Claires travel pages
Claires travel pages

Extending through Central-West Brazil, eastern Bolivia and northeastern Paraguay, the Pantanal covers some 200,000 km2 during the rainy season, making it arguably the largest wetland on the globe. It has one of the world's largest and richest ecosystems and is an unparalleled biogenetic reservoir of spectacular beauty. This ecological paradise is home to hundreds of species of birds, thousands of varieties of butterflies, myriads of brightly coloured flowers, and shoals of fish. Capuchin and Howler monkeys, capybaras, macaws, anacondas, caimans and tapirs also help create an aquatic and sylvan theatre of sights and sounds. The endangered jaguar, and increasingly rare Hyacinth macaws and giant river otters also count among the regions inhabitants.

Wetlands in general are among the earth's most productive environments. They support high concentrations and many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, as well as invertebrates and plants. But the Pantanal is particularly remarkable. Over 650 species of birds alone have been identified, as well as over 80 mammals, 50 reptiles, and 250 species of fish -- with many more likely to be identified in this poorly researched region. The concentrations in which these are found help make the Pantanal an extraordinary habitat for ecotourism, field research, aesthetic inspiration, and ecological education. Other benefits of the Pantanal include significant groundwater recharge and water purification, stabilization of climate, water storage, and storm protection. It has significant economic benefits in terms of water supply, fisheries, transport, tourism, and so forth.

My Pantanal Adventure

Once again the change from Paraguay to Brazil was like stepping back into the developed world, it is amazing how different two neighbouring countries can be! Our journey out from Asuncion to Campo Grande was interesting and took rather longer than planned since we had to wait at the border for 5 hours for the Paraguayan side to open so we could get stamps in our passports. Pedro Juan Caballero (Paraguayan border town) at 5am is not the most exiting or warmest place on earth! We finally arrived in Campo Grande 22 hours after leaving Asuncion. A long and bumpy journey. We were not able to go out to the Pantanal straight away as planned as it was too late so we spent a night in a cheap hotel in CG.

The Pantanal is situated in the Bolivian edge of Brazil in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The 6 hour journey from Campo Grande into the nature reserve was excellent. This part of Brazil looks huge, rolling hills covered in grassy fields full of cows and pockets of native trees.... we saw a couple of Toucans on the way in and a giant ant eater on the journey out. It's just immense and stretches as far as you can see... and it feels really nice and big, wide open spaces etc.... As we arrived in the Pantanal we started seeing interesting animals like jacaré (crocodiles) and big white black and red birds called something weird like tuyuyu (cant really remember exact name, will have to look it up and tell you – it is the symbol of the Pantanal) as well as millions of other herons and birds.

On our first afternoon we went floating down the Miranda river in inner tubes counting the jacaré on the verges. Contrary to what some may think, I didn't get my bottom bitten by a crocodile or a piranha (I think one nibbled me though) and no anacondas tried to eat me. It was really nice and relaxing and we saw heaps of birds (impossible to say what, but there were millions) and I got some awesome photos of the tuyuyu birds, which can be seen to the right. The birds were gigantic and were we witnessed a very impressive landing when one decided to swoop down over our hears and glide to a stop a few meters away.

Our second day we got up nice and early (5am) to go on a car safari which proved to be very lame and a waste of time (we only saw one toucan) and then an equally lame walk (highlight: a horse galloping through the marshes). A couple of us went off on a walk on our own over lunch and found a whole load of blue macaws circling round a tree and swawking their heads off, and a nice friendly little snake. All in all this was more productive than the organised joke of a safari.

In the afternoon we had a great time riding though the marshes in search of Anacondas. I had a really nice horse called Canario which listened very nicely to what I asked and was so comfortable I spent all 3 1/2 hours riding without stirrups, gallop included. And boy did we gallop!!! It was immense... loads of us all together charging through the water and the fields in the sun, sending cattle and birds flying (we were on a path) and ages and ages, one of these places where you can just keep going forever in the open spaces around you! It was absolutely amazing, just galloping through the open spaces with absolutely no boundaries, just us, the wilderness and the big open sky above. Freedom or what?! Needless to say, we didn't find Anacondas, which wasn't too surprising considering the amount of noise 15 galloping horse make and the speed we were going. We did however find a few coatis.

Next day we spent on a boat looking for jacaré and capybara. We found loads and loads of both as well as thousands more birds. Our boat trip took us to a hill which we climbed up and from which we had a fantastic view of the surrounding wetlands. (I somehow managed to walk into a cactus, a course of action that comes highly unrecommended) We spend a good part of the afternoon lying on a sandy bank with the crocodiles and simply enjoying the peace and quiet around us. I must admit that swimming in a river you know is full of crocodiles and piranhas is not necessarily the most reassuring thing in the world, but it was well worth it. This was on the whole a relaxing day which we once again completed by going off for a walk on our own in search of animals as the groups were always too big and noisy to really see much. At night we went jacaré spotting in the dark with a guide who wasn't a guide and who took us through a marsh. Apparently a woman who saw us walk out past her boat told us that a jaguar had been following us about 5m behind and she though we were armed and going fishing and told our guide who wasn't a guide that he was an idiot taking us there unarmed without knowing there were jaguars around. We did find a whole load of baby jacaré though which were probably being watched by an angry mum from somewhere not too distant so we left them alone.

Our last day we spent the morning piranha fishing (I caught 3 and returned all to the water) and in the afternoon were finally given an excellent guide called Marcello who really knew his stuff and took us jaguar hunting. We saw loads of interesting birds with him as well as howler monkeys (including babies) that tried to shit on us from the trees above. We got into a scientific reserve where a family of jaguars live and spent the afternoon hunting for them... seems the were playing hide and seek and kept following us and making weird noises from either side… The hunters being hunted if you see what I mean... eerie.... and even eerier by night!!! Yes, having not actually seen jaguar by day, we went out again by night.... having met some terror stricken fishermen who warned us that mummy jaguar wit two babies was on the prowl, we happily entered the reserve again and quietly and slowly made our way along the path... Very scary in the dark, especially when you know you are not only being watched and followed but that you are being hunted for supper... apparently these cubs are about 4 months old. Dad looks after the cubs while mum hunts (US)... anyways, our super guide found the jaguar for us, a whole scary 4m away.... and it pounced away into the dark... when I say away I don't actually mean he was scared of us and ran off, oh no, he just merely jumped out of the torch stream, snarled at us and got into pounce position again.... nice! Needless to say we decided that we had seen enough jaguar... especially since this was the dad defending the cubs which meant that we were somewhere between mum, dad and the river full of jacaré and anacondas.... so we walked out as quickly as possible (with 2 jaguars following us and chatting to each other from time to time). This was an absolutely amazing feeling and really made the whole trip worthwhile.

Useful Information

We went with a company called Pantanal Discovery(formerly known as Giltours) which is situated in the bus station building on the ground floor in Campo Grande. I had been in contact with them previous to our departure and they had promised us a lot if things that in the end didn't materialise. There also seemed to be a lack of communication between the bosses in Campo Grande and the actual field staff in the Pantanal base. Groups were a lot larger than they were supposed to be and the trip was fairly unorganised at times, which seriously reduced our chances of seeing animals. Accommodation in huts is basic but fun, make sure you have a sleeping bad as they didn't have that many blankets and it gets quite cold at night at this time of year (August). Mosquito repellent is a must; they really know how to coordinate mean group attacks, even during the dry season. We also came across ticks. The company we went with certainly does not deserve a recommendation, the Pantanal, however, certainly does. I have heard some very positive reports about our company's competitor, Ecological Expeditions, just across the road form the bus station and from the sound of things it really is worth putting that little extra money into the trip. Lonely planet can help you with names and exact locations. The Pantanal on the whole gets a very high rating and if its wildlife your after it's a definite must.

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