Five lodges for total forest immersion
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Of chic digs and chimpanzees in Tanzania
Greystoke Mahale, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, has been around for many years. In the far and not much-explored west of Tanzania, it’s the best place in the country (probably in all Africa, actually, outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitats. The miles of protected national park that stretch to the north and east behind the lodge have no roads, just walking trails and paths – a network the lodge’s guides ply all day long with guests, looking for the chimpanzees along with eight other primates and monkeys, leopard and innumerable rainforest bird species.
You arrive by boat, zooming up the lake – 500 miles long, the second deepest in the world, in a majestic mountain landscape – which is already humbling. The lodge itself, strung out along the white sand of the lake, has been fabricated in part from old dhows rescued up and down the shore. Everything is pared back – thatch, found wood and felled-tree timber, chairs and lanterns perched on the sand, enclosed in its shallow declination in the deep green. nomad-tanzania.com, from $930
Ecuadorian cloudscapes (with luxe lodgings)
A lodge in a jungle in the clouds: it’s a fabulous description, as places to get away from it all go. Mashpi Lodge, in the high-altitude forest north of Quito in Ecuador, was co-developed by a former mayor of the capital, a forward-thinking and conservation-minded doer who saw an opportunity to bring to Mashpi the kind of tourism – low-impact, high-touch, beautiful accommodations – that has made the Galápagos in his country such a draw.
Recycled steel and timber are part of the construction, along with massive walls of of glass in the 24 rooms, lounges and restaurant, framing storybook rainforest views and, when the mist floats by, conveying a surreal sense of suspension in air. Twenty-two hummingbird species dart and pivot like airborne jewels through the air along forest trails. The lodge plays a role in the preservation of its Edenic surroundings, helping to fund the biodiversity reserve it’s part of and lending scientific hands too: 13 entirely new plant species have been identified and classified here since it opened in 2012. mashpilodge.com, from $1,465
Two immersive escapes at Iguazu Falls
Iguazu is a spectacle worth saving, travelling, planning for. I can write this with impunity, because when I travelled there several years ago it was almost as an add-on to the exploration of another region of Argentina – and having done embarrassingly little in the way of research, I didn’t know what I was in for. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place: not just the 2.7km-long falls, though I felt my brain was still faintly shaking in my skull days later from the thunderous, almost unfathomable spectacle of its thousands of tonnes of falling water; but also the surrounding rainforest, which is a glorious assault of plant and animal life. If you have a good guide, you will be totally immersed in nature: swimming in tributaries, donning thigh-high boots to ford streams, hiking trails across which flowering vines swoop like party streamers, the canopy above you clicking and cheeping and hooting all the while.
My guide happened to be one of the best, thanks to Awasi Iguazú, the lodge I slept at, which remains one of the most impressive wilderness stays I’ve had. They’ve hit on a good formula: each of the 14 rooms is assigned its own private guide and four-wheel-drive; and unlike other of the fine hotels around the Falls, Awasi guides focus as much on the surrounding concessions, some of them private, to which they have special access. The Lodge itself is stunning, with a small and considered footprint, comfortable lounge areas under whitewashed timber ceilings, and delicious, creative food. awasiguazu.com, from $2,310 for two nights
Brand new to the same area, though, is this newcomer, which is building buzz with the adventure constituents on the ground (I was tipped off about it by Harry Hastings, the founder of Plan South America and Argentina fixer par excellence). Pristine Iguazú is part of a new company with two locations (the other is in the sere Salinas Grandes salt flats, in far-north Jujuy Province). When it opens in September, it will have six suites, each a tented lodge with a thatched roof, a wood deck with a pool, and views out over canopy to the Paraná River. The guides have itineraries by ground and water, from Paraná beach trekking to sailing, and every experience ties back into Pristine’s conservation mandate. pristinecamps.com, from about $1,250
Unexpected jungle solitude on Bali
If you don’t require a side of adventure with your forest immersion experience – and prefer proximity to galleries, shopping and a high-low range of delicious restaurants – there’s Buahan, about a 40-minute drive into the mountains north of Ubud, on Bali. It’s here that last summer Banyan Tree opened the first of its Escapes, a new spin-off collection of small, ultra-indulgent, adults-only resorts. Banyan Tree Buahan is quite the looker, with 16 huge and very pretty standalone villas, set here and there on a steep slope; all have canvas roll-up walls, freestanding bathtubs and bale beds on the terraces, bringing a bit of safari to the Island of the Gods.
The food and drink is exceptional, almost 70 per cent plant-based and sourced from the resort’s garden, right at the entrance (you’re welcome to go pick your own ginger flower for morning tea). The restaurant and bar overlook a pool which in turn overlooks Buahan’s big selling point: a view towards the seven peaks, separated from you by a sea of green that’s barely interrupted by any other built environment – which on Bali is a rare proposition indeed. banyantree.com, from about $1,210