The giant of South America, the only one that has the Big 5
Brazil’s Pantanal: A place of superlatives. Home to the world’s largest fresh-water wetlands, the Pantanal is tentimes the size of the Everglades, draining into a single channel: the Paraguay River. We venture deep into this world-class wildlife hotspot on a long road that bisects the Transpantaneira wilderness, in search of an adventure that can’t be missed. In this famed region, we discover wildlife thriving in a mix of savanna, forest, and wetland habitats. Even a relaxed day can yield more than 100 species of birds and dozens of mammals — Capybara are everywhere! Brazilian Tapir, Maned Wolf, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, and yes, Jaguar (we saw many on our past trips!), are five of many incredible mammals we seek, while Greater Rhea, Hyacinth Macaw, Toco Toucan , Red Legged Seriema, and Helmeted Manakin top the list of impressive bird sightings.
Rare Green Anaconda, the world’s largest snake, may be a lucky find, while the small crocodilian Yacaré can be seen by the thousands. For many, itis the sheer number and variety of species that leaves the most lasting impression.
Charming (and working) cattle ranches serve as our accommodations, each with its own impressive and distinctive wildlife community. Lazy afternoons invite photographers to wander between shade circles of the ranch trees for rare time with Hyacinth Macaw and other species.
Awake on the river to a host of sounds and the sight of macaws and more flying overhead. We use smaller speedboats to spend the day searching for the iconic Jaguar, known for their affinity to water. They are good swimmers, and often lay down along the shore after a swim. Chances are good that we see at least one individual, male or female ― perhaps even together! We lunch on board, take a short siesta (yes, love that AC … ) and try for Jaguar again in the afternoon. Wildlife is plentiful in this remote part of the Pantanal, so once we accomplish the main task (a Jaguar, of course) we have time to admire other species like Giant Otter, Black Skimmer, Pied Plover, Southern Screamer, and Yacaré Caiman. We also visit little streams for skulkers like Pygmy Kingfisher and Sungrebe. By late afternoon we return to our welcoming houseboat. We celebrate our sightings with caipirinhas before dinner! Accommodations in private cabins on a floating houseboat hotel! (B,L,D)
After two days immersed in the wildest part of the Pantanal, we return north, retracing our route. We are not in a hurry though, and work some of the areas we previously traveled in more detail. Perhaps we find a troop of Black-and-Gold Howler Monkeys, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Snail Kite, Rusty backed Antwren, Common Tody Flycatcher, White-browed Blackbird, and others species as we drive to our next lodge. We watch for Cream-colored Woodpecker, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Short-crested Flycatcher, Mato Grosso Antbird, Great Antshrike, and Purple-throated Euphonia. Near water we find Whistling and Capped Herons, Pygmy and Ringed Kingfishers, Sunbittern, Black-collared and Great Black Hawks, and Rusty-backed Spinetail.
Once we arrive at the Mato Grosso Hotel on the Rio Pixium, we settle in and check the feeders for brilliant-colored troupials, Palm, Silver, and Sayaca Tanagers, and Red-crested Cardinal. At this point in our journey we have seen numerous mammals and birds, and we can base our efforts on finding anything missing from our list that we hope to see. Accommodations at the Mato Grosso Hotel, Rio Pixiam (B,L,D)
It’s another morning for gazing at the sunrise while sipping good Brazilian coffee. This morning, pending what we still need to see, we can do a safari drive, or we can take a small boat ride on the Pixaim River to spot secretive species like Agami and Zig-Zag Heron. This is a good spot for Giant Otters and, with luck and some searching, a Tapir. Driving back to Cuiabá, the landscapes are iconic and make for great pictures. We look for Black-capped Donacobious, Green-and rufous Kingfisher, Little Blue Heron, and other species like some very impressive iguanas. We can break up our drive with a walk in Gallery Forest habitat looking for special birds like Helmeted Manakin, Mato Grosso Antbird, Band-tailed Antbird, Black-hooded Tanager, Blue-crowned Trogon, and more. Dinner finds us sampling authentic Grosso cuisine, including legendary piranha and local beef.
Accommodations at the Mato Grosso Hotel, Pixium River (B,L,D)
Today, we make our way back to Cuiabá; the paved road is perhaps a welcome sight as we bid adieu to the marvelous but often dusty Pantanal. Our plan is to arrive in Cuiabá in time for connections to São Paolo for evening flights out. Plan on flights after 4:00PM. For those not finding a good match up, you can return to GRU and overnight, or simply overnight at a hotel we regularly use in Cuiabá and start fresh the following day.
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