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Pantanal

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide South America Brazil Pantanal

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Introduction

The Pantanal is the world's largest continuous wetland with a total area of more than 200,000 square kilometres. 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 Amazon 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.

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Geography

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 metres 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.

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Climate and best time to visit

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.

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Sights and Activities

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.

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Getting There

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.

By Plane

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.

By Train

There is a train just across the border with Bolivia connecting Santa Cruz in Bolivia with Brazil.

By Bus

From Campo Grande you can catch a bus to go into the Pantanal. Depending on where you plan to go it may take between 4 to 5 hours to get into the Pantanal. In the bus station in Campo Grande catch the bus to Corumba. Depending where you wish to stay or booked your tour you may get of beforehand. A good place to get off is Buraco das Piranhas.

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Getting Around

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.

By Car

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.

By Public Transport

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.

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Health

See also Travel Health

Although it is recommended by the Brazilian government to obtain vaccinations, it is not required and the fact is that mosquito-borne illnesses in the Pantanal are very rare in the dry season, when you would be hard pressed to even find a mosquito. During the wet season the occurrence of illnesses rises, but much less so than the Amazon or many other parts of South America. The best protection one can use against mosquito-borne illness is wearing long-sleeved shirts and DEET repellent. The Pantanal is not at the same risk level as somewhere like Amazonia or parts of Africa, where the risk of illness is high enough to warrant preventive medication (although vaccinations will do you no harm).

  • Yellow Fever - Vaccination against yellow fever is compulsory for all travellers visiting Mato Grosso, the region where the Pantanal is. Yellow fever vaccinations take approximately 10 days to become effective. Nevertheless, yellow fever is very rare in the area, and the best precaution against it is a good long-sleeved shirt.
  • Malaria is not a high risk in this region, with reports of the illness only occurring very occasionally during the wet season.
  • Dengue Fever - The threat of dengue in the Pantanal is real, but only a major concern during the wet season and in some other parts of Mato Grasso do Sul. In March 2007 health authorities in Brazil declared a health alert in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul where the highest concentration of the disease has been reported, although the Pantanal itself is still considered to be less risky, especially during the dry season.
  • Rotavirus is common all over Brazil. The symptoms are severe diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and fever. It can also lead to dehydration and shock if not treated. This virus is highly contagious and usually spread through contact with an infected person but can also be spread through the air. If you suspect you may have contracted the disease, seek medical advice.
  • Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is present.
  • Other infectious diseases prevalent in Brazil include trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (on the increase). There are epidemics of meningococcal meningitis in and around the Rio area. Air pollution, especially in São Paulo, may aggravate chest complaints. Rabies is present.

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Eat

Lodges in the Pantanal are in remote locations and all meals are generally included in the price of the trip. Usually the food is buffet-style, and so vegetarians can pick and choose, but if you have special food preferences it is best to inform your tour operator or agency in case they don't ask first. What is often not included are beverages other than coffee and juice with breakfast. Drinks are generally offered on a tab, and you pay directly to the lodge at check-out.

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Drink

One controversial point is mineral water. Water in urban areas in the Pantanal Region generally comes from deep water wells monitored by the state-owned water departments and is as safe to drink as water anywhere in the world-probably safer as there have never been any industrial pollutants that could seep into the water table. That is not the case in the Pantanal, however. By law, water must come from wells in a camping area or lodge, it can't be surface water; but, the law is not always enforced. Some lodges have adequate wells, and water coolers with filters which provide free, reliable drinking water. In some lodges particularly along the Transpantaneira water is pumped directly from the near-stagnant swamp, or clay-filled near surface wells, or even from the São Lourenço River just downstream from where hotel-boats are discharging their effluent. You wouldn't want to brush your teeth with this water. Some predatory lodges take advantage of the situation and charge highly inflated prices for tiny 300 ml bottles of mineral water that leave behind a lot of plastic waste. If you drink alcohol, consider sneaking a good bottle of wine or whiskey from home in your bag. Beer prices are normal market prices at some lodges, but cost double to triple the supermarket price in others. Before you buy a Capirinha that uses about 50 centavos of alcohol, a lemon and a few spoons of sugar be sure to ask the price. Some lodges charge R$ 20 or more for the drink.

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Sleep

The cities of Cuiaba, Campo Grande and Corumba all offer a wide range of accommodations, from budget hostels or camping to 4 and 5 star rated hotels.

When going on a tour, you will have a choice of camping or staying in one of the excellent fazendas/pousadas from where you can get deeper into the Pantanal by boat or 4wd vehicles. Sometimes, a combination of lodges and camping is a good way to combine comfort with a night more deeper into the Pantanal, or staying with a local family which is increasing in popularity and offers a cultural aspect as well, getting to know how people actually live here.

Below are some examples of staying on pousadas or fazendas. You can contact them directly or through one of many touroperators. Examples of touroperators include Impacto Tours in Campo Grande, Aguas do Pantanal in Miranda and Natureco Tours in Cuiaba.

Budget

  • Porto Paraiso (north)
  • Fazenda Natureza (south)

Mid-Range

  • Pousada Rio Clarinho (north)
  • Hotel Fazenda Santa Clara (south)

Upscale

  • Refugio Ecologico Caiman (south)
  • Fazenda San Francisco (south)
  • Fazenda Rio Negro (south)
  • Araras Eco Lodge (north)
  • Porto Joffre Hotel (north)

View our map of accommodation in Pantanal

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: -16.350000
  • Longitude: -56.666667

Accommodation in Pantanal

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.

Contributors

as well as Peter (3%), hasbeen (1%)

Pantanal Travel Helpers

  • claudiaP

    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.

    Ask claudiaP a question about Pantanal

This is version 20. Last edited at 11:17 on Aug 10, 17 by Utrecht. 13 articles link to this page.

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