Pantanal in Brazil: Ultimate Guide to the World’s Largest Wetlands

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The Pantanal in Brazil is one of the most bio-diverse regions found in Brazil, if not anywhere in the world. It’s a vast wetland ecosystem, that for much of the year becomes heavily flooded after intense, tropical rains.

It’s these downpours that allow the region to support so much life and to become so green and verdant. It’s an unusually spectacular destination but as beautiful as it is, Pantanal is equally as remote and difficult to traverse.

Travelers need to worry about extreme weather, heat and humidity, flooded roads and wild animals.

It’s a raw place to experience, and one of the best spots in Brazil to visit for wildlife and nature lovers. To help you to plan your trip, here’s our ultimate guide to Pantanal.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Brazil (Travel Guide)


Pantanal in Brazil Planning Guide


How to Travel to the Pantanal in Brazil

Pantanal Brazil Drone View

The first thing to realize is just how vast Pantanal Brazil actually is. It’s an enormous ecosystem, that although predominantly found within the far western states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, also spreads across international borders into both Paraguay and Bolivia.

This huge UNESCO World Heritage Site can be accessed from a few different locations and with just under 200,000 kilometers of wetlands here, it would be impossible to see everything.

The main hubs for visiting Pantanal are the large cities of Campo Grande, Cuiabá or Corumbá. Campo Grande is the gateway to the Southern Pantanal, Cuiaba to the northern regions.

If you are arriving across the border from Bolivia, then Corumba makes for a great entry point in the western part of the wetlands.

There are regular flights internationally into these three cities, with Campo Grande and Cuiaba having the most connections to the large eastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

From Campo Grande, many people choose to also visit Bonito, for the equally beautiful ecotourism opportunities that abound there, and you can make the most of a trip out here by exploring as much of the region as you can while in this remote part of the world.

Traveling Around The Pantanal

Scarlet Macaw in the Pantanal Brazil

Traveling around Pantanal Brazil is by no means easy. It is remote, isolated and for much of the year, almost impossible to access.

The wetlands are sparsely populated and you’ll need to be prepared to rough it where needed. Most travelers will arrive in their city of choice and then head straight out to remote lodges or farms which are found in Pantanal.

These lodges generally provide all food and drink while you are visiting.

Public transport is barely existent and without guides, it can be a dangerous place to explore on your own. In the rainy season, the only way to travel is via boat or light aircraft.

In the north, the iconic Transpantaneira connects the city of Cuiaba to the remote town of Porto Jofre and consists of rough dirt roads connected by rustic wooden bridges. This is the main road into the northern part of the region, but even this isn’t accessible for half of the year.

The Best Time of Year to Visit the Pantanal

Sunset in the Pantanal Brazil

With the weather playing such an important role in the Pantanal ecosystem, deciding when to visit will prove to affect your trip in more ways than one.

There are two seasons in the Pantanal in Brazil, the wet and the dry. The dry season generally occurs between May to September and the wet season falls from October through to the end of April. Each offers unique travel opportunities.

The easiest time to travel is of course in the dry season, when the weather is cooler, not quite so humid, and when the wildlife can be found across the landscapes as they emerge in search of watering holes.

The wet season, however, can be a beautiful time to see the greenery of Pantanal in all its glory. It’s hot and humid and it rains constantly, ensuring that road travel becomes impossible.

Despite the difficulties presented, it can be a more authentic time to visit, when the wetlands are at their most supreme.  

Wildlife Within the Pantanal in Brazil

hyacinth macaw in The Pantanal

One of the main reasons for visiting Pantanal is to search out the wildlife. This is one of the most diverse areas in the country when it comes to animals, more so even than the Amazon, and opportunities abound to see rare and unusual creatures in their natural environment.

There are hundreds of different species of bird to be found across the wetlands, with the most prized spot being the Hyacinth Macaw, the largest parrot in the world.

The waterways are quite literally teeming with Caimans, who can be seen hunting prey in the rivers or taking in the sunlight on the banks. A boat trip will easily have you spotting hundreds of these reptilian predators in just a few hours of travel.

Other unusual creatures include the world’s longest otter, while the water is home to hordes of piranha.

The chances are that you may even be served up piranha for dinner while you are out in the Pantanal and many tourists enjoy fishing for them along the river bank as part of their trip.

Perhaps the biggest wildlife draw in Pantanal Brazil is the fact that the area is home to a large population of Jaguars, and this is one of the best spots in South America to be as close to guaranteed to seeing them in the wild as is possible.

Porto Jofre and the Northern Pantanal region are by far the best places to visit in order to maximize your chances of spotting a Jaguar.

Companies offer specialized multi-day boat tours that take you into the heart of the wetlands, where you are more than likely to find at least one of these elusive animals.

Jaguar Camp, which can be accessed from Porto Jofre, is one of the best places to stay if you are searching these creatures out, and they offer excellent safaris into the wetlands in search of them, with experienced guides leading the way.

Travel Tip: When searching for wildlife it is always best to keep voices and all noises at a minimum. You should also wear clothing that is earth tone colors and skip out on those bright unnatural colors. 

Cattle Ranches

Local Rancher in The Pantanal Brazil

Aside from the wild animals in the Pantanal, much of the area has been taken over by cattle ranches too. Many are devoted to tourism as well.

Multi-day trips will be based out of lodges on cattle ranches and you will be able to observe first hand the remote lifestyles lived out by the local farmers in this remote corner of Brazil.

The cattle ranches offer the chance for horseback riding and in true cowboy fashion you can explore the farmland to see what it’s like to be a rancher in Pantanal Brazil.


Things to do in the Pantanal in Brazil


Cayman in the waters of The Pantanal Brazil

There’s an endless amount of adventures to be had when visiting the Pantanal in Brazil.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a thrill-seeker, a wildlife lover or someone who just wants to sit back and relax, the Pantanal has something to offer for all travelers.

Below are the top things to do in the Pentanal that you simply cannot miss when visiting. It is best to check with where you are staying if they offer these adventures.

Boat Tours

Boat trip The Pantanal Brazil

A visit to the Pantanal is all about its water and its wildlife. So naturally one of the most popular things to do in the Pantanal is to go on a wildlife boat tour. The Pantanal has truly an endless number of waterways that can be explored by boat.

Jump aboard a local boat where the guide will explore those waterways slowly. Water is life, and along the shoreline, you will get the chance to get up close and personal with many animals that call the waterways of the Pantanal home.

The best time to take a river tour in the Pantanal is early morning or late afternoon, this is when the animals are most active.

A boat trip normally takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours depending on how much wildlife you see. If you want more time it is best to arrange for a private boat.

While exploring the Pantanal its important to have the right clothing

Hiking & Wildlife Walks

Lina Stock of Divergent Travelers Adventure Travel Blog Walking in The Pantanal Brazil

I love searching for wildlife on foot. There’s something about creeping through the swampy heavily forested jungle-like areas trying not to make a sound, in search of what every wildlife you can find.

There’s that uncertainty of not knowing what you will find that makes this adventure magical.

On this adventure, our local guide pointed out plant life and talked about what it was like to have grown up in the area for generations.

This adventure is best in the early morning and late afternoon hours it can last anywhere from 2 to 3 hours depending on your fitness in the amount of wildlife that you happen to find.

Make sure you bring lots of bug spray since the Pantanal is mostly swamp.

Don’t forget a good hat, we have put together The Best Safari Hats that you simply must have when visiting the Pantanal in Brazil 

Jaguar Safaris

Everyone has high hopes for viewing Jaguars in the Pantanal, but I hate to tell you, your odds are pretty low in sighting one unless you’re on a Jaguar Safari tour.

On the normal two or three-day trip into the Pantanal, you are only staying on the edge of the Pantanal, due to time restrings.

If you are someone who truly wants to view Jaguars in the Pantanal, you will need to go deeper in and join a Jaguar safari. It is best to plan in at least 5-7 days and books this adventure in advance for your best odds of finding a Jaguar.

On a Jaguar safari in the Pantanal, your main goal is to search and find Jaguars. This will be the focus and everything else on this adventure is just a bonus.

It’s a typical safari where you will be lucky to see one from 500-300 yards away, so bring a good camera. Discover the best camera gear for The Best Camera Gear for the Pantanal: How to Choose & What to Avoid

4×4 Adventures

4×4 adventures are great for those travelers who want to see as much wildlife as they can with the confronts of not walking. There’s nothing like viewing wildlife from a custom made safari vehicles.

Cruise the endless road searching for birds and other amazing creatures that can be found only here in the Pantanal.

Most 4×4 adventures head out early in the morning and right before dark since this is the best time to view wildlife on a safari.

Night Safaris

The Pantanal comes to life at night! So naturally, a night safari is a great way to view wildlife. There are two options for night safaris, by boat or by 4×4. They do not offer a walking night safari since it is way too dangerous.

A night safari in the Pantanal lasts for about two hours searching for whatever wildlife you can find by spotlight. It is normal to find birds nesting, wild pigs, and so much more on a night safari.

Bird Watching

Wild Bird in The Pantanal Brazil

The Pantanal in Brazil is world-renowned for Bird watching. You will not have to go on a special tour to do this. Many of the iconic birds can be found around many of the camps in the Pantanal.

However, for those bird watching lovers, it is best to go out on a bird watching tour to not only see those rare birds but also learn about all the birds in the Pantanal.

This is a great activity that starts early in the morning and later in the afternoon. It is best to bring a good camera since you will not be getting that close to wildlife.

Horseback Riding

There is nothing like exploring the Pantanal like the natives have been doing it for centuries, on horseback.

This adventure will take you through fields and along the remote roads in the Pantanal. Chances are high you’ll see lots of animal life along this pleasant ride.

Your local Brazilian cowboy will share stories about what it is like to live there and how it is changing.

Horseback riding is a great adventure since you can cover more ground than walking you’re going to see more.

This is a great activity that only lasts about 2 to 3 hours and requires no experience, It normally goes out in the late afternoon so you will be back before dark.

Biking

Biking is another option for the more active person looking for an adventure in the Pantanal. Most biking tours take you along the endless dirt roads stopping at what every excites your group.

One huge benefit is you can cover more ground then you can while hiking but your refined to the road and a few off-road pathways. A normal biking trip takes around two hours. 

Kayaking

Just imagine paddling on a river with large Cayman sunning their selves on the shoreline. A kayaking adventure is a great way to get up close and personal with the waterways of the Pantanal.

On this activity, you will experience more wildlife than you would on a riverside since kayaking you’re a lot quieter.

This is a great activity that only lasts for about 2 to 3 hours and leaves in the morning and late afternoon.

Piranha Fishing

Parana Fishing in the Pantanal Brazil

When visiting the Pantanal you have to spend a morning fishing along its Cayman filled shores with a handmade bamboo fishing rod in hand.

This is a fun activity that will only last about an hour invite any luck you’ll be eating fried piranha with the teeth intact for lunch.

Visiting a Farm or Homestead for a Local Living Moment

Discover what life is truly like while living in the Pantanal with this local living moment only offered by G Adventures.

There’s truly no other way to understand a local’s way of life until you sit down with them at their own farm.

Spend the afternoon with the local family who has live in the Pantanal for decades. Not just be a visitor in their home but become part of their family as you learn about their day-to-day activities and their deep-rooted history.

Relaxing in a Hammock

There’s going to be lots of downtime on a visit to the Pantanal since everything operates around morning and late afternoon wildlife viewing times.

One of my most favorite things we did Pantanal was relaxing in a hammock. Sit back and relax while the sounds of wild birds put you to sleep.

If your someone who does not like downtime then visiting the Pantanal isn’t something you will enjoy.

Scenic flight

The Pantanal is huge and it is nearly impossible to truly get the scope of its massive size on the ground. Joining a scenic flight will put this size of the Pantanal into perspective.

It’s a once in lifetime experience viewing sights of the Pantanal that can not be reached by normal travelers.

Connecting with Fellow Travelers

I love remote places like the Pantanal because it collects a different type of traveler. They are travelers who care about wildlife and they are the type of travelers who are up for an adventure.

That’s why there are there, So naturally, they are my type of travelers.

These are fascinating travelers who are normally well-traveled and have been on many amazing wildlife trips before. I love connecting with fellow travelers and the setting of the Pantanal is a great place for you to connect.

Many of the adventures operate around the best time to view wildlife, in the early morning and late afternoon so there will be some downtime in between then.

This is when I feel is the best time to connect with those fellow travelers who are passionate about the same things you are.


Pantanal in Brazil Planning Tips


Best Places to Stay in the Pantanal

Best places to stay in the Pantanal

There’s plenty of campsites that offer hammock camping, glamping, and even luxury stays in the Pantanal.

The best places to stay in the Pantanal are located either in the Northern Part of the Pantanal or in the Southern part of the Pantanal. Each location offers different experiences to visitors.

Below we will highlight the best places to stay in the Pantanal.

Pousada Santa Clara – This is where we stayed. One night we did their hammock camping and the other night we stayed in their lodge that offers 12 standard air-conditioned rooms with a pool. This place was simply amazing since its located right within the Pantanal. The tropical birds were everywhere and the activities were all lead by a local guide. This lodge offers basic stays for budget travelers to more luxury accommodations for those looking for little more than the basic stay.  *This lodge offered all of the best things to do in the Pantanal. 

Pousada Reserva do Pantanal – This is a great option for anyone who is looking for the perfect base to immerse themselves in nature, with the Pantanal just outside their doorstep. This lodge offers basic stays for the budget traveler.

Fazenda Barranco Alto – This lodge is remote with a limited room so it makes for more of an intimate Pantanal experience. This stunning traditional cattle ranch offers four comfortable en-suite guest rooms with air-conditioning and private verandas. This lodge is more on the luxury side but worth every penny. 

Barra Mansa Lodge – This lodge is located in one of the most attractive parts of the Brazilian Pantanal. It’s one of the best locations in the Pantanal for spotting jaguars. The Barr Mansa Lodge is only accessible by light aircraft due to its remote location, so there’s no way to get there by car. The lodge has 6 suites outfitted with air-conditioning, restaurant, bar, laundry service, hammocks, TV, internet, library, orchard, souvenir shop and so much more. This lodge is on the luxury side.

Pousada Pantanal Norte (Also known as Jacare Barco Hotel) – This hotel pervades a comfortable base for you to explore the Pantanal. They offer air-conditioned cabins or houseboats with private bathrooms situated right on the river. It is more of a budget option but pervades all the great adventures that the more expensive lodges offer but more for the budget traveler.

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Health and Safety in the Pantanal

Health and Safety in the Pantanal Brazil

The Pantanal is a wild and raw destination to travel to and even if you are part of an organized safari or multi-day tour, you’ll be a long way from the comforts of home, or even of the nearby cities.

Being a tropical region, you can expect plenty of mosquitoes and other bugs, particularly in the evenings.

You’ll want to ensure that you bring plenty of bug spray to keep them away and wear long sleeve trousers and shirts to minimize the chance of being bitten.

At night, you will want a mosquito net to sleep under. The risk of disease is more so in this region than in the cities and other parts of Brazil, so avoid bites to avoid catching the likes of Dengue Fever, which can’t be vaccinated against.

Malaria is a low risk here but unfortunately, Yellow Fever is a very real problem and you will need to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever before traveling to the region.

Tropical diseases are rarely contracted by tourists, but you are best to be safe. Perhaps a more common problem amongst visitors is illness brought on by the water or by bad food.

Try to drink filtered water, or if possible, bring your own water purification systems to be extra safe when visiting Pantanal.

The local wildlife also poses a danger here of course, although as long as you follow the rules laid down by your local guides, you shouldn’t have a problem.

It’s best not to swim in the rivers, given the high concentration of both caimans and piranhas in the waterways. In the wet season, you also have the added burden of flooding.

For this reason, it’s not advisable to venture out on your own, and for the most part, you won’t even be able to given the conditions.

Cars will easily be bogged down and flooding can be incredibly dangerous, which is why locals and tourists only travel via boat or plane for half of the year in the Pantanal.

What Threatens the Pantanal in Brazil

What threatens the Pantanal

Brazilians have a saying “o Pantanal e vida” and we heard this many times by locals who guided us when we visited the Pantanal with G Adventures. It’s translates into “The Pantanal is life”.

We connected with this saying since we feel our world’s natural wonders are essential to life.

We also feel as travels we need to pass on what we have learned and experienced when visiting a wonder like the Pantanal in hopes to educated but also to preserve this wonder for feature generations to come.

Just like every part of the Amazon and almost all of our world’s most natural locations, the Pantanal is no exception to threats.

This wonderful part of the world is being altered extremely and its effects are being felt not just by locals but people from around the world.

What used to be bright green areas filled with so much life is now brownish-yellow areas that are lifeless. Deforestation and climate change are one of the most potent threats to the Pantanal in Brazil.

We experienced this firsthand on our locally lead trip to the Pantanal with G Adventures. Many of the areas were being chopped down, filled in and cleared out so they would be level land for houses and pastors for livestock.

Those lush green wetlands and forest areas that we have seen in photos and videos highlighting the Pantanal and its wonders never talked about how many of its areas have been allured into pastors for livestock.

Cattle farmers have been there since the 1800’s however unregulated, poor planning and the amounts of livestock have multiplied uncontrollably. The effects of cattle farming is bad for the wetlands and the Pantanal’s wildlife.

The growing number of farms and settlements not only effects the land quality but also the water quality, with negative consequences for the aquatic communities and the natural resource-dependent communities.

Some communities are working on sustainable cattle ranching, that is a step in the right direction. Sustainable cattle ranching activates in the Pantanal consistently link environmental protection with economic development in the region.

Just like most places in the world climate change has taken its hit here with changes in rainfall and temperatures.

What was once deep floodplains submerged from 4 to 8 months a year now are barely covered in water for only a month or two.

Mining is another thing that harms the Pantanal. In the northern part of the Pantanal gold mining is still common you can find high amounts of mercury in the river due to the miners using mercury to agglutinate gold. The high mercury levels harms not just animals but also humans.

Another huge thing that threatens the Pantanal is Waterpower Plants. There has been endless battles between private and govern owned powerplants to dam off areas of the Pantanal for power.

This would disrupt the natural water flow and have a huge impact on this natural wonder.

No matter what threatens then Pantanal we need to do our part to protect natural wonders like this for feature generations to come.

While exploring it is important to practice leave no trace.

  1. Minimize your impacts and stay on trials, avoid making your own paths or shortcuts that damage the trail and surrounding ecosystems.
  2.  Pack it in, pack it out! This includes not only food wrappers but also any other foreign objects that you may have brat with you. Also, practice “negative trace” by picking up trash left by others.
  3. Leave what you find. Always look but never take. Leave everything that you find in the wilderness where it belongs.
  4. Respect the wildlife. Let the wild be wild. Keep your distance and do not attract or approach animals.
  5. Be considerate of other visitors. Show respect while out exploring. Keep voices and all noises low and attempt to minimize visual impacts by wearing clothing that are earth tone colors.

Pantanal Facts

Pantanal Facts

The Pantanal is a fascinating place filled with amazing wildlife and epic adventures to be had. It’s a place of natural beauty and a place of wonderment.

Below are a few amazing facts every traveler should know about the Pantanal before visiting there’s are facts about the Pantanal that we learned by our local guide while traveling with G Adventures.

  • The name “Pantanal” comes for the Portuguese word pantano that means wetland, bog, swamp or marsh.
  • Average yearly rainfall in the Pantanal reaches up to 40 – 55 inches.
  • In rainy season 78% of the Pantanal is submerged underwater.
  • The Pantanal is not a traditional swamp, it’s a floodplain.
  • The Pantanal is home to over 3,500 plant species, 656 bird species, 325 fish species, 159 mammals, 53 amphibians and 98 reptiles.
  • The world’s largest snakes (Green Anacondas) call the Pantanal home.
  • WWF named the Pantanal on of its “Global 200” for its biodiversity.
  • The Pantanal is larger than 9 European countries and or 29 US states.
  • The Pantanal is 10 times larger than the Florida Everglades and covers an area of 66,100 square miles (42 million acres)
  • The Pantanal consists of four protected areas.
  • The Pantanal is located in South American and is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
  • The Pantanal is primarily located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
  • The Pantanal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ecological significance.
  • The Pantanal is considered one of the most preserved wetlands in the world.
  • Wetlands cover just 6% of the Earth’s surface.
  • The Pantanal makes up 3% of the entire world’s wetlands.
  • Less than 2% of the Pantanal’s wetlands are under government protection.
  • It’s estimated over ½ of our planet’s wetlands have disappeared.
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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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