When you think of animals and wildlife in South America, specifically Brazil, you automatically think of the Amazon. We thought so too until we looked deeper into Brazilian attractions and found an area called the Pantanal. We would have really missed out if we had not found this area because it has amazing wildlife. It covers an area 20 times larger than the Florida Everglades and is located mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but it also extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay.
We booked our tour well in advance with Pantanal Nature, a locally owned company operating out of Cuiaba. The owner, Ailton, was great to work with and had many tours available including a 4 day / 3 night tour. We flew from Florianopolis via Sao Paolo to Cuiaba and stayed at one of the few hotels (this night was not included in the tour), Hotel Mato Grosso, that looked OK and was still reasonably priced. The tour included all meals, excursions, an English speaking guide and accommodation at the Rio Claro lodge at km 35 of the Transpantaneira road leading to Porto Jofre at km 147. The maximum tour was for 6 people and we were lucky to have 4 wonderful other people with us. Two consultants from Sao Paulo and two Italians living in Sao Paulo. They all spoke Portuguese, but luckily our guide asked them to speak English since we had paid for the English tour. We learned a lot about the dangers of living in Sao Paulo during our nightly dinners – I have NO plans to move there anytime soon!!
We were so excited when we arrived at the sign for the Transpantaneira. We jumped out of the car to get a picture of a huge caiman along the side of the road. 30 seconds later there were thousands of mosquitoes all around us! Our group made a mad dash for the van where we played a game of kill all the mosquitoes in the van! This would happen many times on our trip. The mosquitoes aren’t deterred by DEET or clothing – they bite right though it. If the Pantanal had mosquito carrying malaria, we both would be in the ICU in Cuiaba right now!!
The initial drive down the Transpantaneira road to the lodge was a wildlife safari in itself with caiman all over the place and birds galore. The waters of the Pantanal are receding from their highs at the end of May and will continue to fall until only scattered watering holes exist. This is the best time to visit as the vast array of wildlife congregates around these ponds. The rise and fall is around 3 meters making this a huge seasonal wetland.
Over the course of the 4 days we had the following tours which kept us more than busy and fortunately, left us 3 hours at the hottest part of every day to relax around the pool and catch up on sleep!
- Morning driving safari to Rio Claro lodge
- Afternoon boat trip
- After dinner night time driving safari
- Pre breakfast Transpantaneira hike
- After breakfast hike
- Afternoon Transpantaneira driving safari
- Pre dinner night time driving safari
- Pre breakfast sunrise boat trip
- After breakfast canoe trip
- Afternoon horse riding
- Pre dinner piranha fishing
- Pre breakfast boat trip
- After breakfast hike
- Afternoon driving safari back to civilization
Our guide, Edilson, was a major asset to ensuring our 4 days went without a hitch and keeping us entertained, whether it be pointing out giant otters or strumming on a guitar in the evenings. He had 20 years experience in guiding the Pantanal and other than not being able to guarantee we would see big cats he was always on the ball. Incidentally we did not see any cats, but we were still early in the season and you need a lot of luck. Next time, we’ll head all the way to km 147 and the Jaguar lodge where they pretty much guarantee big cats – and it would definitely be a great experience to drive the entire Transpantaneira dirt road.
My favorite part of the 4 days was the horse ride where we saw Marsh deer, Peccaries and many birds, but getting to go through the foot deep floodwaters hoping to see Anacondas was a highlight. Also, pulling in Piranhas with a hook and line on a bamboo stick was fun, and all for the lodge to make soup after we had left.
We had heard many people saying that they also visited the Amazon hoping to see wildlife but that it wasn’t a touch on the Pantanal. To get far enough into the Amazon can take days with the lodges and boats being very expensive compared with being able to get onto the Transpantaneira road 2 hours after leaving Cuiaba, and getting to the end, deep into the Pantanal within an easy day’s drive. We’re so glad we headed back into Brazil and were able to experience the amazing scenery and wildlife the Pantanal has to offer.
May 31st – June 3rd 2013