The Pantanal is a region in South America lying mostly in Western Brazil, but extending into Bolivia as well. It is considered one of the world's largest and most diverse freshwater wetland ecosystems. The Pantanal is also one of Brazil's major tourist draws for its wildlife and is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as "Pantanal Conservation Area". Some of the large cattle farms offer accommodations and organized tours.
The Pantanal is accessible through three major gateways: Campo Grande in the south, Cuiabá (MT) in the north, and Corumbá in the west. The first 2 offer many options. From Campo Grande you can access Bonito and from Cuiabá Chapada dos Guimarães. Corumbá can be reached by plane, or by train from Bolivia, through the border crossing at Puerto Suarez. The Southern Pantanal is more influenced by the Chaco and the Atlantic Rainforest fauna and flora and the northern part of the Pantanal by Amazonia. But this doesn't make one area better than the other.
There are direct and indirect daily flights to the gateway cities of Cuiabá Mato Grosso and Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul as well as biweekly flights from São Paulo to Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul. Backpackers often arrive by train in Corumbá from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. Most of the buses that run from Corumba to Campo Grande are now non-stop and so unless you leave very early in the morning or late in the afternoon it is difficult to get to Buraco das Piranhas the popular area for backpackers by public transportation. Pantanal Expeditions and some of the other operators based in Campo Grande offer shared van service each day from and to Campo Grande-Bonito-Corumba and Buraco das Piranhas. Renting a vehicle is also an option from Campo Grande. There are also lodges in the Southern Pantanal cities of Aquidauana and Miranda.
Depending on the time of year and the guide you hire, you can expect to see a variety of different animals. Unlike many other biologically rich areas, in the Pantanal you are virtually guaranteed to actually see wildlife. There are close to 10 million Yacare caiman present within the Pantanal and during the dry season every bridge crossing on the Transpantaneira is surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of Caimans basking or fighting for space in the ever dwindling lagoons. Capybara, like the caiman, are also present in the millions and are likely to be encountered every few seconds while driving. The Pantanal is also home to a variety of birds (including the endangered hyacinth macaw, which is easily spotted). Other mammals are slightly harder to spot, but still much easier than in the Amazon. On a boat ride through the river you are likely to spot the endangered giant river otter and red-bellied piranha (the otter's favorite meal). With the right guide and a couple of days on the river the chances of spotting a jaguar (or perhaps even more than one) are actually very high. The Pantanal is the best place in all of the Americas to spot a jaguar in the wild, given the relatively small amount of thick rain forest cover.
The best time to see a jaguar is between June and November. The Pantanal is certainly one area of the world where there are a lot of birds, from small and delicate hummingbirds to large ones as the jabiru. Several types of macaws, parrots, parakeets and other are easily spotted. The wildlife in the region of Porto Jofre is fantastic and there is a very good chance of spotting the elusive and impressive jaguar there.
- Pantanal Nature. Is a company run by Ailton Lara, a dedicated naturalist specialized in jaguar tours, as well as other wildlife species in Northern Pantanal with excellent success with his jaguar base for photographers and film crews. They are collecting data on jaguar and constructing a database for helping nature conservation in the area. Over 40 individual jaguars were photographed by them, all material goes into conservation projects of the Pantanal, all intiatives created by Ailton Lara.
- Pantanal Trackers. Owner Julio André Monteiro is one of the pioneers in jaguar observation of northern Pantanal. With 20 years of guiding experience, fluent in 8 languages, he guides all his tours personally, and with his deep knowledge of the fauna, flora and customs of local people and deep respect of nature he adds enriching insights to this natural paradise.
- Pantanal Expeditions, Coxim - Mato Grosso do Sul - Brazil (Reception at the airports in Cuiaba and Campo Grande), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Pantanal Expeditions is an independent tour operator and agency that arranges tailor-made trips in all budget ranges. Pantanal Expeditions specializes in ecotourism for foreign tourists visiting Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul including Chapada dos Guimaraes, the Transpantaneira in Pocone, Jaguar Tours in Porto Jofre, Bom Jardim as well as the Southern Pantanal and Bonito.
- Nicks Adventures Bolivia www.nicksadventuresbolivia.comis an Australian/Bolivian owned Eco Tour Operator based in Santa Cruz Bolivia, which specializes in wildlife tours to the Bolivian Pantanal. These wildlife based tours are aimed at looking for South America's iconic species such as the anaconda, giant otter, maned wolf and jaguar. They also offer jaguar spotting tours in the Kaa Iya National Park of Bolivia.
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.
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.
Lodges on fazendas are the best way to experience the real Pantanal. Several of the traditional cattle stations, called fazendas, nowadays accommodate guests in their lodges and show them what makes the Pantanal a special place. Many of these lodges take only a few guests, making your stay a unforgettable experience.
Be aware of lodges that call themselves "fazendas" but are nothing more than just tourism operations, thus lacking in authenticity. If you want to have the best chances to see jaguars, you will spend an extra money and reserve your seat on jaguar tours and stay at Jaguar Camp in the Porto Jofre region.
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.
Food and drink. Water should not be consumed unless boiled or sterilised first. Even filtered water in more remote areas should be avoided and bottled water should be drunk instead. Pasteurised milk and cheese is available in towns and is generally considered safe to consume. Milk outside of urban areas is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.