An In-Depth Expedition into the Rich Biodiversity of South America’s Grandest Wildlife Realm
Day 1: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arrive in Rio de Janeiro and transfer to our hotel on famous Copacabana Beach, where our Brazil adventure begins with a welcome dinner this evening.
Day 2: Rio / Cuiaba / North Pantanal
Fly early this morning to Cuiaba, then transfer by road to Araras Ecolodge in the northern sector of the Pantanal. Declared a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000, the Pantanal’s vast expanse of wet marshlands and dry islands is South America's primary wildlife sanctuary. Its name derives from the Portuguese word pantano
, 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, and the Pantanal is home to 10 million caiman, 650 bird species, 400 kinds of fish, myriad reptiles and amphibians, and more than 100 mammal species. Wandering the nature trails around the lodge, we get our first sense of the wondrous natural environs that await our exploration.
Day 3: Exploring the North Pantanal
Covering 75,000 square miles across Brazil, Bolivia and
Paraguay, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland. It contains 12 different subregional ecosystems including semi-arid woodland and tropical savanna. Our immersion begins with a morning nature walk with our Expedition Leader and local guides who are resident experts on the flora and fauna. We’ll hope to see some of the region’s threatened species including giant armadillo and capybara, plus spectacular birdlife. While their habitat is under duress due to the expansion of ranching, mining and
farming, it is reassuring to know our presence contributes to the economic value of conserving this incomparable wildlife realm. This afternoon we explore the Pantanal savannah by safari vehicle, then finish our day's adventure with a night drive in hope of spotting nocturnal wildlife en route to the lodge.
Day 4: North Pantanal / Porto Jofre—Jaguar Viewing
On a sunrise nature walk from our ecolodge, listen to the chorus of bird songs and monkey calls announcing a new day. After breakfast, depart for Porto Jofre via the Trans-Pantanal Highway, which traverses some of the best wildlife viewing areas in the ecosystem. Along this remote road that crosses 123 bridges, we search for caiman, capybara, giant anteater, anaconda, jabiru stork, macaws and more. Our destination is Porto Jofre, where the highway ends at the Cuiaba River—an important port for transporting cattle and agricultural products from the Pantanal along the road artery back to Pocone
and beyond. After lunch on arrival, we set out in small boats on our first jaguar watch, scanning the riverbanks for glimpses of the stealthy cats from our open skiff. This region has the highest density of jaguars in the entire Pantanal, and our odds of seeing them are excellent, especially from mid-June to mid-November. The jaguar—the largest wild cat in the Americas—is the top predator in the ecosystem, drawn to the abundance of food sources that thrive here.
Days 5 & 6: Porto Jofre—Jaguar & Wildlife Viewing
The area around Porto Jofre offers exceptional wildlife encounters, and our focus is on sighting jaguars and giant otters. We look for them and a multitude of other Pantanal species, including caiman, capybara, Brazilian tapir, sloth and
monkeys, on private morning and afternoon skiff excursions. Outings along the river also reveal scores of waterbirds, reptiles and plant species that thrive in the sprawling mosaic of lakes, lagoons, rivers and
marshes. Fish flourish in this freshwater sea, too, and as the water level drops seasonally in the lakes and channels, fishermen can sometimes catch dorado, pacu and traira
by hand. Birds large and small fly overhead and feed at eye level.
Day 7: Porto Jofre / South Pantanal—Chartered Flight to Caiman Ecological Refuge
This morning we fly via chartered small planes directly to Caiman Ecological Refuge, enjoying splendid aerial views and avoiding a rugged 10-hour drive. Deep in the green recesses of the South Pantanal, this renowned ecolodge lies at the heart of a 130,000-acre sustainable cattle ranch. The atmosphere reflects the distinctive local cowboy culture, which taps 200 years of combined Portuguese, Paraguayan and indigenous traditions. The lodge was the first ecotourism operation in the region and remains a conservation leader. When the refuge was established, 10 percent of the ranch acreage was set aside as a private conservation area, off-limits to cattle but open to visitors. The protected area, chosen with the aid of research scientists from the University of Sao Paulo, is remarkably diverse, with habitats encompassing wooded and scrubby savanna, open pasture, stands of caranda palm, hammock forests, streams and seasonal channels—all providing sustenance for numerous Pantanal species, including the rare maned wolf.
Days 8 & 9: Exploring the South Pantanal
A range of activities in the refuge offers varied perspectives on the Pantanal. Depending on seasonal conditions, we may take nature walks and day and night 4x4 safaris in open-sided trucks. Local guides join our Expedition Leader to reveal and interpret the area's many natural wonders. Wildlife abounds in the vicinity, including jaguars, and the refuge is the site of the Onçafari Jaguar Project. This new conservation initiative aims to promote wildlife ecotourism in the Pantanal by habituating jaguars to vehicles so people can observe them while on safari. With patience and luck, we’ll hope to be among the fortunate few to see wild jaguars here, as sightings continue to increase with concerted conservation efforts. On clear nights from mid-June to mid-September, the starry skies overhead are spectacular, and we may have the chance to view planets and constellations through powerful telescopes during evening astronomy programs around the campfire.
Day 10: Caiman Ecological Refuge / Campo Grande
After a last morning nature activity at Caiman Ecological Refuge, we drive to Campo Grande and check in to our hotel. Campo Grande is the capital and largest city in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Highly multicultural with a distinctive mixed-ethnic heritage, Campo Grande's population includes immigrants and descendants from Japan, the Middle East, Armenia, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Spain and Paraguay who have mixed with indigenous Amerindian peoples and Afro-Brazilians. This evening, reflect on highlights of our adventure over a farewell dinner.
Day 11: Campo Grande / Depart
A transfer is provided to the airport this morning for departing flights for Sao Paulo or Rio to meet international connections, or to continue with our Iguazu Falls Extension. Depending on flight schedules, you may wish to include our Sao Paulo Extension during your layover, before overnight departures for North America.
Physical Rating: Moderate