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The Pantanal: The world's largest wetland
Katherine, our Latin America specialist, couldn’t get enough of the Pantanal during her recent visit. A huge wilderness of swamps and marshes, this region is one of the best places to view wildlife on the continent.
With Brazil being the 5th largest country in the world, it can be hard to know where to start. Having almost 8000km of coastline, well preserved colonial towns, fun and lively cities, as well as the mighty Amazon rainforest, you really are spoilt for choice! The Pantanal, which had only come to my attention when I first started working at Imagine Latin America made the cut on my recent trip – and I am so glad I got to explore this unique place! Words cannot describe what an amazing place this is, and for anyone with an interest in wildlife it’s not to be missed.
The Pantanal is a vast area of wetlands in the west of Brazil, covering almost 200,000km2 and encompassing rivers, wetlands, lakes, grasslands, tropical forests, and more. It also happens to be one of the leading wildlife spotting locations in South America. Having done an Africa safari before, I knew that we would love the activities on offer at the Pantanal lodges, and it also appealed to my desire of getting “off the beaten track”. The Pantanal is still an up and coming destination. Its popularity has seen an increase since Brazil has been in the limelight from the World Cup, and we can expect that the Olympics in 2016 will further popularise this destination. On this basis, my top tip would be to get in there now before it becomes too touristy.
We stayed at Barra Mansa, a beautiful working farm in the southern Pantanal, which enjoys a remote location next to the Rio Negro. There are only five rooms, and each guest is assigned their own personal guide on arrival, so your activities are completely tailored to maximise your exact interests and preferences. I loved this idea as I had my heart set on seeing a family of giant otters.
The transfer to the lodge is from Campo Grande and takes around five hours in a 4×4 vehicle. This doesn’t sound ideal, but as soon as we were on our way we had our first taste of wildlife and saw hyacinth macaws, toucans, eagles, as well as peccaries, coatis and rheas (including a male with about 20 chicks following him up the road ahead of us!). This was just the beginning and, seeing so much on the transfer alone, we could not wait to see what the next few days had in store for us!!
Upon arrival at the lodge, we were welcomed warmly by our hosts Daniel and his wife Pauli. The lodge is owned by Daniel’s grandmother and he grew up at the lodge. I can’t imagine a more amazing childhood than having the Pantanal as your back yard. We had a lovely home cooked lunch of traditional Brazilian food and a siesta in a hammock to escape the midday heat, and at around 4:30pm we were ready for our first activity. We took a walk through a nearby forest and along a lagoon. We saw so much birdlife (kingfishers, storks, heron, parrots and macaws to name a few), as well as caimans which are everywhere! In the wet season, the forest that we walked can sometimes be completely flooded, but it can still be explored by canoe. On the way back home, we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets and to top it off, back at the lodge, Pauli had a caipirinha waiting for us, the nicest we had tried during our Brazil trip!
As light flooded into our room at sunrise, the calls of different birds filled the air and served as the perfect wake up call. We had an early breakfast at 6:15am, to enable us to make the most of the morning before it became too hot. Our first activity was a canoe trip down the river. It was such a peaceful morning and, apart from our guide Daniel, we saw no other people the entire time. We did however, see a family of seven giant otters (Daniel made it his mission to find these lovely creatures for me), numerous capybara, a huge herd of peccaries and, of course, caiman! The highlight though was a tapir that crossed the river right in front of us. Tapirs have poor eyesight, so as our canoes floated towards him, he was unaware and we were able to get quite close. A caiman then spooked him and he went charging off into the bushes, breaking any branch in his path! Lunch was back at the lodge before a siesta in the hammock. In the afternoon, we ventured on a cattle drive with Daniel, two of the ranch workers and two other guests. The horses were great – very steady and well behaved. The scenery was stunning and we all thought it was an amazing experience, being able to play cowboys and help herd the cattle. On the way home we passed a fresh water lake, just as the sun was setting over it – beautiful! Near the lodge we also saw an armadillo. I thought the horses might spook at this little creature scuttling around their feet, but they were completely unfazed.
The following day, we rose early for a drive by 4×4 through flat flood plains, along wetlands and through forest. My favourite forest here is at a higher level that doesn’t get flooded, as there is a greater variety of flora and fauna. At the first wetland we passed by, we saw a baby capybara catching a ride on its mother’s back as it swam through the water. It seemed to be swimming directly towards a caiman and sure enough, when it got too close, the caiman leapt out and attacked! The baby capybara somehow had a lucky escape and swam off unscathed. We also saw deer, a pair of blue macaws which are so beautiful, and a fox with two cubs. Whilst we weren’t lucky enough to see any cats on our trip, other guests at the lodge had seen both an ocelot and a jaguar crossing the river, right next to the lodge.
After lunch and a siesta, we took a boat trip up the river to try and find an anaconda which other guests had seen. We managed to find it coiled up on the river bank. At three meters long, it was a “small” one! We then got our fishing rods out to catch some piranha. I caught two and my husband caught five, including a catfish. The caiman took a lot of interest in our fishing activities and closed in hoping for an easy meal!
The morning before we left, I managed to squeeze in another horse ride, this time just with Daniel so I was able to have a gallop on a sprightlier horse. We opted to fly out of the Pantanal in a three seater Cessna plane to shorten the transfer time to around 45 minutes. I am really glad we did this as we were able to see the Pantanal from a completely different perspective and see how amazingly vast it is.
The Pantanal is by far one of the most fantastic wildlife experiences I have ever encountered. During our stay, I felt so lucky to have seen so much in such a short space of time, and having our guide Daniel with us with his eagle eyes really made the difference. If you are tempted by Brazil, make sure to visit the Pantanal and you will not be disappointed.
If you’re interested in visiting the Pantanal see our Deluxe Wildlife and Beaches itinerary for inspiration. Call us on 020 7622 1116 to get our latest advice and start planning your trip now.