In the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to join one of our Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal departures to explore both the northern and southern regions of the Pantanal wetlands.
The two most common questions I heard from friends and family when they learned where I was going were: “What is the Pantanal?” and “What are you going to see there?”
My answer is that the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland area, covering approximately 54,000-75,000 square miles in southern Brazil. That’s 10 times the size of the Florida Everglades! And what did I see during my 10-day adventure? I saw 22 different mammals, 145 bird species, and an incredible and widely varied landscape.
Pantanal comes from the Portuguese word pantano, which means wetland, swamp or bog. This conservation area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 due to its unique and rich biodiversity of plant and animal life. The biomes here (which include semi-arid woodland, tropical Amazon rain forest and savannah) are home to approximately 500 plant species, 656 bird species, 325 fish species, 159 mammals, 53 amphibian and 98 reptiles. To me, it felt like a meeting of the African savanna and the rain forest of the Amazon.
Nat Hab’s Brazil itinerary is unique because it explores both the northern and southern parts of the Pantanal. The nature tour begins in the northern Pantanal, which is higher in elevation, easier to access and a bit drier than the southern Pantanal. The southern Pantanal is much more remote and not as frequently visited by tourists.
The Trans-Pantanal Highway extends 147 kilometers across the northern Pantanal and crosses more than 100 bridges, starting in Ponce and ending in Porto Jofre at the Paraguay River. Following the road through the northern Pantanal, our small group spotted hundreds of caimans lounging, egrets and herons fishing, hawks soaring overhead, greater rheas feeding on the rich grasses, and capybaras sunning themselves beside the flooded fields and streams.
Our time in the north was split between two different lodges. The first, Aararas Ecolodge, is situated by beautiful fields and ponds at the beginning of the Pantanal, where our group spotted mostly birds and small mammals while exploring by foot and open-air vehicle. The second lodge, Hotel Pantanal Norte, was located at the end of the Trans-Pantanal Highway on the Paraguay River.
Once there, our small group explored only by boat, cruising up and down the river looking for wildlife, mostly seeking out the elusive jaguar. The jaguars use the river as a food source, where they feast on caiman and tapirs, and also as a way for cooling off in the hot rain forest. Each time we spotted a wild jaguar, it was simply lounging along the river or cleaning itself like only cats do. My group was lucky enough to see four different jaguars during our time on the Rio Paraguay.
Other animals that we spotted along the river included howler and capuchin monkeys, fishing bats, marsh deer, giant river otters, anaconda, capybaras, jabiro storks, hyacinth macaws, and a plethora of parrots and other birds.
From the northern Pantanal, we made our way by chartered flight to the southern Pantanal and our next lodge, Caiman Ecological Refuge. This lodge is a working estancia and cattle farm. Mixed with the ranching was incredible wildlife viewing. Caiman Ecological Refuge is at the forefront of protecting the area’s natural resources and the multitude of animals that live within the refuge, along with their cattle.
At Caiman Ecological Refuge, we explored by foot and an open-air safari truck. Again, we spotted hundreds of birds, including but not limited to toucans, macaws, greater rheas, hawks, kites, egrets, ibis, storks and a variety of herons. We also saw many mammals, more jaguars, anteaters, armadillos, marsh deer, monkeys and peccaries. It was an amazing array of animal and bird sightings, and I feel very fortunate to have explored this part of the world with Natural Habitat Adventures.
From the very first moments my group entered the Pantanal until our last day leaving the ecolodge, we were engrossed in a wild and beautiful landscape full of birds and mammals. Everywhere we looked, there was always something special to see. If you’ve been to the Galapagos, Africa or Alaska and feel like you’ve seen it all and are looking for a new and varied destination, I would most certainly recommend seeing the wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal with Natural Habitat Adventures—you won’t be disappointed!
This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Sky Ambassador Holly Glessner. All photos by Holly Glessner.