Stretching across the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul (also spilling into Bolivia and Paraguay) the Pantanal is the world’s largest inland wetland area. While the Amazon gets more credit, the Pantanal’s open spaces offer the best opportunities for spotting animals in their natural habitats in Brazil. Madelaine Triebe has the lowdown on everything you need to know about the country’s top wildlife destination.
Both, if possible. Mato Grosso wins hands down on jaguar spotting. Along the Cuiabá River from July to September – when the water levels are low, and the big cats come out to hunt and relax on the river banks – it is not unusual to spot at least three jaguars a day.
Mato Grosso do Sul has good budget options, as well as cattle farms where you can see more of the traditional Pantaneiro culture. Watch the local cowboys (peãos) with their big straw hats sip on tereré (a drink prepared with yerba mate and ice-cold water), herd cattle on horseback or muleback or clear trails cutting off palm leaves and branches with the Pantaneiro knife, made from a short wooden handle and a roughly 50 centimetre-long blade.
For wildlife-spotting, the best time is the dry winter season, roughly from June or July to the end of September. The water has receded and the animals come out from the deeper and more inaccessible parts of the wetlands and cluster around the waterholes.
The peak of the rainy summer season (November to March) is still a great time to visit as it’s quintessentially Pantaneiro in its lush landscape. This is when the rivers overflow and flood the lowlands, making most of Pantanal only accessible by aeroplane or boat.
Colourful birds are in abundance here, including the iconic white jabiru stork with its black and red neck, as well as red, blue and hyacinth macaws. There are also plenty of square nosed capybaras and caimans around. For the rest of the wildlife, it’s all about being at the right place at the right time.
Most visitors come hoping to see the jaguar and your best chance at glimpsing this elusive animal is either early in the morning or from dusk when they hunt, eat and drink. The same goes for the Brazilian tapir, the marsh deer and the giant anteater. Another popular animal on wildlife wish lists is the giant otter, which can reach 1.7m in length.