The Pantanal is one of the world’s great natural wonders, an immense landlocked river delta in the heart of South America, encompassing vast areas of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Here, the annual floodwaters rise several metres before receding, creating a unique ecosystem for an extraordinary concentration and diversity of flora and fauna. Often overlooked as a wildlife destination because of the higher profile Amazon Basin further north, it is one of the planet’s most spectacular wetland systems – and unmissable for any lover of wildlife or nature.
Rare and endangered species such as the jaguar, hyacinth macaw and giant river otter all find sanctuary here. The Pantanal’s wildlife density is considered to be the greatest in the neo-tropics, making it a paradise for naturalists, photographers and eco-tourists. Other larger mammals include: capuchin and howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, and tapirs, and reptiles include the infamous anacondas and caimans. Some reports say that the Pantanal has the highest concentration of fauna in the New World, comparable with the dense animal populations of Africa.
The region is an important migratory bird stopover point and wintering ground used by birds from three major migratory flyways. These bring ospreys from Arctic latitudes far to the north, wood storks from the pampas to the south, and flycatchers from the Andes to the west. The result is one of the planets most diverse avian communities, with 656 species of birds identified so far, belonging to 66 families identified. Some of the more spectacular birds you might see during your stay include: great blue heron, orange-backed oriole, horned screamer, keel-ridged toucan and red, green and blue-winged macaws.
Access is by domestic flight to the city of Cuiaba for the northern Pantanal, or to Campo Grande for the southern Pantanal. The northern Pantanal can be easily combined with the Chapada dos Guimaraes and Cristlino Private Reserve, which allows you to see three very distinct ecosystems with minimal travel – a boon in a country as large as Brazil!
The wildlife of the Pantanal varies depending on the season and cycle of the waters, which affect animal behaviour and visibility. These can be divided into four main seasons:
The Flood (January to March): In this period mammals tend to concentrate on the mounds and hills that protrude above the water level, and there’s a stunning explosion of colour as flowers come into bloom. The caiman nest, there are quite a few mosquitoes around, and the easiest mode of transport is boat and canoe. It rains most days, but generally only for one or two hours a day.
The Floodwaters Recede (April to June): When the waters start to recede, migratory birds return from the north. There’s a greater concentration of reptiles and young caiman are born. Nights start to get cooler with fewer mosquitoes, and you can start to explore on horseback.
The Dry Season (July to September): This time of year sees a greater concentration of birds and reptiles in and around the few remaining pools of water. The landscape is covered with beautiful yellow, lilac and pink blossom and the nights get cold. You can now explore by boat, horseback and on foot. Migratory birds such as wood stork and spoonbill start nesting, and visibility can be poor due to dust and smoke.
The Floodwaters Advance (October to December): The onset of the rains coincides, inevitably, with rising water levels, meaning cloudy skies, dramatic sunsets, and the return of the mosquitoes! Migratory birds prepare to depart, and there is a large concentration of small birds. Most animals choose to mate at this time, and it is a good time to see predators such as snakes, lizards, hawks and jaguars. Plants begin to flower once again and trees bear fruit. Exploration can be done by boat, horseback or on foot.
Ideal for viewing: capybara, giant anteater, giant river otter, jaguar, spectacled caiman
Where: Mato Grosso & Mato Grosso do Sul states, Brazil
is featured in the following itineraries:
Explore the maze of channels in Taiama Reserve, part of Brazil’s famed Pantanal wetland, to seek out jaguars. After two nights in an ecolodge in the north, your base for the next few days is the Taiama River, where you will head out each day by boat to search for jaguar.
When to go: Jun-Oct
Duration inc. flights: 9 days
Price inc. flights: From £4,495 pp
Tailor-made trip idea
Join acclaimed award-winning photographer Nick Garbutt, to watch and photograph wildlife in the Pantanal. This immense landlocked delta in the heart of South America offers some tremendous habitats and the finest opportunity to see the elusive jaguar, as well as other iconic and rare animals, often up close.
When to go: Aug-Sep
Duration inc. flights: 18 days
Price inc. flights: From £9.895 pp
Trip type: Group tour
This 12-day small group trip focuses on the abundant wildlife of Brazil’s North Pantanal, combing two well established wildlife lodges with an exciting new lodge in a remote area, offering excellent chances of encountering jaguars, giant rivers otters and a wealth of other mammals and birds.
When to go: Jun-Nov
Duration inc. flights: 12 days
Price inc. flights: From £4,295 pp
Trip type: Group tour
Enjoy a complete Brazilian wildlife experience, visiting three contrasting ecosystems. This trip offers an affordable option to explore the diverse Amazon rainforest, the rarely visited savannah of Chapada dos Guimarães, and the Pantanal wetland, home to some of Brazil’s rarest wildlife, such as jaguar and giant otter.
When to go: Jan-Dec
Duration inc. flights: 11 days
Price inc. flights: From £3,695 pp
Tailor-made trip idea
Staying in comfortable lodges, this trip offers some of the finest opportunities to see rare wildlife in the Pantanal. In the company of skilled naturalist guides, search for the elusive jaguar on the Cuiabà River, before continuing to Cristalino Private Reserve, which possesses a high number of species and endemics.