AT A GLANCE
The Amazon rainforest may grab all the headlines, but when it comes to wildlife diversity, South America’s biggest star is the Pantanal. Part national park, part UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland, covering almost 195 000 square kilometres (or 75 000 square miles), 10 times the size of Florida’s Everglades, right in the middle of South America.
The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word “pântano,” meaning wetland, bog, swamp or marsh. It sprawls across three South American countries – Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. The wetlands extend for about 375 miles (600 km) north-to-south along the banks of the upper Paraguay River and several of its tributaries. During the summer rainy season (November–March), the rivers overflow their banks and flood the adjacent lowlands, forming shallow lakes and innumerable swamps and marshes and leaving island-like areas of higher ground. During the drier winter season (April–September), the rivers withdraw into their banks, but the lowlands are only partially drained.
The Pantanal is home to an astonishing amount of fauna and flora; about 3,500 plant species, 9000 invertebrates, 700 bird species, 325 fish species, 159 mammals, 53 amphibians and 98 reptiles. The Pantanal provides sanctuary for the evocative Jaguar, Black-and-gold Howlers, Azaras’s Capuchin monkeys, Giant Anteaters, Marsh Deer, Lowland Tapirs, Capybaras, Giant Otters, Green Anacondas, Yacare Caimans (about 10 million of them) and many other rare, endangered and fascinating creatures. Among the roughly 700 species of birds that live in the region are the many species of heron, ibis, duck, the Greater Rhea (South America’s largest flightless bird), and the Jabiru (the avian symbol of the Pantanal). The Pantanal is also home to the biggest parrot on the planet, the ridiculously blue Hyacinth Macaw.
Among the many other benefits that the Pantanal offers is its function as a huge area for water purification and for groundwater discharge and recharge and as a source of water. Its waterways also provide transport, and the region as a whole plays an important role in global climate stabilization. While the Pantanal is considered one of the most preserved wetlands in the world, less than 2% of the Pantanal wetlands are under government protection. The Pantanal is unfortunately threatened by expanding human settlement, unsustainable farming practices, illegal mining, hydroelectric power plant construction and unregulated tourism.
The Pantanal is a once-in-a-lifetime, top-of-the-bucket-list kind of place to visit, and this tour will highlight the absolute best that this incredible place has to offer.
This tour takes you to the Meeting of the Waters State Park in Porto Jofre and to the seldom visited Taiamã Ecological Reserve in search for Jaguars, Giant Otters and other wildlife by speed boat. In addition we stay in different lodges along the Transpantaneira Road, increasing our chances of close encounters with Ocelots, Tapirs, Hyacinth Macaws, Jabiru storks, Giant Anteaters & Pumas to mention but a few. We will enjoy boat safaris, overland safaris, horseback riding, walking safaris in forests and night safaris in search for dry land mammals & birds.
DAY 1: Cuiabá airport to Pouso Alegre Lodge
You will arrive at the Marechal Rondon International Airport in Cuiabá in the morning, where you will meet your guide and transfer to the famous Pantanal. After driving for about one and a half hours we will arrive in Poconé. From there we hit the Transpantaneira road, a dirt road that transects the Northern Pantanal. The water ponds along this road attract mammals and also birds which congregate here in search for food (ﬁsh, snails, crabs, caimans) in the remaining water, making wildlife sightings easier and every drive a great safari.
We will arrive at our lodge just before lunch time. Pouso Alegre Lodge, on Kilometre 33 of the Transpantaneira Road, is situated on a traditional Pantanal cattle farm with an area of 8000 hectares and great diversity of preserved Pantanal landscapes without any introduced species.
After our midday break we go on a forest walk in search for dry land mammals and birds.
At night we go on a night safari in search for night animals like Ocelot, Puma, Giant Anteater, Southern Tamandua, Crab-eating Raccoon, and nocturnal birds like pottoos and owls.
DAY 2: Pouso Alegre Lodge
We have a full morning to explore the many photo opportunities at this incredible place. It may be the Hyacinth Macaws around the Manduvi trees, Toucans or Aracaris eating on fruiting Papaya trees, and small mammals just by the lodge.
Also we will spend time photographing the hundreds of caimans on the small lake, and the Jabirus in their nest along the lodge’s 7km private road.
After lunch we take our safari vehicle and discover some of the remote areas of this vast ranch. This ranch stands as the best spot to ﬁnd Giant Anteaters in the Northern Pantanal, and often offers close encounters with other species such as Red Brocket and Marsh Deer, South American Coati, White-lipped Peccary, Tayra and Tapir.
After dinner we will go on a night safari in search of mammals and other nocturnal wildlife which may yield good views of Great Horned Owl, Tropical Screech Owl, nightjars and pottoos along with many other possibilities.
DAY 3: Pouso Alegre Lodge to Porto Jofre
Early breakfast and checkout.
This morning we drive further into the Pantanal. As we enter into the richest lower area of the Transpantaneira, plant and animal diversity increases. We could see herds of Capybara, and Yacare Caiman dwelling in streams and ponds by the roadside. We might even come across some remarkable reptiles, including Yellow Anaconda.
There is plenty of wildlife along the road, as we cover the entire Transpantaneira to reach Porto Jofre and check-in at our lodge situated on the riverbank of the mighty Cuiabá river. Porto Jofre is a settlement at the southern end of the Transpantaneira Road, at Km 146, and is adjacent to wetlands with marshland habitats rich in waterfowl, migratory birds, and other wildlife. These are protected Ramsar Convention and World Heritage Sites.
Lunch and post-lunch break to settle in. In the afternoon we go on our ﬁrst boat safari in search for Jaguars and other wildlife concentrated along the riverbanks.
DAY 4 & 5: Meeting of the Waters State Park
We will have two full days devoted to boat safaris on the Cuiabá River and its tributaries, in order to maximize our chances of watching and photographing the mystical Jaguar in the Meeting of the Waters State Park. Most sightings are made from the boat, and the animals normally offer good photo opportunities. The boat also offers excellent chances for other mammals and of course for a diverse array of colourful birds and stunning landscapes.
The “meeting of the waters” is quite a spectacle. Here, the sandy coloured water of the Amazon River and the black water of the Rio Negro (literally translating as black river in English) collide. You would expect two rivers that meet to blend in to one another but that is not the case here. At the meeting of the rivers, there is a distinct line that forms between the two waters and it is an utterly mesmerising sight.
Our outings will always be during the day, cruising the rivers in search of Jaguars which often come to the river banks in search of food, water, or just to cool off in the water.
The Jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest native cat species of the New World and the third largest in the world. This spotted cat closely resembles the Leopard, but is usually larger and sturdier. It ranges across a variety of forested and open terrains. As a keystone species it plays an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating prey populations. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers are declining.
DAY 6: Porto Jofre and back north to the Piuval Lodge
Breakfast and we go for an overland safari to the Piuval Lodge. There is usually plenty of wildlife on our way to the Piuval Lodge.
We will arrive there at lunch time. After our midday break we go out for a forest walk in the monkey forest and climb up the 20m canopy tower. Here we hope to find Bearded Capuchin, Black Howler Monkey, Azaras’s Agouti and many other mammals, along with a stunning sunset! We could also see some super colourful avian species, including Hyacinth Macaw, Toco Toucan, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, Peach-fronted and Blue-crowned Parakeet, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-crowned Motmot, Striped, Dark-billed and Squirrel Cuckoo and many more.
DAY 7: Piuval Lodge – Taiamã Reserve
Full morning to explore the wildlife in and around the Piuval Bay.
Lunch and check-out from the lodge.
After driving about two and a half hour we arrive in Cáceres. From here we hit the dirt road that transects the Northern Pantanal. The water ponds long this road attract caimans, mammals and also birds which congregate there in search for food (ﬁsh, snails, crabs) in the remaining water, making wildlife sightings easier and every drive a great safari.
DAY 8,9 & 10: Taiamã Reserve
We will have three full days devoted to the boat safaris on the Paraguay River and its tributaries in the remote Taiama Reserve, one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Brazil with the highest density of jaguar population in the entire Pantanal. Besides the big cats, we could also see giant river otters, anacondas, tapirs and other wildlife.
The Taiama Reserve is a federally protected area; it is not open to the public and no tour operator is permitted to take tourists onto the reserve itself. But since the reserve sits on an island in the middle of the river, visitors are free to circumnavigate the reserve in search of the elusive jaguar. Jaguars are visible day and night, we frequently spot them along the river banks when they come to the river’s edge to drink, rest and hunt their favourite pray: caimans & capybaras.
Our outings will always be during the day, cruising the rivers in search of Jaguars which often come to the river banks in search of food, water, or just to cool off.
DAY 11: Return to Cuiabá and flight home
We will return to Cuiabá airport for your flight home after a wonderful tour.
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