If, like me, you love wilderness and open spaces then the loneliness and vastness of the Pantanal will move you deeply. Yet there is far more to the Pantanal than openness – it is the world’s largest tropical wetland area hosting a number of ecosystems and covers up to an estimated 75,000 square miles. Importantly this means that it’s the best place in the Americas for wildlife – its open spaces make wildlife far more visible than in the Amazon rainforest.
Thus it is no surprise that the Pantanal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a must-visit whilst on your Brazil holiday.
Dotted with lakes, lagoons and rivers, rainforest and riverine forest – throughout its expanses the wildlife viewing is incredible. Populated with hundreds of bird species such as kingfishers, parakeets, toucans, the purple/blue Hyacinth Macaw, the lanky Jabiru Stork and the rare Pygmy Kingfisher. Not forgetting the mammals and reptiles that include herds of the guinea pig-like capybara, Giant Otter, tapir, Giant Anteater, monkeys, ocelot, the maned wolf, anaconda and millions of caiman. And of course, the poster boy of the Pantanal, the elusive jaguar.
Simply, the Pantanal is divided between the north and the south. Each area providing you with a very different holiday experience. First, I flew to the more accessible north, with the Transpantaneira only one and a half hours by road from the city of Cuiaba. I was struck by the flatness of the region – making it prone to flooding – and the more aquatic form of flora and fauna, with many migratory birds. The accommodation was simple yet comfortable and on my daily excursions – whether by day or night, whether riding or walking – I was blown away by the variety.
The highlight of the North for me was the Cuiaba River. I took boat trips up the smaller tributaries and experienced the region’s beauty and variety and got a real sense of it being South America’s Wild West. In the dry season, the only water is in the rivers and thus the animals are drawn to their banks to drink and hunt. Between August and September, there is a high probability of sighting Jaguar, making it one of the foremost places in the world to see this elusive cat. Unfortunately, I travelled in June and did not see a jaguar but any disappointment was more than made up by seeing Giant Otters.
Next, I travelled to the Southern Pantanal via Campo Grande and a long but engrossing three-hour drive. This region is best visited by plane creating a fantastic flying safari holiday. I loved the southern Pantanal for its greater variation of topography with small mountain ranges, allowing for greater concentrations of wildlife on the high ground during the flooded season.
I stayed in farms that are huge cattle ranches that are also open up to tourism, therefore you experience the Pantaneiro cowboy culture as well as the amazing wildlife. The remote lodges gave me a more intimate and less touristy experience – I was staying with the owner’s family and experienced and shared in their day to day way of life.
For me, a highlight was Caiman Ecological Refuge. They run the Oncafari jaguar project, where you can observe Jaguar in the wild that have become habituated to vehicles.
I am not a writer and do not feel that I have done the Pantanal justice. Simply put it is the world’s largest wetlands and is a magnet for wildlife lovers and a must see for any wildlife enthusiast. Call me and I will try and enthuse you further.