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The Pantanal is the world's largest continuous wetland with a total area of more than 200,000 square kilometers. Over half of the Pantanal is located in Brazil which also offers the best opportunities for a visit to this paradise full with animals. The other countries which own part of the Pantanal are Paraguay and Bolivia. It has the biggest concentration of animals anywhere in the New World and unlike the Amazone rainforest it is much easier to view the wildlife as most of the Pantanal is a wide and open landscape where animals are less likely to hide in trees and bushes.
Although the word Pantanal is related to the Portugese word for swamp, it is actually not a swamp but a vast alluvial plain. The Pantanal are the drying remains of an ancient inland sea which began to dry out 65 million years ago. This periodically flooded plain is located in the southern central parts of Brazil, in the states of Mato Grosso (northern Pantanal) and Mato Grosso do Sul (southern Pantanal). The highest parts of the Pantanal are only about 200 meters above sea level. From neighbouring highlands in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal receives a lot of water from the rain falling over there but it has a rather wetter period itself as well. The main river bringing all the water is the Rio Paraguai and its tributaries. During the wet season from November to March, the rivers flood their banks, creating vegetation islands above the higher water level during this time.
During the wet season from November to March animals tend to cluster together on the above mentioned vegetation islands and together with the oppressive heat, humidity and higher concentration of mosquitos, this is not the best time for a visit. From April onwards the waterlevels retreat and the temperatures and rainfall lower as well. From June onwards to October is the best time for a visit, although it can get pretty hot again from September onwards. During the 'winter' from June to August, especially the nights can get a little chilly but frosts are almost unheard of here.
Watching the wildlife probably is the best activity the Pantanal has to offer and a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and other sorts of creatures can easily be seen in their natural habitat. One of the most striking animals is the capibara, the world's biggest rodent which can grow as big as small pig occasionally. You will definately see lots of caimans and dozens of sorts of (aquatic) birds as well. The blue hyacint macaw is one of the biggest sorts in the world you can encounter here. Anacondas and giant river otters live in the rivers as well, but you need a little bit of luck to see them. Biggers animals include the tapir and predators like the jaguar, although the last one is very elusive and seeing one of these magnificent animals requires luck and some venturing deeper into the Pantanal.
Other activities which you are most likely to undertake when visiting the Pantanal on one of the tours, are fishing, horseback riding, boat tours and some short hiking trails.
The main access points for a visit of the Pantanal are Campo Grande and Corumba near the border with Bolivia in Mato Grosso do Sul for visiting the southern part, and Cuiaba in Mato Grosso for visiting the northern part. Many touroperators offer a wide range of tours from these cities, lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks when you want to venture deep into the Pantanal by boat.
Both Campo Grande and Cuiaba are easily reached by plane with flights to Brasilia, Rio and Sao Paulo. Contact TAM or Gol for more details about prices and schedules.
There is a train just across the border with Bolivia connecting Santa Cruz in Bolivia with Brazil.
Most people visiting the Pantanal are on organised tours, as independent travel, although not impossible, requires a lot of time and sometimes money and you are less likely to make the most out of your trip when seeing wildlife is your main goal.
Most tours use 4wd vehicles to get you deeper into the Pantanal. For those of you who want to drive themselves only the Transpantaneira in the north and the road between Campo Grande and Corumba have good access to the Pantanal. The Transpantaneira reaches the small town of Porto Joffre and although there were plans to actually cross the entire Pantanal to the south, this is not likely to be achieved because of both technical problems and environmental reasons.
Buses travel between Cuiaba and some towns in the northern reaches of the Pantanal. It is better to take a tour or a private transport to one of the pousadas (called fazendas in the south).
From Cuiaba, it is about 10 hours to reach Campo Grande. Campo Grande and Corumba are linked by many daily buses as well, taking about 7 hours to complete the journey. Intermediate places to stop include Miranda, from where there are tours or transfers to fazendas (called pousadas in the north) as well.
Porto Paraiso (north)
Fazenda Natureza (south)
Pousada Rio Clarinho (north)
Hotel Fazenda Santa Clara (south)
Refugio Ecologico Caiman (south)
Fazenda San Francisco (south)
Fazenda Rio Negro (south)
Araras Eco Lodge (north)
Porto Joffre Hotel (north)
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Pantanal searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Pantanal and areas nearby.
Ask Step by Step a question about Pantanal
We took a 5 day DIY trip into the Pantanal in July of 2016. This turned out to be significantly cheaper than any other option (less than half the price). Yes we also saw Jaguars, as it was the right time of year. Let me know if you have questions about a DIY trip to the Pantanal.
Ask claudiaP a question about Pantanal
I've been there several times and have good contacts to locals. If you want to get a taste have a look at my travel blog: http://00somewhereinbrasil00.blogspot.com/
I grew up in Brazil that's why I speak perfectly portuguese and live between Brazil and Italy.
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