Brazil: Pantanal, Iguacu & Beyond
Day 2: Rio Botanical Gardens / Tijuca Forest
Explore the natural side of Rio with a visit to the city's spectacular botanical gardens. Located near the base of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, the park boasts more than 6,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees. Next we visit the Tijuca Forest, a tract of rare Atlantic rain forest covering more than 12 square miles, where we encounter hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, many threatened, in the world's largest urban forest.
Day 3: Rio / Pantanal
Fly to Campo Grande and transfer by road to Caiman Ecological Refuge, deep in the green other-world of the Pantanal. Declared a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, this vast area of wet marshlands and dry islands is South America’s primary wildlife sanctuary. The name of the region derives from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning 'swamp.' With rhythmic regularity, this vast depression in the center of South America floods with the annual rains, submerging most of its environs. As the waters recede during the dry season, they leave a mosaic of pools and marshes where a plethora of life flourishes in intense concentration. Some 3,500 different plants thrive here, as well as nearly 650 bird species, 160 kinds of mammals, 100 reptile species and 320 different kinds of fish.
Days 4-7: Exploring the Pantanal
From our base at the refuge we spend three full days exploring the Pantanal’s verdant recesses. Waking at sunrise is a magical experience as we listen to the chorus of bird songs and monkey calls announcing a new day. Depending on seasonal conditions, we may take nature walks, horseback rides, canoe trips and ecological safaris. Our local guides are resident experts in the flora and fauna of the region, unveiling its myriad wonders to us. We may be fortunate to see some of the Pantanal’s threatened species, which include the jaguar, panther, maned wolf, giant otter, giant armadillo, capybara and Brazilian tapir. Their habitat is under duress due to the expansion of ranching, mining and land-clearing, yet it is reassuring to know our presence contributes to the economic value of conserving this incomparable ecosystem. We fly to Iguaçu on the evening of Day 7.
Day 8: Iguaçu Falls
At Iguaçu Falls, straddling the Brazil/Argentina border, we are immersed in the roar and spray of one the mightiest waterfalls on the planet. First, we cross Tancredo Neves Bridge to explore the national park on the Argentine side. Some 275 waterfalls pour into this horseshoe-shaped canyon along a 2-mile stretch of the Iguazu River, and the noise alone is astounding. Our guided tour takes us over misty rain forest trails and suspended catwalks for ever-varying views of the river’s cataclysmic plunge over the cliffs.
The national park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is full of other wonders, too. Located just across the border from Brazil, Argentina's Iguazu National Park covers 167,000 acres, protecting one of the most biodiverse areas in the country. The Paranaense subtropical rain forest, a continuation of the southern Brazilian jungle, is a nearly virgin preserve that holds more than 2,100 known plant species. Among its verdant depths we find pindo palms, gigantic trees, 50-foot-high tall canes, arborescent ferns, orchids, and large epiphytes like the huge bromeliads known as caraguata. Looking up, we may spy toucans and harpy eagles, just two of many bird species in the forest. The park shelters also many mammals including jaguar, jaguarundi, ocelet, tapir, coati, tirica and anteater. Returning to the Brazilian side, we overnight at the Hotel Tropical Cataratas with a partial view of the falls.
Day 9: Foz do Iguaçu / Home
This morning we explore the Brazilian side of the falls, walking along the canyon rim above the Iguaçu River where we observe the hundreds of small waterfalls that comprise the mile-long cataract. A full view of the gaping maw of Devil’s Throat reveals the most dramatic section of the falls, where 14 separate falls plunge 350 feet into the canyon, creating a perpetual plume of rainbow-accented spray. This afternoon, our Brazil adventure comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.