The kids dream of seeing a rainforest. But you don't fancy a full-on adventure. Juliet Rix found a resort in Brazil offering a compromise
Looking down from our hotel balcony, we see sand, sea, coconut palms - and a huge iguana sitting in a bush sunning himself. The marmosets in the strip of rainforest next to the hotel are also enjoying themselves, leaping from branch to branch and helping themselves to food offered by admiring guests.
We are in the Costa do Sauipe resort, in north-east Brazil. We have come for what we hope will be a combination of a relaxing family holiday and a South American wildlife experience without the risks of a full-scale Amazonian adventure. Here we do not need malaria tablets or vaccines and we aren't likely to be bitten by anything poisonous. In the resort, we don't even have to be careful what we eat, which is just as well as the food is spectacular and part of the all-inclusive package. It is tempting just to laze by the pool, but we are here to explore the landscape.
The Jeep bumps along a dirt track to the visitors' centre of the Sapiranga rainforest reserve. Inside we learn that the Atlantic rainforest typical of this region is down to just 5 per cent of its original size. My family immediately begins to debate whether we should be here because tourism encourages clearance for new buildings, or whether ecotourists provide an economic incentive to protect the forest.
What remains of the forest is still home to armadillo, margay (nocturnal wild cats) and boa constrictors. We have to settle for stuffed and captive versions of these at the centre and head outside to see some of the forest flora. Just outside is a brazilwood tree, the red dye from which provided the first commercial interest for Portuguese colonists and gave Brazil its name. We are led down a path through the forest as the guides point out bromeliads (pineapple family so not to be brushed past!), a tree with heavily scented sap used as incense, a plant harvested for its fibres and a broad-leafed shrub used to cure kidney stones.
We come to a muddy pool across our path. "Shoes off," calls the guide. "The tide is high." I don my wet shoes (I am a wimp) and everyone sploshes through the mangrove swamp. Above our heads hovers a delicate, perfect hummingbird.
Our short walk ends at the banks of the Projuca River and the reason most have come on this outing - a "jungle" zip-wire. From a canopy-level tower it flies you over the treetops and down across the river to the far bank. Another tower and wire brings you back to land with a whoosh in the water. It's great fun and the highlight of the holiday for our 15-year-old, who goes back for seconds.
There is plenty of action at the resort too (almost all included in the price): a watersports lake, tennis courts and a golf course. There is archery, kids' clubs and even a real trapeze. From the equestrian centre we join a group ride over the dunes through a peaceful desert-like landscape known as restinga (the ecosystem that lies between rainforest and beach).
We go on several other trips too (not included). At the beautiful mouth of the Sauipe River, just a few miles up the beach from our hotel, swathes of mangrove twist their way along the riverbanks in an extraordinary lattice of tangled wood (and there is good swimming). Behind the dunes is a narrow hidden river along which we paddle canoes, spotting vultures, ghost crabs and termites nests on narrow tree trunks like giant lollipops.
Finally, we paid a visit to Praia do Forte, a nearby centre for ecotourism from where we took a schooner trip to see humpback whales leaping out of the water, and visited the Tamar (sea turtle) Project, which has combined conservation and commercialisation. The project helped to protect more than 600,000 turtles last year while welcoming almost as many visitors to its centre. Here we saw loggerheads, Olive Ridley and hawksbill turtles, along with small sharks, puffer fish and other local marine life. Between December and February visitors can play a direct part in the project, usually at night, helping newly hatched turtles to find their way to the sea.
The weather prevented us from snorkelling in Praia do Forte's Piscinas Papagente - large shallow pools cut off from the sea - but we found our own sea urchins, corals and aquamarine fish in rock pools at the resort. There we saw a chameleon and lots of smaller lizards, all close up. We watched whales through binoculars, fed the monkeys and my birdwatcher husband clocked up 60 new species.
In fact, if you kept your eyes open, the resort was as good a place as any for wildlife-watching - a natural spin on all-inclusive.
The Compact Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
Juliet Rix was a guest of SuperClubs Breezes, Costa do Sauipe (superclubs.com/ brand_breezes/resortbrazil /index.asp), and flew with First Choice (0870-850 3999; firstchoice.co.uk/brazil)from Gatwick to Salvador. Two weeks all-inclusive with First Choice costs from £965.
Tourist board: braziltourism .org; bahia.com.br).