This trip is designed to combine the best elements of Brazil's North and South Pantanal and take in locations that offer a diversity of experiences, habitats, fauna and flora while focusing on jaguar photography with expert Nick Garbutt.
Add to this, the likelihood of seeing giant otter, Brazilian tapir, giant anteater, hyacinth macaw, both howler and capuchin monkeys, jabirú storks, toco toucans and countless capybara and yacaré caiman, and it is easy to appreciate why the Pantanal is regarded as such a special place.
We start our adventure in the southern Pantanal: whilst this area undoubtedly harbours healthy jaguar populations, the region is not generally regarded as a rewarding place to see them – in most locations sightings are sporadic. However, Refúgio Ecológico Caiman is at the forefront of major jaguar research and the development of a new type of jaguar ecotourism, and there are excellent chances of close encounters and good photographic opportunities there.
Just to the south lies Buraco das Araras - known as the ‘Sinkhole of the Macaws’ - where we spend some time geting to grips photographing the amazing red-and-green macaws which nest and roost there in large numbers.
After our time in the south, we head to North Pantanal, first to an area part way down the famous Transpantaneira road dominated by open areas of grassland, forest patches, drying marshes and seasonal rivers, where the concentrations of capybara, yacaré caiman and wetland birds are incredible. Our final destination is the Cuiaba River, the prime location for viewing jaguar. Some animals remain quite shy, while others are extremely tolerant, often allowing prolonged and close sightings.
Day1: Depart UK
Depart the UK on an overnight flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Day2: Arrive Sao Paulo, fly to Campo Grande and transfer to Refúgio Ecológico Caiman
On arrival in Sao Paulo, we connect with an onward flight to Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul. From here we transfer by road (3 hours) to Refúgio Ecológico Caiman, located in South Pantanal, in time for lunch. In the afternoon we have a chance to explore the surrounds for the first time.
Days3-5: Refúgio Ecológico Caiman and jaguar tracking
We spend time with the researchers from Projecto Onçafari, tracking jaguars both during the day and after dark. There is an excellent chance of close encounters and good photographic opportunities.
There is also ample time to enjoy all the other wildlife that flourishes in the area: the lake margins are excellent places to see capybara, caiman and a variety of water birds including, herons, ibises, storks and kingfishers, while the forests are home to toucans, araçaris, various parrots, as well as deer, peccaries and tapirs. Groups of hyacinth macaws are always present too.
Day6: Refúgio Ecológico Caiman, transfer to Jardim
We spend one final morning at Refúgio Ecológico Caiman, then after lunch leave for the town of Jardim, a drive of around 3½ hours.
Accommodation: Jardim hotel, 2-nights
Day7: Buraco das Araras and Rio da Prata
Early in the morning we make our first visit to Buraco das Araras to take advantage of the good light. We spend 2-3 hours to enjoy this stunning location and really get to grips with photographing the macaws both perched and in flight.
Mid-morning we drive the short distance to Pousada Rio da Prata, where we have lunch. There are good opportunities to walk and bird watch and for those who wish, to snorkel in the crystal clear Rio da Prata, which is a breath taking experience. The shallow waters are teeming with a huge variety of fish – it really is like swimming in an aquarium.
In the late afternoon we return to Buraco das Araras, and make best use of the light from the opposite direction.
Day8: Transfer to Pousada Aguapé
After another early morning visit to Buraco das Araras, we return to our hotel in Jardim for a late breakfast. We then drive back into the Southern Pantanal to Pousada Aguapé, hopefully arriving by mid afternoon, giving us time to begin exploring the area before dark.
We have a full day to explore the area, one that is particularly good for anteaters, both giant and tamandua. There is excellent birdlife too with species like greater rhea and red-legged seriema, and after dark the chance to look for nocturnal creatures like ocelots and tapirs.
Day10: Fly to Cuiaba and transfer to Porto Jofre
We leave early to return to Campo Grande for a flight to Cuiabá, gateway to the Northern Pantanal. We drive the length of the Transpantaneira to Porto Jofre on the Cuiaba River (5-6 hours). We should arrive in time to enjoy a sunset on the lagoon adjacent to our lodge.
Days11-13: Cuiaba River boat trips, jaguar photography
Over the next three days we take morning and afternoon boat trips on the Cuiabá and Piquirí Rivers and their tributaries in Encontro das Aguas (Meeting of the Waters) State Park looking for jaguars and other wildlife. There is a very healthy population of jaguars in the vicinity, and numerous different individuals are regularly seen along the banks of the watercourses and in the adjacent forest.
The area teems with other wildlife too. There is a good chance of seeing Brazilian tapir, yellow anaconda and tolerant family groups of both giant river otters and neotropical otter. The birding is also excellent, with numerous large and colourful species like jabirú stork, toco toucan, chestnut-eared aracari, bare-faced curassow and several varieties of parrots and parakeets seen daily.
Day14: Transfer to Araras Eco Lodge
In the morning we take our final excursion on the Cuiaba River. After lunch at the lodge, we transfer by open-topped truck to Araras Lodge. Here a mosaic of grassland, marsh, open water and forest provides a variety of habitats for an impressive array of species – all within a short walk of the lodge. Tonight there is a possibility of a night drive after supper.
We can explore this private reserve by safari truck or on foot – raised boardwalks lead through the wetlands into nearby deciduous forest, where canopy towers offer bird’s-eye views of the surrounding area. These are good places to look for black howler monkeys and tufted capuchins, and it is also possible to see black-tailed marmosets. Around the lodge are the nests of hyacinth macaws and large numbers of yacaré caiman and capybara. Day and night drives in an open safari truck allow us to explore areas further afield.
Day16: Transfer to Cuiaba, fly to Sao Paulo and depart
This morning we transfer back to Cuiaba to catch a late morning flight to São Paulo, where we connect with a late afternoon international flight to London.
Day17: Arrive UK
You should note: This itinerary is based on current domestic flight schedules. Local airlines reserve the right to change these without notice, and there is no guarantee that we will be able to follow this exact itinerary. If forced to change the itinerary, we will make every effort to adhere to the itinerary described above.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 17 daysfrom £8,995 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 15 daysfrom £7,895 pp
Single supplement: From £1,490
Group size: 14
When to go: Sep
Departures: Please contact us for departure date details.
Included in the price/package:
Domestic flights between Sao Paulo, Campo Grande, Cuiaba, Sao Paulo
4 nights Sede Villa, Refugio Ecologico Caiman
10 nights in hotels/pousadas
3 days Onçafari Jaguar Project with research team
Donation to Onçafari Jaguar Project
Services of English speaking local guide
Photography tuition from Nick Garbutt
An award-winning photographer and author, with a background in zoology, Nick has forged a career by combining these skills with leading tours and lecturing.
Nick has written and photographed several critically acclaimed books, including: ‘100 Animals to See Before They Die’, ‘Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide’, ‘Wild Borneo’, and ‘Chameleons’. He is a regular contributor to international magazines such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Africa Geographic and Geographical.
Nick has twice been a winner in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. In 2000, he won the prestigious Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife. His photographs appear widely in books, calendars and other publications worldwide. He is a Special Lecturer on the MSc course in the Wildlife Photography and Imaging at Nottingham University, where he studied.
Having excelled as a racing car driver for almost 20 years, Mario retired from the profession and completed a OPM (Owner/President Management) course at Harvard University. He went on to create Projeto Onçafari with the aim of preserving the Pantanal through ecotourism , which can in turn help to conserve the area's wonderful biome, increase land value, generate jobs for local people and stimulate commerce.
Projeto Onçafari's focus is wildlife viewing, in particular the jaguar, and a significant donation will be made from our Jaguar Fiesta tour to this worthwhile project.
Located near Buraco das Araras, Pousada Rio da Prata is a beautiful deciduous forest site where you can enjoy birdwatching around the ranch, or snorkel the crystal clear waters in search of freshwater fish, including dorado and pacu, as well as an array of aquatic plant life.
Where: Southern Pantanal
Ideal for viewing: toco toucan, blue-crowned motmot, blue-crowned trogon, pacu
Excellent for: Photography tours with Nick Garbutt, Birdwatching
Buraco das Araras is a spectacular sinkhole some 500 metres in diameter, named after the abundance of red-and-green macaws which nest and roost on the cliffs. Two viewing platforms overlook the emerald green lagoon providing remarkable sightings and excellent photographic opportunities.
Excellent for: Wildlife photography, Photography tours with Nick Garbutt, Birdwatching
Conservation projects in the southern Pantanal focus on jaguar and the hyacinth macaw. From a comfortable lodge you can see wildlife by boat, vehicle and on foot. Bonito, on the southern fringe, is a mecca for ecotourism, where you will find grottos with blue lakes and walking trails surrounded by monkeys.
Ideal for viewing: capybara, giant anteater, giant river otter, jaguar, spectacled caiman
Excellent for: Wildlife photography, Photography tours with Nick Garbutt, River safaris, Jaguar watching, Birdwatching
Accessed via the town of Cuiaba, the northern Pantanal is home to some of Brazil’s rarest wildlife, such as jaguar and giant river otter. Many of the lodges here are still functioning cattle ranches, offering day and night trips by boat, vehicle, on foot and on horseback, accompanied by local naturalist guides.
Ideal for viewing: capybara, giant anteater, giant river otter, jaguar, spectacled caiman
Excellent for: Wildlife cruises, Wildlife photography, Photography tours with Nick Garbutt, River safaris, Jaguar watching
With direct access to the Ciuaba River, Hotel Pantanal Norte is one of the best places in Brazil to see the elusive jaguar, as you journey down quiet creeks and tributaries. In between excursions, the hotel has a swimming pool and lots of outside space in which to relax and observe birds or wildlife.
Pousada Aguape offers comfortable, homely accommodation on a typical Pantanal farm. Surrounded by rich wetland vegetation, open pastures and gallery forest, the lodge offers guests the opportunity to experience first hand the exuberant nature of the region, home to a diverse range of wildlife.
Pousada Araras Eco Lodge is a rustic, but sophisticated lodge surrounded by more than 3,000 hectares of private land. You can see various birds, including the highly attractive, endangered, hyacinth macaw, from the lodge’s forest boardwalk, and tapir, marmoset and howler monkey are seen regularly in the area.
Set on a 53,000 hectare ranch in the Southern Pantanal wetland, Caiman Lodge is one of three operations of Refúgio Ecológico Caiman – the other two being an important nature conservation programme and Caiman Ranch. Caiman Lodge comprises two independent lodges situated 22 kilometres from each other.