The Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland. Covering some 68,000 square miles, it is more than 20 times the size of Florida’s Everglades. This tropical wilderness, most of which is located in Brazil, is seasonally flooded by the tributaries of the Paraguay River. Renowned for its wildlife and with only 2% not yet under federal protection, this is an area that is remarkably well conserved.
This is a year-round destination. Getting about by road is more challenging in the rainy season (November to April), necessitating the switch to a more ancient transport route: the waterways. Exploring the wetlands by boat or kayak enables you to get particularly close to the birdlife, of which there are an estimated 1,000 unique species. The vividly coloured hyacinth macaw and crowned solitary eagle are particularly spectacular, you will see huge jabiru and wood stork making their nests atop trees, and the Roseate spoonbill is such a fabulous pink colour that it is often referred to as the Pantanal’s flamingo. It’s certainly not hard to spot.
You might want to spend a day fishing if you plan your visit between March and October. It’s a wonderful way to while away a day. Your guide will moor the boat in a secluded spot, allowing you to focus on casting out, surrounded only by the serene sounds of nature. There are around 260 species of fish in the rivers, ensuring your catches will be plenty of varied.
The dry season starts in May, reaching its peak between June and August. This is the time of year to visit Pantanal if you want to hike or horseback ride, because the ground is much more solid underfoot. As the undergrowth dies back, it also becomes easier to spot Pantanal’s shyer wildlife. This is particularly worth bearing in mind if it’s on your wishlist to see the otherwise elusive jaguar. The Americas’ most famous big cat is an extraordinary creature, sleek and exceptionally strong. It’s just one of 300 mammal species which have made their home in Pantanal, however, including endangered marsh deer, giant river otter, maned wolf, bush dog, and capybara. Don’t forget to look up and around you for the birds as well.
Many of our Journeysmiths have visited the Pantanal, and they all agree on one thing: their all-time favourite place to stay is the Refugio Ecologico Caiman Lodge. It is located on a 53,000-hectare ranch close to a small town called Miranda. The lodge opened in 1987 as the very first ecotourism operation in the Southern Pantanal. The caiman, in case you haven’t come across one before, is a medium-sized crocodilian that resides among South America’s mangroves and swamps. The lodge’s guides are passionate about caiman conservation, and will take you out in search of them. If you decide to take a night safari, be sure to watch for ember glow of their eyes in the lamp light.
Accommodation in the lodge is divided between three buildings along the water’s edge. The bird-shaped Baiazinha Lodge has just six rooms, all of which have balconies looking out across the lake. The decor is in a traditional ranch style, and the shared facilities include a dining room, swimming pool, and an extensive terrace complete with sunbeds and hammocks.
Your days at the lodge will be busy: you might take a photographic safari one day, and a Canadian canoe tour the next. Visits to the Onçafari Jaguar Project and the Hyacinth Macaw Project are perennially popular. Activities continue after dark, however, and aren’t limited just to night drives: the lodge also arranges fantastic astronomy workshops so you can sit out around the campfire, looking at the constellations and Saturn’s rings through the lens of a powerful telescope. An astronomer-guide will help you identify what you’re seeing.
If you’d like to combine your visit to Pantanal with another unforgettable Latin American experience, it pairs well with the Amazon and Argentina’s Iguazu Falls. Our team of experts will be delighted to give you their thoughts on exactly what to see, speaking from personal experience in the field. Call us today to start planning your trip.