Imagine a place where all around you is nothing but trees and swamps. Imagine a place where you have a 95% chance of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat – a percentage higher than what is guaranteed while trekking the Amazon Rainforest. Imagine a place so massive that it is 10 times larger than Florida’s Everglades. Unbelievable, right? I know, but such a place does exist and it is called the Pantanal.
What is the Pantanal?
The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland system covering an area just shy of 200,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles) located mainly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The Pantanal – which gets its name from a Portuguese word meaning “bog” or “wetland” – also extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. Roughly 80% of the Pantanal is submerged under water during the rainy season (November – April).
How Can You Get to the Pantanal?
Getting into the Pantanal is challenging given its vastness, lack of towns, and sparse population. The only way to visit the Pantanal really is to arrange a tour that will allow you to stay anywhere from a couple of days to a full week. Campo Grande is the main point of entry to the Pantanal if you are coming in from Mato Grosso do Sul. You can find several tour companies offering overnight tours here or in Cuiabá if you are coming in from the North via Mato Grosso. Since Kooks and I went with G Adventures for this trip to Brazil, and we came from the South, our two-day stay was pre-arranged at São João Farm with them.
When Should You Go to the Pantanal?
The Pantanal can be visited at any time of the year, but the best time to go would be the Dry Season (May – September) when the water has receded a bit and travel within the Pantanal is a bit easier. Trust me it is not an easy trek into the Pantanal! From Campo Grande to our ranch stay at São João Farm, our private van driver took almost an hour to get there driving on dirt roads. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing any paved roads and we were really just on the outskirts of the Pantanal. Imagine how much more difficult it would be the further in you went during the wet season!
Piranha fishing is a popular activity that you can do within the Pantanal, so try to get here around April or May as those months have the ideal water levels to catch these deadly predators. Bird watching is best done around June and July. Jaguars are quite common in the Pantanal the further in you go. However, we weren’t in far enough in the bush to see any during our two days there, so check with your tour company about when the best time to see them would be! They are probably the most sought after species for viewing here.
Given the low-lying ground and the fact that you are surrounded by nothing swamps and marshes, it will be noticeably hot during the day and very cool or chilly at night during the Dry Season.
What Do I Need to Bring With Me to the Pantanal?
The following items are recommended for the Pantanal:
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- Camera/Camcorder with Universal charger
- Yellow Fever certificate
- Malaria pills (at your discretion)
- Hiking pants and jacket
- Hat and sunglasses
- Snacks and drinks
- Some cash (100 Reais should be more than enough for a 2 – 3 day stay)
- Soap & shampoo
- Rain jacket and umbrella (if going during the Wet Season)
Some people may ask if a Yellow fever shot is mandatory when going into the Pantanal due to the presence of mosquitoes surrounding the swamps here. Officially, it is not required by the Brazilian government, but it would not hurt to get a Yellow fever vaccination, anyways, if you plan to explore other parts of South America, especially Peru where it is required.
The ranch home stays in the Pantanal will have some food and booze available, but most likely on a cash only basis and at marked up rates. You are best to stock up either in Campo Grande or Cuiabá. 100 Reais was more than enough for Kooks and I during our two-day stay here, but we could have even brought less had we decided to buy some bottles of booze like some of our group did.
What Can I See or Do in the Pantanal?
The Pantanal is a great place to visit for those who enjoy eco-adventure tours. Some of the most popular activities you can do here include nature walks, bird watching, piranha fishing, horseback riding, driving boats out in the various swamps and lakes, and jaguar spotting. Animal that can be found here include a variety of species, such as caiman, piranhas, macaws, Marsh deer, toucans, and jaguars. Make sure to bring a couple of charged camera batteries with you as you will have plenty of opportunities to capture amazing wildlife scenery in the Pantanal.
So, there you have it, folks. Some basic info and tips about the Pantanal that you should consider for your trip to Brazil. The Pantanal was something I was really anticipating ever since I first heard about it on a travel show I watched a few years ago.
Leaving society behind for the next two days was both exciting and terrifying as we had no idea of what to really expect at São João Farm, especially since we were arriving on the same day as the USA vs. Portugal match – an important match for the Americans as either a win or tie would put them in good place to qualify for the Round of 16. Would we be able to watch this crucial match at the ranch? There was only one way to find out!