Visiting Brazil’s Pantanal

What is the Pantanal?

Located along the border with Bolivia and Paraguay, Brazil’s Pantanal is considered to be the world’s largest tropical wetland. Covering an estimated 54,000-75,000 square miles, the ecosystem is a downward sloping basin that collects run-off from the Paraguay River and its tributaries, making it an enormous and internal river delta, similar to Africa’s Okavango Delta. The name Pantanal comes from the Portuguese word pantano plus the al suffix which means abundance. When combined, the word comes to mean “big wetland” or “big swamp.”

When is the best time to visit?

From April through June, water levels begin to recede, with July kicking off the Pantanal’s dry season, which runs through October. Both windows of time are prime for accessing the region and spotting its world-famous fauna. While you have a chance to find jaguars, caiman, and a wide variety of bird species throughout these months (jaguars best from June-October), August is the heart of the season and perhaps the most ideal for wildlife viewing. You can also combine a visit to the Pantanal with other parts of Brazil, including Iguazu Falls, the Amazon Rainforest, and Rio de Janeiro, where the temperatures are in the comfortable 70s this time of year.

What might I do and see?

The Pantanal boasts an immensity of wildlife, with more than 1,000 different animal species. While exploring, you have the chance to find many of them, including caimans and anacondas, two fascinating reptiles. The giant river otter, hyacinth macaw, maned wolf, and giant anteater are a few of the more rare species; and of course, it is home to jaguars (one of the main reasons many venture to the Pantanal), tapirs (the largest mammal in Brazil), and capybaras (the world’s largest rodent).

The region also offers visitors a wide variety of activities, depending on where you choose to stay. You can explore the landscape on horseback, from a canoe, or on foot. Some properties offer sunrise and night-time walks, providing you new insight into the region’s flora and fauna.  Guests can also enjoy photographic jeep or boat safaris during which the main focus is finding the jaguar.

What types of accommodations are available?

There are a handful of lodging options spread throughout the Pantanal. While not luxury, they are ideally situated to offer access to the best areas for nature and wildlife. Reached via Cuiaba, Araras Eco Lodge sits in the northern portion of the region and prides itself on its focus on the environment. In Porto Jofre, also accessible via Cuiaba, guests can stay at the basic Hotel Pantanal Norte and instantly feel immersed into the natural landscape. From here, you can enjoy cruises on the Cuiaba River in search of jaguars. Caiman Ecological Reserve, reached via Campo Grande in the southern Pantanal, also affords guests the opportunity to spot these incredible felines alongside Oncafari, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching and monitoring the big cat. Flying in a small chartered aircraft from Porto Jofre into the reserve, or vice versa, is a can’t miss experience, as it provides aerial views of the Pantanal’s immense landscape!