The Pantanal is a vast expanse of wetlands which straddles the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia and is without question the best place to spot wild animals in the whole of South America and therefore the best place to spot wildlife and animals on a Brazil holiday.
It is the world’s largest freshwater wetland and one of the best places in the world for birdspotting.
The Pantanal in Brazil is split across two states, Mato Grosso (the northern Pantanal) and Mato Grosso do Sul (the southern Pantanal). Both areas offer the visitor a fabulous opportunity to see Caiman, Anaconda, Capybara, Ocelot, Marmoset, Howler Monkey, Giant Otter, Tapir, Peccary and for the lucky few, the Jaguar.
In fact, it’s the best place to see wild mammals outside of Africa and is home to eight of South America’s ten types of wild cat.
The Pantanal floods seasonally which gives it very distinct times of the year in which to visit. The incredible array of birdlife on offer between June and August is amazing. Parrots, Toucans, Macaws and a variety of other birds cover the sky and the trees and even lazing in a hammock can offer a fabulous platform for seeing birdlife in Brazil.
The southern Pantanal is generally accessed through Campo Grande and the northern Pantanal through Cuiaba. The southern Pantanal is perhaps the most visited area but both offer wonderful wildlife viewing in Brazil and an abundance of simple but fantastic accommodation in fazendas (farms).
For wildlife and birdlife on a holiday to Brazil, this is the place to visit.
The climate is tropical in Pantanal, the summers are hot (around 32ºC) and winter is cold and dry, averaging 21ºCs. Annual rainfall is between 1000 and 1400 mm, with November to March the rainiest months (about 68% of total annual rainfall) and the period from June to August the longest drought (only 7% of total annual rainfall ). The climate can be divided into four seasons: dry (June-September), flooding (October to December), full (January-March) and ebb (April and May).
The Pantanal region owns a tropical rainfall regime with two well defined seasons: the dry season lasting 4-5 months (between May and September) and rainy season during the months of December, January and February.
Arriving at Cuiaba airport, most visitors head south towards Pocone and then along the Transpantaneira, the Pantanal Road. The first section of this road is paved and it then becomes a dirt track. Along here you can find many farms which have opened their doors to tourism plus specific jaguar spotting lodges at the end of the Transpantaneira.
The Pantanal landscape is defined by the extraordinary rise and fall of water, which produces well-defined seasons, in a lush cycle that is renewed each year. Every summer, torrential rains in the headwaters of the Paraguay River make rivers and lakes overflow, flooding the lower lying land.
In winter, with the end of the rains, rivers and lakes return to their natural boundaries, attracting a highly diverse fauna in search of food and water. The dry soil, fertilized by the flood, awaits the new rains that will make vegetation sprout once more.
One of the primary reasons people want to visit the Pantanal is to see jaguars and there are a variety of ways to do this.
The best time to see jaguars is between June and October. These are generally the only months when jaguar house boats operate and the only months when the full Transpantaneira Road in fully passable. There are certain lodges in the south where spottings are possible all year round.
The ‘standard’ lodges of the southern Pantanal generally offer better chances to see jaguars than those in the northern Pantanal during the jaguar season. The best example of this is Caiman Ecological Refuge where our clients regularly see jaguars, all year round, due to their fabulous conservation program. Other excellent lodges to see jaguars during the dry season are Fazenda Barranco Alto, Fazenda Barra Mansa and Refugio da Ilha Lodge.
Most of the ‘standard’ lodges in the northern Pantanal offer limited chances to see jaguars as they tend to be located in the north of the Transpantaneira Road and jaguars generally don’t travel this far away from their main concentration areas. One exception to this is Araras Eco-Lodge which offers a fabulous one-day ‘jaguar express’ trip which takes you south to Porto Jofre for a day on the river in search for cats.
In the north and the far southern tip of the Transpantaneira Road there are some jaguar specific lodges such as Hotel Porto Jofre and Baiazinha Lodge, which attract equal quantities of jaguar spotters and fishermen. Indeed, it’s the fishermen who helped put jaguars on the map, as they were the ones to originally see the jaguars and alert tourism guides. These lodges at the end of the Transpantaneira Road offer multi-day packages enabling tourists to head out on the rivers in boats, slowly searching for jaguar sightings.
Jaguar House Boats operate solely during the jaguar spotting season (June-October), in both the northern and the southern Pantanal and enable usually between 3 and 7 night cruises in search of jaguars and other wildlife.
THE FLOODING SEASON| December to March
Torrential rains in the headwaters of the Paraguay River during this period raise the level of the rivers, which overflow and flood up to two thirds of the plain, creating an even more exuberant landscape. The vast sheet of water mirrors the sky and turns the sunsets into spectacular shows of colour. The fauna and flora are re-invigorated. It is the season of water birds such as jabiru storks, wood storks, ducks, egrets and herons. The mammals migrate to higher areas of the Pantanal, but it is still common to see capybaras, foxes, pampa and brocket deer.
THE INTERMEDIATE SEASON | April to June
From April, temperatures become milder and the nights become more starry. As the rains end, the waters begin to recede slowly and form small, scattered pools. In low-lying land, the water forms channels and flows back to the rivers. Fields and small hills gradually start to reappear in the landscape. Mammals, which left with the arrival of the flood water, return to spread across the plain. With a little luck, you can see collared and white-lipped peccaries, marsh deer and various troops of capuchin and howler monkeys.
THE DRY SEASON | July to October
This is the best time to observe wildlife, including jaguars. The rains stop and the permanent rivers and lakes return. Ponds and lakes teem with stranded fish, providing abundant meals for mammals, reptiles and birds that live on the shores. The birds enter their reproductive period, donning beautiful plumage and singing seductively. Coatis, anteaters, and crab-eating raccoons are some of the most frequently sighted mammals. The dry landscape acquires a brownish tinge, interspersed with the beginning of yellow and pink ipé flowering.
RAINING SEASON | November and December
The first rains, quickly absorbed by the dry soil, bring the return of green to the landscape and offer plenty of food for the birds. The water level begins to rise slowly. Numerous groups of macaws, jabiru and wood storks and hundreds of species of birds teach their new-born young how to fly. Mammals start to disappear.