Photo: Room at Pousada les Roches in Brazil

Room at Pousada les Roches in Brazil

Photograph courtesy Pousada les Roches

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The most authentic and unique hotels in Brazil, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

1. Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, Rio Negro, Amazonas

Nestled within a vast stretch of untouched rain forest on the banks of the Rio Negro, whose waters do run dark. Also right there are the Anavilhanas, the world's second largest freshwater archipelago. Guest rooms are made of wood and have crisp white linens. Macaws, monkeys, and dolphins not far away. Explore by foot or wooden canoe. Or set off into town—Novo Airão—to see the studios and work of local craftspeople. 20 suites; from $780 for one night, incl. excursions, meals.

2. Caiman Ecological Refuge, Miranda, Mato Grosso do Sul

Welcome to the world's largest freshwater wetland, the Pantanal, whose wildlife and culture are the draws. This cattle ranch sits on more than 130,000 acres; there are two lodges (each with swimming pool), about 13 miles apart. Activities tailored to the natural resources: photographic safaris, horseback riding, canoeing, field trips with parrot researchers. Plenty of opportunities to witness and learn about the local cowboy culture. Traditional Pantanal barbecue Wednesday and Friday nights. The ranch offers dental service for the community twice a month at no cost. 11 rooms; from $425, incl. meals.

3. Casa Turquesa, Parati

With each room named for a color and most of the furniture crafted by hand, this well-designed rainbow of a place also scores on the location front. It's right near the pier in the historic center of Parati, an inviting colonial town midway between São Paulo and Rio. The garden's orchids, bromeliads, palm and guava trees underscore the tropical locale. No restaurant, but room service and breakfast options include bread, jam, and yogurt—all homemade. Swimming pool. 9 rooms; from $468, incl. breakfast.

4. Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Mato Grosso

It is in the middle of a private reserve twice the size of Manhattan. A veritable hotbed of ecological diversity. The lodge brings to the mix a beacon of sustainable tourism. Amazonian wildlife tops the list of local must-sees: jaguars, harpy eagles, and more. More than 22 miles of jungle hiking trails. Lively butterfly population. The lodge's School of the Amazon project works with local kids to foster a strong sense of nature and the importance of protecting the environment. It is but one of several community efforts sponsored by the lodge. 16 rooms; from $250.

5. Do Lado de Lá Eco Lodge, Minas Gerais

At 6,233 feet above sea level, the lodge is likely the highest in Brazil. Built in the Andes using materials from the site itself, the place is filled with rustic furniture made by local artisans. Freestanding cabins, some with a fireplace. It is a land of crystal-clear rivers, noisy waterfalls, and wild things (jaguars, maned wolves, hummingbirds). Mountaineering, rappelling, mountain biking, and hiking are some of the ways to explore. After dark, dozens of candles light the common areas. And, oh, the night sky. 7 rooms; from $260, incl.

6. Eco-Farm, outside of Parati

A deep green laboratory for rain forest jungle farming that's a two-hour hike from Parati, the nearest sizable town. Small amount of electricity used comes from a waterwheel generator. The farm's reforestation program involved planting more than 84,000 trees. All in all, this is a fascinating example of self-sustainability. 2 rooms and a multi-bed dorm; from $250, incl. two lunches, one breakfast, and guide.

7. Ecopousada Teju-açu, Fernando de Noronha

On the eco-conscious island of Fernando de Noronha, this jungle/ocean pousada sets a clever conservation tone, from the fish-scale chandeliers to the gardens watered with collected rain. Solar power for hot water. Spa planned for late 2011. Rooms—individual bungalows—have plasma TVs and Wi-Fi. Primo Atlantic beaches. Pool. Restaurant. 12 rooms; from $460.

8. Hotel Villa Bahia, Salvador, Bahia

Just because the hotel (handsome 17th- and 18th-century buildings brought up to speed in 2006 in terms of plumbing and the like) remains decidedly Old World—a gem in the historic center of town—that doesn't mean that the food can't be organic. Nearly all of it is, coming from farms about an hour's drive away. Coffee beans are bought green and roasted on premises. Each of the third-floor guest rooms has a private terrace. Steps away from the elegantly appointed hotel are shops, restaurants, galleries, and a samba school. Swimming pool. 17 rooms; from $290, incl. breakfast and Wi-Fi.

9. The Maze, Rio de Janeiro

Edgy from head to toe, funky and fun in an off-the-beaten-track favela (translation: shanty town), where safety can be an issue. It was designed and built by owner/sculptor Bob Nadkarni over three decades to represent the forests, mountains, and bay that surround it. Art and eco-sustainable ethic prevail. Writers love this place—for the peace and the inspiration. Colorful rooms. Great views of Sugar Loaf Mountain from the terrace. Plus it's a performance site for theater and music. All in all, a poetic—if not spotless—retreat for the adventurous. The website alone is worth a visit. 10 rooms; from $53, incl. breakfast.

10. Pousada Les Roches, Petrópolis

A rain forest gem—the accommodations are named for precious stones. Lots of windows and wood. Some 2,000 trees have been planted in the past three years. Fruit jelly and veggies are products of the property. Nearby: birds to see, horses to ride, mountains to bike, rivers to raft, courses to putt. Pool. Spa. Restaurant. 14 rooms; from $220, incl. breakfast.

11. Pousada Mangabeiras, Boipeba

Proudly green property on an island hill overlooking a spectacular beach. Bungalows outfitted with local crafts as well as flat-screen TVs. Solar-heated water in bathrooms. In 2006, 20 percent of the property was registered as an ecological reserve. Among the fauna are armadillos, anteaters, lizards, and hummingbirds. Premier Atlantic rain forest landscapes. 9 rooms; from $190, incl. breakfast.

12. Pousada Picinguaba, Parati

On the unspoiled Atlantic coast between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is the lovely harbor town of Parati. A short way's away is Pousada Picinguaba, an inviting fusion of Portuguese colonial architecture and folk art from throughout Brazil. Fresh orange juice from the pousada's organic garden. A walk to a fishing village with 400 inhabitants. Rain forest hikes with in-house guide. The owners formed an NGO in 2008 to help make the Picinguaba area sustainable. Pool. 10 rooms; from $355, incl. breakfast.

13. Quinta do Bucanero, Imbituba

Rooms are actually sizable apartments with balconies and water views (unusual saltwater lagoon and exquisite Atlantic bay). Embroidered sheets and flat-screen TVs. Active options include surfing, kite surfing, horseback riding, whale-watching. Ongoing arts project with local community kids. Pool. Spa. Restaurant. 10 rooms; from $238, incl. breakfast.

14. Reserva Natural Palmarí, Javarí River

Buildings constructed in 1998 of local wood and filled with loads of indigenous arts and crafts. Amazon jungle terrain. The gardens hold literally hundreds of local plant species. Grand trees. Astounding fungi. Slews of birds. Multi-day excursions—rowing, hiking—reveal jungle ways. Research at the reserve is ongoing, with studies that focus on the flora and fauna. Strong community involvement: the property's NGO invests in local projects. 10 rooms; from $183, incl. meals, snacks, beverages, and a guide.

15. Ronco do Bugio, Piedade

Built largely from recycled materials, this countryside rain forest spot—68 miles from São Paulo—is colorful inside and out. It's a good home base for cycling and bird-watching. On-premises waterfall powers some electricity. Hosted here are skills-sharing programs—just one example of the hotel's dedication to community. Pool. Spa. Restaurant. 13 rooms; from $320, incl. breakfast.

16. Santa Teresa Hotel, Rio de Janeiro

Built in 1850 and rebuilt in the early 21st century, in the culturally rich Santa Teresa neighborhood, this Relais & Châteaux property is a bastion of Brazilian art and design. There’s also an ethic of sustainability: floors are made of recycled wood, toilets use recycled water, and rainwater is collected for the gardens, which supply fruit and flowers to the hotel. The outdoors feel is more countryside than city. Many rooms have balconies—some with views of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Swimming pool and spa. 44 rooms; from $495.

17. Toca da Coruja, Praia da Pipa

Sea turtles reproduce on the beach (routinely on Ten Best Beaches in Brazil lists); dolphins swim the waters. Surfers brought popularity to Pipa Beach in the late 1970s. Restaurants, shops, and nightlife followed. Lush native vegetation, organic gardens, and extensive use of recycled building materials place Toca da Coruja in good eco stead. Hammocks and exotic birds everywhere. Restaurant. Two swimming pools. It's a short walk to the beach. 31 rooms; from $180, incl. breakfast.

18. Uakari Lodge, Tefé-Amazonas

The floating structures made of wood and topped with thatch that form the lodge's accommodations rely on solar power for lighting and water heating. One big educational work in progress, the lodge is linked to the Mamirauá Institute's Ecotourism Program and seeks to be the best example of ecotourism in the Amazon. There's interaction with the local folks, hiking, visits to a research station, canoeing on Mamirauá Lake (with possible pink river dolphin sightings). There are three ways to get to Tefé: plane, fast boat, and slow boat. From there, it's a water taxi to the lodge. All profits are donated locally: 50 percent goes to surveillance of the area against poachers and the other 50 percent is for community development projects. 10 rooms; from $720 for three nights, all inclusive.

19. Uxua Casa Hotel, Trancoso, Bahia

It's in the center of a fishing village on a hilltop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Built in 2009—largely from recycled materials and fishermen's houses. Some of the hotel's innovations, courtesy of designer Wilbert Das (long-time creative director for Diesel), are being copied throughout Bahia. Case in point, his shower heads made from locally sourced eucalyptus or recycled copper plumbing materials. The local Pataxo people provide intriguing herbal products, including mosquito repellent. Organic gardens. Pool. Spa. Restaurant. 14 suites; from $700, incl. breakfast.

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