Lodge Review: Cristalino Jungle Lodge

Cristalino Jungle Lodge is one of the holy grails for birders and if you plan to go birding in Brazil you should definitely plan to stay here.  The location is spectacular and the bird list is amazing!

You arrive there after about an hour boat ride down the Cristalino River.  They have several levels of accommodation ranging from standard rooms to special bungalows and since we were on a budget, we got one of the cheaper rooms which was still really nice!

D00

There is a map of the grounds and walking trails but most people stick with their guide.  If you aren’t in an organized group, they make a small group with around 6-8 people and assign you a guide.  Every day you have a different place to visit, one in the morning and one after lunch and they try to keep groups separated so each place doesn’t get swamped with people.

Even the budget rooms are spacious and attractively furnished.  No tv or wifi, you are here to commune with nature!

D02 D03 D04 D05

This is the restaurant where you are served breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Drinking water is free.D11

They have a lounge with maps, guide books and other educational materials where people can relax in the evening and compare notes.  Try the excellent Mojitos!D12 D13

At the time of our visit, a Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus) had been found injured and rescued by one of the staff.  My pics came out blurry, but it looked like he had a broken wing so he was very lucky someone found him who wasn’t planning to eat him!  D06 D08 D07 D10

You are probably best booking Cristalino Jungle Lodge with them direct as I haven’t seen it pop up on any hotel booking engines.  They have a secure credit card payment system which I used back in 2012 to pay for our booking.

Around Alta Floresta Town

Alta Floresta is a pretty small town but if you are on a Cristalino package, on the day you leave the lodge, they will bring you to a traditional Brazilian Kilogram restaurant where you serve up your own food, then they charge you according to the weight of the food.  It doesn’t matter if you have a plate full of steak or rice, it’s all the same price per kg!  The cost of the meal is included on your check out day, but since we were there early, we tagged along with the departing group at our own expense.  It was pretty cheap, certainly less than $15 for us both including a soft drink.

A08 A09

Driving along the main drag, we spotted some pretty cool phone booths!  A01 A02 A10

There is a small grocery store and you can ask them to stop there if you want to buy some drinks and snacks.  Otherwise, not really much to do in town so better to spend your time birding the grounds of the Floresta Amazonica!

Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja)

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a neotropical species of eagle.  It is sometimes known as the American harpy eagle to distinguish it from the Papuan eagle, which is sometimes known as the New Guinea harpy eagle or Papuan harpy eagle.  It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world.

We were extremely fortunate to visit Alta Floresta at a time when there was a Harpy Eagle pair with a chick in the nest.  This youngster is probably more of a “teenager” now.  Only one parent was guarding the chick from a short distance away while we were below watching them.

B13 B06 B11 B10

Harpy Eagles have a large range throughout South America but they are still considered threatened due to habitat loss.  If there is one or more in the area you are visiting, all the local guides will know about it as they are one of the most sought-after birds by birders.  The pair at the Floresta Amazonica Hotel is not there every year so contact them before booking if this bird is a deal-breaker.

harpy

LEARN MORE ABOUT HARPY EAGLES

Wikipedia

Birdlife

American Bird Conservancy

PBS

VIDEOS

You can really appreciate the strength and power of the Harpy Eagle in this close-up.

You may not want to mess with Mama but this baby Harpy Eagle is adorable!

 

Crimson-bellied Parakeet (Pyrrhura perlata)

The crimson-bellied parakeet (Pyrrhura perlata), more commonly known as the crimson-bellied conure in aviculture has a confusing taxonomic history. It was formerly known as Pyrrhura rhodogaster, but following a review it was discovered that the type specimen for P. perlata, long believed to belong to the closely related pearly parakeet, actually was a juvenile crimson-bellied parakeet. Consequently, P. perlata was transferred to this species, while P. rhodogaster became a junior synonym.

I got a few shots at Alta Floresta but for the close-up I have to use the Wikipedia shot.  They were being annoyingly camera shy!

cbc B65 B22 B23 B29

They are found exclusively in Brazil and northern Bolivia.  The easiest place to see them in the wild is the grounds of the Floresta Amazonica Hotel in Alta Floresta.

cbc map

LEARN MORE ABOUT CRIMSON-BELLIED PARAKEETS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Neotropical Birds

VIDEOS

This little guy almost looks like he is wearing a crimson coloured singlet!

If you are under 18, don’t click on this one!  Suffice to say, these birds weren’t shy!

 

 

The Birds Of Alta Floresta, Brazil

Everyone who is headed to Cristalino passes through Alta Floresta so isn’t it lucky that the sister hotel, Floresta Amazonica is surrounded by prime birding habitat as well?  Have a look at some of the beauties we saw back in Sept 2012!

B01 B02 B03 B05

We were very lucky to see a Harpy Eagle chick and one parent hanging around their nest!  They aren’t there every year so we were fortunate indeed!

B06 B10 B11 B13 B15

Crimson-bellied Conures are the flagship species of Floresta Amazonica and they are usually seen in the morning and late afternoon around the grounds.  They are a bit shy so it was hard to get a good shot but we did see quite a few of them.  They are called “Tiriba” in Portuguese and the restaurant is named for them.

B21 B22 B23 B25 B26 B29 B31 B28

There were several species of hummingbird, unfortunately I didn’t take notes as to which ones.B27

This is a trail leading from the hotel on the far right hand side as you stand at reception and face the swimming pool, then walk to the right.  Just keep walking down this trail and you will see lots of birds!  This was late in the afternoon and I lost the light so sorry about the silhouettes!B32 B33 B34 B35 B36 B37 B38 B39 B43 B45 B47 B50 B52 B55 B57 B58 B62 B63 B65 B66 B71 B68

 

Lodge Review: Floresta Amazonica, Alta Floresta, Brazil

The Floresta Amazonica Hotel makes a great welcome to the Cristalino experience and I highly recommend at least a night here before or after visiting Cristalino.  We arrived by bus from Cuiaba and the hotel staff picked us up at the bus station and brought us back in time for a wonderful breakfast buffet (only included if you are staying the previous night, otherwise payable separately).  We had gotten a bit of sleep on the bus and were re-energized after breakfast to walk around the hotel grounds.  There was a rare Harpy Eagle nesting in the grounds and they said to be back by 10am to join the guide to go see them so we didn’t stray too far.

Our actual stay was after the Cristalino Lodge for only 1 night (wish it could have been more).

Hotel entrance

A03 A021

Gotta love a restaurant named after the beautiful Crimson-bellied Conure called Tiriba in Portuguese.A04

Magazines in lobbyA05

Artwork in lobbyA06

Time to go birding!A07

Grounds in front of the hotelA025

Rooms facing nice bird habitatA046

Our room was decent sized but to be honest we only slept there – too many birds to find!A047

In Sept it got hot in the afternoon so we swam in the lovely pool until it cooled off a bit.A043 A044

Some fruit trees that attract birdsA045

Stand by for more details of the birds we found!

Getting To Cristalino From The Pantanal (Cuiaba)

Once you’ve seen the avian wonders of the Pantanal and Chapada dos Guimaraes, what better way to put the icing on the cake than a stay at the wonderful Cristalino Lodge which has to be one of the top ten birding lodges in the world!

You need to get from Cuiaba to the town of Alta Floresta where the Cristalino packages commence.  They have a sister lodge called Floresta Amazonica in town where you can spend a day or two before and after your stay at Cristalino Lodge.  We stayed at both places back in Sept 2012 so I will be doing more detailed photo reviews but for now, let’s just get to Alta Floresta.

CGB – AFL BY AIR

Only one airline is currently serving the Cuiaba – Alta Floresta route – Azul Airlines.  You can use you United miles to redeem flights or book them with Visa or Mastercard on the Azul website.  Depending on the price (which varies widely on Azul website) you may be better off redeeming the miles or paying with money so do the math!

CGB-AFL UA CGB-AFL Azul

CUIABA TO ALTA FLORESTA BY BUS

If you are really on a budget, you can travel by overnight bus from Cuiaba to Alta Floresta.  It’s not one of the luxe business class buses you see on the Sao Paulo routes but it’s a reasonably comfortable bus and when we did it, it wasn’t full so we could spread out and claim a 2 seat bank each.  The good news is that foreigners can now book and pay online.  This wasn’t available back in 2012 so we had to waste time going to the bus station and pre-booking the seats.

I recommend the bus that arrives around 6:15am as it gives you time to grab breakfast and walk around the Floresta Amazonica property which is very birdy!

  1.  Start at Busca Onibus to check times and fares.  Choose the one you want, click on Info and then click on the link to the bus company’s website.

Cuiaba bus1

2.  Once at the Verde Transportes website, put in the route as below and your date, click on the orange Pequisar button.

Cuiaba bus2

3.  In my opinion, the 16:00 departure is best as it gives you more birding time but the 19:00 or 22:00 would get you there in time for the transfer to the Cristalino boat.  Click continuar, and put in your name and passport details then choose a seat.

Cuiaba bus3

4.  After choosing a seat, check that your details are correct and click on Prosseguir button.Cuiaba bus4

5.  Click on the USA flag to get a screen in English.  They have a chat line if you need help but you probably won’t.  There is an option for foreigners, then just fill out the rest of the form, accept the conditions and Captcha, then Complete Your Order and you’re done!

Cuiaba bus5 Cuiaba bus6

Bus fare is roughly one third the cost of an airline ticket and it does maximize birding time.  We spent the morning at Chapada, drove back to Cuiaba, had lunch, returned the car and got a taxi to the bus station in time for the 16:00 bus, then had the morning to walk around Floresta Amazonica before lunch and the transfer to Cristalino which leaves after the Azul flight arrives and all guests are present and ready to go.

Cuiaba bus7

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)

IMG_0766 IMG_0763The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a large, red, yellow and blue South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots called macaws.

Two subspecies present differing widths in their yellow wing band:

  • A. macao macao South American Scarlet Macaw, the nominate subspecies
  • A. macao cyanoptera (Wiedenfeld 1995) North Central American Scarlet Macaw

The Central American scarlet macaw is larger and has blue on its wings instead of green.

IMG_5639

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)

It is native to humid evergreen forests of tropical South America. Range extends from extreme south-eastern Mexico to Amazonian Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil in lowlands up to 500 m (1,640 ft) (at least formerly) up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft). It has suffered from local extinction through habitat destruction and capture for the parrot trade, but locally it remains fairly common. Formerly it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. It can still be found on the island of Coiba. It is the national bird of Honduras.

Red – Carara National Park, Costa Rica
Purple – Tambopata, Peru
Blue – Alta Floresta/Cristalino, Brazil

Because the Scarlet Macaw has such a large range, it makes it easier to plan a trip to see them in the wild.  I have personally seen them at Carara National Park in Costa Rica (use a Central American award), Tambopata in Peru (use a nothern South American award) and Alta Floresta & Cristalino in Brazil (use a southern South American award).  Carara can also be accessed by cruise ship passengers, a great way to get your feet wet if you are new to bird watching!  Book a Panama Canal cruise that stops in Puntarenas.

IMG_5364a

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS PARROT

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

The Ara Project

VIDEO

The Ara Project in Costa Rica releases some Scarlet Macaws who were bred to fly free and replenish the wild population.

 The filmer cut off the best part, where the Chicos of Tambopata raid the breakfast table!

Bus Travel Between Mato Grosso & The Amazon

Although flights on major routes can now be bought online at reasonable prices, there are times you will need to use the bus when moving from one eco-tourism hotspot to another.  Let’s have a look at BR-163, the only route between Mato Grosso (Pantanal, Alta Floresta for Cristalino) and Itaituba (jumping off point for Amazonia National Park).  I have highlighted in yellow these cities on the map below.  The “A” shows the location of Guarantã do Norte which is the boarding point for the bus headed north to Itaituba or where you will change buses if heading in the opposite direction.

Mato Grosso to Itaituba

This route is operated by a bus company –  Verde Transportes.  Their website is only in Portuguese so I will walk you through how to use it to get information and possibly even book a ticket online.  The online booking wasn’t open to foreigners last year when we were there so we bought all our tickets at their kiosk in the Cuiaba terminal.  We took several buses:  Cuiaba-Alta Floresta, Alta Floresta-Novo Sta Helena, Novo Sta Helena-Guarantã do Norte and finally the 20 hour bus trip to Itaituba.  They take credit cards at the kiosk and can book all your tickets and issue them right there.

Somente Ida is “One way”.

.

You will be redirected to Net Viagem.  You can see there is only one bus on the date I asked for that leaves at 20:00 (8pm) and it costs Brazilian Reis R$ 143.90 which is about $70 USD.  Tick the radio button below “selecione” and hit “comprar”.

Net Viagem

You will see which seats are available.  If they are accepting foreign credit cards, at this point choose a seat and hit “comprar”.

.

You won’t have an account so click the radio button with the red arrow, put your real email and make up a number for the CEP.  Then hit “Prosseguir”.

.

It won’t like your fake CEP and you will see this screen.  Hit “Fechar” to get rid of it.

.

Hit the “Foreign” radio button and you will get rid of the Brazilian fields and have more international fields to fill in.  I made up some info for the screenshot, you would be putting in real info.

.

You will have 2 blue buttons to hit on the following screens and then you get a purchase screen.