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Sherre Prince Nelson
Faculdades Objetivo – IMES

 presented at the  Cuarta Feria Ecoturistica y de Produccion 15 – 23 Julio, 2000
Buena Noche de Hato Nuevo, Manoguayabo,  Santo Domingo, D.N., Republica Dominicana

© Sherre Prince Nelson 2000


Evaluation of the inter-relations between a riverine community and local jungle lodges used for ecotourism in the Brazilian Amazon. In response to the recent focus on ecotourism in the Brazilian Amazon I will present one community and its inter-relationships with nearby nature based tourism jungle lodges. It is widely acknowledged that in order for all participants to benefit from ecotourism attention needs to be given towards the perceptions and understandings of the participants, taking into account the level of community involvement and the social impacts of such involvement. As such, the aims of this case study are to carry out an evaluation of the roles played by the community, tourists and lodge owners, their inter-relations and perceptions of such relations. While also analysing the implications for sustainable development, carrying capacity and gender roles, which are all important concepts in ecotourism. The objective of the evaluation is to test if ecotourism in the Brazilian Amazon is reaching its goals, and if not, suggest ways that such obstacles can be overcome.


This article studies the inter-relationship between the community of Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro, located on a southern tributary to the Rio Negro in the Brazilian Amazon (see Figure 1) and nearby jungle lodges. The community is located adjacent to the Anavilhanas Ecological Station, a federally protected area located in the Rio Negro and within the Rio Negro State Park, along the margins of the Rio Negro.

Ecotourism has been discussed in Brazil since the early 1990’s as an economic development option for the Amazon. To encourage its implementation, the Brazilian Government, through the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) with funding through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), has begun to invest in ecotourism in the region in 2000. This is particularly important in the state of Amazonas as the Manaus’ Duty Free Zone, the current economic base of the capital city is expected to end in 2013 when there will be no more financial incentives. Ecotourism is an alternative economic proposal.


Ecotourism, (Lindberg and Hawkins, 1993) can be defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of local people". It is said to be the most rapidly growing segment of tourism. Tourism, in the state of Amazonas is currently evolving from nature based tourism to ecotourism, with increased emphasis on conservation, the educational factor and community involvement.

The number of jungle lodges in the state has increased, from one, in 1979, with three rooms, to fourteen lodges in 1999, with a total of over five hundred rooms. Slightly over a third of the lodges are concentrated in the lower Rio Negro within an eighty-kilometer radius of the capital Manaus. Regional boats with cabins also operate on regular departures for one to two week trips up the Rio Negro. One of the scheduled activities both for boats and lodges is a visit to a local community.

Communities are characterized by Ashley and Roe (1998) as: a set of people with a mutually recognized interest in the resources of a particular area and are an essential component of the emerging ecotourism market. Community residents for the most part in this region are considered to be "caboclos" and can best be described as a mixture of Amerindian and Portuguese.

A literature search was carried out on the limited material available on tourism and communities in the lower Rio Negro. An initial study involving all communities in the Ecotourism Hub of the state of Amazonas was conducted as part of a state survey, for which I was one of the responsible researchers (SUDAM 1999). Further research was carried out in the community Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro, nearby lodges and tourists. This community was selected due to its current tourism involvement, perceived impact (current and future) and its proximity to protected areas and jungle lodges.

The community has been visited on a sporadic basis over the past two years due to limited financial resources. Methods used to obtain information were: open-ended questionnaires applied to residents, directed questionnaires for tourists, which they filled out themselves, observations and my first hand experience with tourism since 1980. Structured interviews with lodge and boat owners, managers and guides were also carried out. All people interviewed were informed that a study was being carried out and are aware that results would be published.

Figure 01: Map illustrating lodges and the Nossa Senhora de Pertétuo Socorro community in the Acajatuba Lake region near Manaus. (1= Acajatuba Jungle Lodge, 2= Ariau Amazon Towers, 3= Terra Verde Lodge and 4= Pousada Amazonas)


The setting

Both boats and lodges operate in the Acajatuba Lake region. Overnight tourist boats visit sporadically whereas tourists from the lodges visit on a more regular basis.

Four jungle lodges are located in the vicinity. Tourists from Pousada Amazonas rarely visit the community Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro due to distance and the slightly longer travel time. Ariau Amazon Towers recently purchased Terra Verde, which means that the two facilities are now under the same management. So, in essence, I am concentrating on the relationship of two lodges, Ariau Amazon Towers and Acajatuba Jungle Lodge and the community Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro.

Both of these can be considered to be nature-based lodges. They are located in forested areas, have observation towers and the activities are carried out in the forest, and on the rivers. I do not consider them to be ecotourism, however, as they are deficient in their contributions towards conservation, interpretation of natural and cultural aspects and community participation. Architectural design in all of the lodges generally follows local styles, however, very little alternative technologies are employed. The following table gives an overview:

Table 01: Jungle Lodge Information

Lodge Ariau Amazon Towers  Acajatuba Jungle Lodge Terra Verde Pousada Amazonas
Location Ariau river Acajatuba Lake Acajatuba lake Ariau River
Inauguration 1987 1989 1992 1998
Capacity 210 rooms 24 rooms 17 rooms 20 rooms
Average Length of stay 3d/2n 3d/2n 3d/2n 3d/2n
Alternative technology limited Limited limited Limited
Ownership Manaus resident Manaus resident Recently bought by Ariau Amazon Towers Previously Foreign born Manaus resident for over 25 years Manaus resident


Activities in all of the lodges are similar, jungle walks, piranha fishing, alligator spotting and a community visit. Although there are several communities in the region, the community Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro is the most frequently visited and has developed the most due to tourism.

The community of Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro

Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro is the largest (pop: 167) of the five communities located on Acajatuba Lake, in the township of Iranduba. Often receiving tourists twice daily it is also the most frequently visited of the communities. The community was established 24 years ago by its current president, Senhora Marlene. She is also the nurse and organizes the handicraft store. Women in such a responsible position are rare in rural areas.

The community supports two churches, Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. The former being more prominent and visible upon approximation to the town. The houses are wooden, built on stilts and there are fruit trees in almost every yard. There is a waterfront bar and second one was recently opened as well as a coffee shop.

Access to the community is by river only. Public transportation by riverboat is available to Manaus (4-hour trip) on a regular basis and costs US$4.00. Most residents use this means of transportation to travel to Manaus one to two times a month to purchase essential items. There is no public telephone post but recently cell phone access has been made possible and neighboring lodges have installed phones to replace radios.

There is a health clinic but it is poorly supplied and staffed. The French NGO, ‘Doctors without Frontiers’, who used to service the community has discontinued their visits. However, regular monthly visits from a Protestant religion’s medical boat have begun. Malaria and diarrhea are the most common health concerns. Medicine is often difficult to find and when it is not available residents rely on medicinal plants, of which the midwife has a good working knowledge. In fact, most people use a combination of medicinal plants and traditional medicine when a family member is sick. In emergencies, they travel to Manaus.

Residents identified health care as being deficient. It is a concern not only for the residents but also for tourists, who would not want to risk their health to visit an unhealthy community. Overnight visits become problematic when adequate drinking water is not available.

The municipally run school operates in three sessions: 1st to 5th grade in the morning and afternoon and 6th to 9th grade at night. There are two teachers for the 65 students who attend the three sessions. The school building is dilapidated, the roof needs repair and school supplies are short. This is in contrast to neighboring municipalities, which have new schoolhouses and sufficient teaching supplies. Low literacy rates are characteristic in adults, however this is improving in the younger generation. Youth obtain a ninth grade education without leaving the community and further education is available in Manaus, but that requires the expense of living away from home, which families often don’t have.

Education was identified as deficient by all community members interviewed. Without a high school education, it is obviously difficult to compete in the tourism job market, run a business and understand tourism concepts. It is an important factor in the success of ecotourism.

With the exception of the schoolhouse, the community has a prosperous appearance. Monthly salaries for a family vary between US$ 115 to over US$ 570. The economic base of the community is subsistence fishing and agriculture, timber extraction and tourism. The nearby lodges employee several residents.

Most residents interviewed were content to live in a small rural community, citing that it is peaceful and calm. Only one elderly woman preferred to live in an urban area, due to easier access to medical care.

Residents were in agreement that tourism has brought improvements to their community and enjoy the visitor’s presence. They are also aware that their community relies on tourism as an economic activity.

Tourist visits

Attractions in the community are the freshly painted Catholic Church and its riverside promenade, the schoolhouse, handicraft shop, bar verandah, prominent soccer field, health clinic and stand of Brazil nut trees.

Group size varies from two to 30 people. One guide will accompany each group with a common language. Occasionally two tourist groups will be in the community at the same time.

Community residents have heard that they are "the most popular tourist attraction of Ariau Amazon Towers". This is quite a distinction and leads them to the conclusion that the lodge benefits financially from the visits.

A tourist generally only visits one community during his/her stay, however if attractions were more diverse and a range of scheduled activities offered, more than one community could be visited. New attractions and activities in this situation might include handicraft classes, an informative community center, or interpretive trails. Thus enhancing and perhaps extending a visit, benefiting both the tourists and the communities.

Visits to communities are not scheduled with the residents but can be predicted somewhat with an understanding of the lodges daily schedule, average length of stay and occupancy rate. The number of tourists that the community receives is directly related to the number of tourists in the nearby lodges.

Visits are unstructured. Motorized canoes with tourists from boats and nearby lodges land at a wooden dock. The visitors are escorted up a set of stairs to a verandah connected to a small bar where drinks can be purchased. It also serves as a meeting point. Tourists are free to roam around at leisure but are often accompanied by their guide.

Both Wallace and Pierce (1996) and SUDAM (1999) found that a majority of the tourists enjoy the visits to communities. In 1999, 89% of the tourists from Ariau and Acajabuba rated the visits as good or very good. These tourists rated community visits higher than those from other lodges in the region, which indicates that either the guides were doing a better job or that there were more options for tourists. Many visitors, however, commented that the visits could be improved. These results are encouraging on one hand but at the same time show the need for improvement.

Direct economic benefits

The community offers handicrafts, food and beverages for sale and approximately, half the visitors buy something in the community. Purchases are evenly divided between handicrafts and drinks.

The handicraft store offers a limited variety of wooden and straw items. Residents commented that only foreigners purchased handicrafts. This can be attributed to the items available for sale instead of the price. Prices are reasonable, a seed necklace for example, costs US$ 1.00. Handicrafts are made based on the resident’s perception of what the tourist buys, rather than a market study. In fact, there is a definite lack of variety, quality and understanding of the market.

The bars sell primarily soft drinks and beer and at lower prices than those of the lodges, which is appreciated and commented upon by the tourists. Canoes that bring the tourists do not carry ice chests with chilled beverages, which in this tropical climate encourage visitors to purchase beverages. Tourists will generally not purchase food since the lodges provide meals. Snack food is an exception.

The success of the waterfront bar most likely encouraged other residents to recently open a coffee shop and another bar. This encourages competition and distributes income among residents. There is still room for further expansion into other arenas such as: lodge ownership and equipment rental.

An association called "Friends of Acajatuba" was formed to receive donations for the health clinic. There is a prominent sign hanging on the adjacent building, advertising it, but it is more often than not closed. This is unfortunate as it represents another potential for direct economic benefits. Such means of donation need to be facilitated and announced in pre-trip literature or at least, before departure from the lodge.

An economic potential exists through both sales and donations. The SUDAM (1999) study showed that a majority of the tourists purchased something in the community they visited and 56% stated that they would be willing to contribute to a community knowing that it would directly benefit health or education. The willingness to donate, however, does not guarantee an actual donation. In working towards this, measures could be taken to provide an opportunity to donate by setting up a collection box at the health clinic and encouraging the guide to mention it.

Interpretation in the community

Guides play an essential role in any visit. They translate, encourage participation, interpret and explain community life. To do this well, they must have an appreciation and knowledge of their own culture. Community members are interested in guiding visitors around their community and have commented that if it weren’t for the language difficulty they themselves could guide. In fact, they often help guide with Portuguese-speaking visitors.

Guides in the Brazilian Amazon are 89% male (SUDAM, 1999) and many are not from the region. According to the study, they prefer to bring tourists to the forest rather than to communities. Is this perhaps due to a lack of understanding of the community or rather a show of their adventuresome spirit in the jungle? I question whether the guides are adequately trained in social and cultural aspects. It is not a required part of the guide-training course, which tends to emphasize jungle skills.

Even though in the minority, the women guides, according to community members, have been the ones to help the community the most, instructing them in tourism issues. They have also encouraged them to improve hygiene and to take proper care of garbage.

The community can easily participate more actively in interpretation of their history and culture despite the language difficulties. They can set up an information center with exhibits and posters, which supply the community’s history, useful plants and displaying ways in which the community is involved in conservation. Short interpretative trails could provide yet another attraction. Participatory activities can be organized around scheduled events to increase interaction between residents and tourists. A school supply donation box could be located in a prominent place and also announced in pre-trip literature. An extended exposure to the community will lead to increased awareness and understanding.

Currently, a tourist receives little behavioral guidelines and information during or prior to a visit and as a result some tourists feel uncomfortable visiting the community. Information about the community, perhaps in the form of a written invitation by the community, could provide information, lessen dependence on the guide and increase community control.

Although other communities throughout the Amazon basin are organizing in terms of ecotourism, there are no inter-community associations. If such existed, residents could benefit from shared experiences, exchange of ideas, collective strength and market access. Links between environmental groups and communities are also beginning to emerge in other Amazonian communities. It will not be long before this happens in Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro and they begin to actively address environmental issues.

Both the lodges and community residents are in an excellent position to explain Amazonian life, in such a way that the information received will influence the visitor and change his/her behavior towards conservation.

The relationship between the community and the jungle lodges

The relationship between the community and the lodges is informal. Even though interaction occurs, no formal contract has been drafted. This informal status does not guarantee a sustainable economy for the community. A more substantial and on going assistance needs to be formally established in a written contract in exchange for visits.

Currently, Ariau Amazon Towers sells community handicrafts at the lodge souvenir shop at inflated prices, supplies diesel fuel to the community, provides emergency transportation and employment. In a move towards ecotourism it plans to hire more community members as guides. It primarily visits the community of Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro.

Acajatuba Jungle Lodge also provides employment and alternates visits to all five communities in the area. They sporadically provide diesel fuel and assistance in emergencies. It does not sell handicrafts preferring to encourage tourists to purchase them directly in the communities. By doing so they are assisting avoiding leakage, a term used for how much tourist expenditure stays in the locality (Ashley and Roe, 1998).

Many of the jobs available for unskilled labor are low paid, seasonal and short term. Most residents would qualify only for these jobs due to limited education and skills training available in their community. Lodge owners have made efforts to hire locally, but at the same time expressed concern over the lack of professional qualification. If one of the lodges were seriously committed to hiring local residents over the long term, a joint project could be initiated with the professional training schools in Manaus.

These two-fold difficulties in hiring local residents (limited education and professional skills) are obstacles in themselves, but they are often combined with a lack of officially required documents (work papers, identity card and social security number) for full time employment. Being officially employed requires that the employer pay social benefits, which is approximately 70% over the take home pay. It is something that many employers would prefer to avoid, but which substantially benefits the employee. As a result local residents are often hired for only for 3 months at a time.

Although it is prestigious to hold a job at one of the lodges, it is hard work. The days are long and the monthly work schedule for most workers is 20-25 days on and 5 days off. This takes the workers away from their families and disrupts regular weekly habits, such as frequenting religious services.

Most residents were pleased with the presence of the lodge but thought that the hotel could do more, by providing jobs, supplies and other items. There was little effort to change this paternalistic situation.

Outside of what was essential and relatively easy the lodges did not go out of their way to assist communities. Wallace and Pierce (1996) noted that the lodges did not hold special days where residents could tour the lodge or visit a protected area nearby. Such activities would have great benefits in increasing conservation awareness, strengthening links between the lodges and communities and would not weigh heavily on a lodge’s budget.

The town of Iranduba claims that the lodges do not pay taxes, requesting exemptions on an annual basis. This partially explains the poor educational facilities of the community. Unfortunately, the results of this situation are seen over the long term. The community is aware that the township has not helped them but the paternalistic attitude is still strong and they are hopeful that the next administration will solve community problems.

One disadvantage to tourism is its cyclic nature. Due to this instability, residents should not rely on it as their only income source, but consider it as a supplement.

This is already becoming a problem in this area. Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro is primarily dependent upon the lodges for tourism. How will the community react as visits alternate among other communities or for one reason or another visitation is reduced? Unfortunately, the community does not have a direct link to the outside market, or to other tourism operators in Manaus to attract tourists on their own. They rely heavily on the nearby lodges and infrequent boats for tourists.

The lodges are expanding, adding new rooms and restoring old ones. Much of the timber for this construction comes from the surrounding area. Residents supply the lumber, for which they get paid, but in doing so they are destroying their natural environment. A short-term benefit for a long term damage will not compensate for the loss of the surrounding rainforest and loss of a tourist attraction.

To my knowledge there are no sociology consultants at either of the lodges. If such was the case, they could assist the lodge personnel, tourists and the community residents in benefiting more from tourism.

Lodge, Community And Tourist Contributions Towards Conservation

Ecotourism also has a strong environmental component, one that is also an aspect of sustainable development (Warburton, 1998), which sets it apart from earlier forms of development. Three of the four lodges are located within the recently decreed, but not yet demarcated Rio Negro State Park. As a park it is lacking in infrastructure and guards, a function that local residents could easily fill.

The State Park was strategically selected to act as a buffer to the federally protected area Anavilhanas Archipelago Ecological Station (ESEC). It is interesting to note that the latter is well known and is used heavily in tourism advertising to attract visitors, despite the fact that officially visitation is not permitted. The lodge Terra Verde has an extensive forest preserve (11,000 hectares). The lodge was originally built as a means of raising funds to preserve the land. The new owner uses the property as a rustic overnight option and for enriched forest walk excursions.

There are no entrance fees for either protected area nor do the neighboring lodges contribute to their maintenance. Government funds are limited for park protection, information and management. In fact, few residents are aware of the State Park’s existence. Tourism could significantly contribute financially to the conservation of both protected areas, by donating a percentage of their profits. This would be in keeping with the principles of ecotourism as well as protecting the quality of the product.

Environmental education programs could be established in the communities with occasional tourist participation. The lodges could take an active role in distributing information on conservation, which would also be good for their business.

Partnerships could be established between the lodges, communities, the responsible governmental environmental agencies and/or with local environmental NGOs in order to cooperate on the conservation of the protected area. As ecotourism depends on the quality of the natural areas all could benefit from this partnership.

Visitation to lodges in the state has increased from 15,000 in 1994 to 19,000 in 1998 (SEC, 1998). Two hundred and eighty one rooms in jungle lodges are concentrated in the Acajatuba Lake area with an occupancy rate of approximately 51% (SEC, 1998). If new lodges were to be built or existing ones expanded, there would be an increase in the number of tourists that neither the communities nor the protected areas nearby could support.

The carrying capacity of Acajatuba Lake and of the community of as Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro has not yet been calculated. The spacious community can currently physically support several small tourist groups at one time, but at what point does a tourist or resident perceive visitation overcrowding? At what point will guides avoid the community altogether? If ecotourism activities and length of visits were to increase, carrying capacity of areas will need serious consideration, limits will need to be set and visitor management techniques employed.

Community Participation and Ecotourism

Community participation is an essential component in ecotourism. Involvement can range from the individual to the whole community, including a variety of activities, from employment and supplying goods and services, to community enterprise ownership and joint ventures. Ashley and Roe (1998) describe participation as a spectrum from passive to active involvement to full participation, where there is active community participation and venture ownership.

As I have shown, the community of Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro is currently involved in tourism on a limited basis. This is changing, however, from one of passive involvement to a more active role as individuals open businesses and the lodges employ more residents. To participate more actively, however, would require improving many factors including basic education, skills training, financial credit, market access, supportive government policies and involvement in planning and decision making. A change from the manner in which the community is involved in tourism today to a truly community based ecotourism is a process and will not happen overnight.

Nossa Senhora de Perpétuo Socorro has the potential for becoming a model community for ecotourism but only if previously mentioned changes are met. Such a role model would be important for other communities and building alliances through inter-community association, as well as establishing links to exchange experiences, plan and develop tourism in the region. Cooperation, however, is difficult to achieve within the private sector when competition exists

A working relationship exists between the lodges, community and tourists in the Acajatuba Lake region. It needs to develop and improve in order for all involved to benefit more. Tourism has not advanced much over the past eight years and many of the same concerns that Wallace and Pierce (1996) mentioned still exist.

Ecotourism must be looked upon as an economic activity to meet basic needs improving the quality of life and a conservation tool. It should be fully integrated into a broader program of regional development. In order to establish ecotourism in the Acajatuba Lake region, emphasis needs to be placed on more active community participation, interpretation and conservation. .


Nature based tourism in the Acajatuba lake region currently involves interaction between lodges, tourists and community residents. As shown it is a satisfactory form of tourism, but there is room for improvement, which would result in benefits for all involved. As tourism evolves from nature based to ecotourism, the community will potentially play a larger and more participatory role. To truly benefit from this industry, however, attention first needs to be directed towards social aspects, such as: health, education and skills training.

For ecotourism to become a viable economic alternative it needs to be carried out successfully. In order for this to occur, challenges that have been discussed will need to be met and changes take place.


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  • © Kalalú-Danza / Sherre Prince Nelson 2000

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