there are a lot of stairs involved!) the view from the top of the towers is nothing less than jaw dropping. We did the climb at both sunset and sunrise, with the latter being the ultimate highlight of our Amazon adventure.
Cristalino Lodge does a wonderful job of only employing extremely knowledgeable and experienced guides from around the world. Groups are kept small (there were only four people in ours, including Dan and myself) and we often had a guide in training with us to provide even more valuable expertise. We spent the majority of our time with our groups, including meal times, so luckily we got on well with everyone we had been assigned to spend time with.
There are a few ways that Cristalino Lodge is going above and beyond that we just felt we had to mention here. For one, there was the loveliest hostess ensuring everything went smoothly. She was bubbly and personable, and from the moment she met us at the dock with a welcome drink, we felt warmly invited to take part in a special Cristalino experience.
Additionally, we just have to give another shout-out to Cristalino’s efforts to go above and beyond in their everyday sustainability efforts. Cristalino is likely offsetting enough carbon emissions for a small city just by conserving over 28,000 acres of rainforest, but that’s not enough for the eco-lodge. Soon Cristalino Lodge hopes to take the final steps towards being completely off-the-grid and self-sustainable.
No place is perfect, and this goes for Cristalino Lodge as well. Here are just a few of the details we personally thought could be tweaked:
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at set times each day, so there is little customization of when you can eat. When catering to a small crowd in the jungle we understand that this is the best system; however, with breakfast at 6:00am and lunch not until 12:30, we were typically starving by mid-morning. We thought it would have been a nice touch if our guide had carried fruit with us for a bit of a pick-me-up on our morning excursions. We find that the small downtime over good conversation and a small bite to eat can sometimes be just as memorable as the more adventurous activities that bring us there in the first place.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and did an excellent job on our jungle treks. But occasionally we felt he was talking only to one woman in our group, not to all of us. We also would have appreciated a bit more explanation about what it was we were looking at. We would like to note that one of the guides-in-training did an excellent job at not only telling us the names of birds and animals, but also giving us plenty of information about why they were so unique or special.
Finally, just a teeny-weeny oversight: the lodge turns out the electricity at night and does not turn it back on until around 6:00am. We were not informed of this when we arrived, which made waking up and getting ready (and fumbling for my contacts) in the dark a bit difficult.
How To Get There
We can easily say that we would highly recommend Cristalino Lodge for any Amazonian adventure. And as we mentioned in our last Amazon blog post, if you are keen on visiting both the Amazon and the Pantanal, then there’s no question about it: Cristalino is the best and most convenient way to do it.
Cristalino Lodge is in the Southern Amazon. Guests must fly to Cuiaba and then take another hour-long flight to Alta Floresta. Because we waited to book our flights until the last minute, the return flight from Alta Floresta was around $500 one way, so we opted to take a night bus instead. We just couldn’t justify spending $1,000 for two people to take a one hour long flight.
Once in Alta Floresta, Cristalino Lodge takes care of all transfers to and from the lodge. An hour drive and then an additional thirty minute boat ride, and you’ve arrived! Because of the time it takes just to get to the lodge, we recommend staying for at least three nights. All meals, transfers and jungle excursions are included in the cost.
Extra Tip: Splurge on the superior bungalows. We’re not sure just how much the price difference is, but the newer bungalows are much nicer and really enhance the overall experience.
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We were guests of Cristalino Lodge. We were not asked or required to write a positive review. All thoughts and opinions, as always, are our own.