The Pantanal Wetlands - the finest Wildlife Viewing in South America in the World's Largest Wetlands
The Pantanal is the largest contiguous wetlands on the planet, and these wetlands support an enormous variety of wildlife in the waters, on the land and in the air. This abundance of wildlife means that the Pantanal has the highest concentration of fauna anywhere on earth, with mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and especially vast numbers fish and bird species in huge amounts. The whole wetland area is divided between Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, with more than half of this in Brazil including the most accessible areas for tourists.
The unobstructed views of the Pantanal savannah and flooded plains make it the best wildlife viewing area in South America. Around 650 species of bird and 250 species of fish can be spotted, along with deer, monkeys, armadillos, anteaters, giant otters, tapirs, millions upon millions of capybara and caiman alligators, plus the more difficult to spot predators such as the foxes, maned wolves and the smaller cats: ocelot, jaguarundi and the large and small gato-do-mato (oncilla or margay wildcats). The Pantanal also provides the best opportunity to encounter the largest cats in South America, the puma and the beautiful jaguar, although a little luck and patience are needed.
Bird-watchers visit the Pantanal especially for the hyacinth macaw, harpy eagle, jabiru and maguari storks, several species of crakes, ibis and herons, plus of course the enormous flocks of parakeets and waterfowl.
The reason for this abundance of wildlife is all down to the amount of acquatic life that the wetlands can support, which in turn feed the fishing birds, caimans and otters. The Piracema is the annual upstream migration of many fish species to spawn in the rivers, when huge shoals travel together. The lure for sport-fishing enthusiasts are the months between March and October when the season is open. Catch and Release fishing for the giant dourado, jaú pirarucu, pacu and piraíba, plus the tiger and spotted catfish, all reaching to 2m/6ft or more, are very popular. The smaller but no less renowned piranha is also abundant in Pantanal waters. Their reputation is far more fearsome than deserved, there are around 50 species of piranha but only a few are dangerous to humans. Piranha-fishing is so popular in the Pantanal, with piranha-soup being a local staple food, that the piranha is always in more danger from humans than the other way around! Piranha-fishing is always popular with all tourists, not just the sport-fishing specialists. Be aware though – those triangular teeth are very sharp, and most species will take a nip at unsuspecting intruders. Most fishermen in the Pantanal have a scar or two from a piranha bite!
The Pantanal is so enormous that when fully flooded it can be ten times the size of the Florida Everglades and around fifteen times larger than the Okavango Delta in Botswana, both renowned wildlife havens. The best way, perhaps the only way, to visit the Pantanal is to stay at a lodge on the very edge of the wetlands. Pantanal lodge north and south are generally working ranches which have adapted to take in nature-loving tourists as well. The reputable ranches are run with a great respect for the delicate ecosystems of the Pantanal, and many also run environmental and research projects aimed at protecting the more vulnerable species such as the hyacinth macaw or the jaguar.
The ranches cover huge areas, meaning that towns are non-existent and the environment remains pristine, with no pollution from chemicals, noise or light. The Pantanal skies are amongst the clearest and cleanest, not only great for wildlife viewing but also for the spectacular colours of the Pantanal Sunrise and Sunset. Night Safaris under a twinkling covering of millions of stars are also a very special experience, even before you encounter nocturnal wildlife.
There are many different ways to access the Pantanal, and it depends on the season and weather conditions as to which are possible. Boat-trips are good for all but the driest periods, hikes for all but the wettest. Horse-riding across the plains is one of the most popular ways to traverse the savannah, while vehicles are necessary for other areas. In the capable hands of local experts, you will always find the best way to view as many different species as possible.
The lodges are generally within 3-4 hours drive of Cuiaba in the north and Campo Grande in the south, with the operational idea. Guests stay in rustic cabins and apartments spread around a large communal area in the main ranch building, where all meals, welcome talks and tour itineraries and information are available. Every evening, the lodges give guests the options for the following day’s activities, which are always season and weather dependent. Guests choose what they prefer to do, usually an activity in the early morning and again towards mid-afternoon. The hottest hours of the day are left for a long lunch at the lodge, and plenty of time for to swim and relax in hammocks with a book. The creatures of the Pantanal will be resting in the heat of the day too of course, so it makes sense to organise the activities when both animals and humans are feeling more active!Suitable Destination For: Wildlife-Lovers; Bird-Watchers; Sport Fishing; Ecotourists and Nature-Lovers of any kind; Those who like clear skies and distant horizons.
Best Time to Visit: The Pantanal dry season is from April to October. People still visit in the wet season from November to March, but travel is more difficult.
Essential Sights & Activities: The abundant wildlife of the Pantanal, with special mention for the tremendous variation of birdlife; Some of the world’s best fishing; Clear Pantanal skies for fabulous sunrise, sunset and starry night moments; the largest predators in South America, if you are lucky. Combines With: The Northern Pantanal around Cuiaba combines very well with Brasilia; Alta da Floresta; Chapada dos Guimaraes and the Amazon. The Southern Pantanal around Campo Grande combines very well with Bonito.