The Pantanal is the worlds largest wetland, pooling 210,000 square kilometers, so the area is half the size of France or almost 5 times the size of Denmark
The Pantanal is located in the center of South America, mostly in central-western Brazil and straddling the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. If you want to explore the Pantanal on your own, it is (DIY = do it yourself) only possible in Brazil. The Pantanal have the highest concentration of wildlife in South America. Not only does it beat the Amazon, but in the Pantanal the animals and birds are similar to those found in the Amazon and they are much easier to spot due to lack of dense jungle. The area of Pantanal is seasonally flooded savannah lowlands and wetlands. The rainy season is from November to mid April, during this time many areas become flooded including some of the roads. Roughly 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerges during the rainy season, where the rainfall ranges from 1,000-1,5000mm. The dry season is from May to October, where the water level slowly diminish, and by the end of October the large lakes become smaller ponds and even puddles. The best time to visit is during the dry season, where animals will be clustered around the water holes (primarily from July to October), but the Pantanal teems with life in every season! Timing varies slightly from north to south as floodwaters flow downstream. This means that the northern part of Pantanal is more dry, and dries up faster during the dry season than the southern part of Pantanal.
A typical day in the Pantanal
We visited the Pantanal from the 6th of June to the 13th of June (8 days). Be aware that high season is in July and August, where prices usually are a bit higher, and maybe it is a good idea to pre-book boat tours, and accommodation if you need it. We didn’t spend any money on accommodation, and cooked all our meals. There are no supermarkets here, so bring everything you need including extra water. The temperature was 25-35 Celsius, when we visited.
Here is an overview over the 8 days:
Day 1: We drove from Santo Antonio do Leverger to Mimoso (the road is paved). From Mimoso we continued on a gravel road, and decided to turn around, when the road got too sandy for our van (2 wd). We turned around and wild camped at “Riverbank at the old bridge” (-16.32545, –55.83335). Amazing day – highly recommended.
Day 2: Drove back to Mimosa and continued to Barão de Malgaco. We couldn’t find any places to wild camp near the town, so we drove to Baia Chacororé, where we found a great spot (-16.23036, –55.92303). Not much to see, but it is possible to go on a boat tour on “Rio Mutum” from Barão de Malgaco.
Day 3: Drove back to Cuiaba to do some grocery shopping before heading out on the Transpantaneira highway. Drove to Santo Antonio de Leverger to wild camp by the river. Spend the evening walking around town, since everybody was partying in the streets.
Day 4: Drove from Santo Antonio de Leverger to Poconé on a small shitty boring dirt road called mt-351 (not recommended). We had hoped to see more wildlife, than if we had taken the main road from Cuiaba to Poconé, but didn’t see anything. We slept in Poconé for the night.
Day 5: our first day on the Transpantaneira highway. We started in Poconé, where we also filled up gasoline before heading out. We wild camped at an “Abandoned recreation park by the river” (-16.74633, –56.85740). Stopped at Barbara (-16.51564, –56.71081), a kiosko serving cold drinks and have good Wi-Fi. Amazing day – highly recommended.
Day 6: Drove from the abandoned recreation park to Jaguar Ecological Reserve (-17.109893, –56.942789). We booked a boat tour and were allowed to camp for free in our van. Amazing day – highly recommended.
Day 7: Boat tour with Jaguar Ecological Reserve (800-1000 Reales for 2 persons). We drove together with our guide and owner of Jaguar Ecological Reserve to Porto Jofre, and from there we went on a boat trip.
Day 8: It started raining, so we left Jaguar Ecological Reserve in the morning and headed back towards Cuiaba on the Transpantaneira highway. Stopped again at Barbara (-16.51564, –56.71081), a kiosko serving cold drinks and have good Wi-Fi. They also sell honey produced in the Pantanal, it is expensive, but it is the best honey we have ever tasted.
If you don’t want to back track to Cuiaba on the Transpantaneira highway, it is possible to sail on the river from Porto Jofre to Corumba. Usually it takes about 30 hours of sailing, and with several stops on the way, the trip is usually 2-3 days. The prize depend on the size of your vehicle and number of persons. Our price was 900 USD in cash for our van and the 2 of us, meals included. If you are interested you can contact Captain Lopez (speaks Spanish, but use Google translate) on WhatsApp +55 67 9605 7270. Remember to include a picture of your vehicle and measurements of height, length and width. We had a departure time between the 14th-16th of June, but the boat got delayed until the 18th of June, so we decided to drive instead.
On the dirt road after mimosa
This is our tips for watching wildlife in the Pantanal:
- Drive VERY slowly. We drove between 20-30 km/h most of the time or less.
- One is driving and one is spotting for animals with the camera turned ON, all the time.
- The best places to spot animals are in the more open areas, where the bushes and trees doesn’t obscure you view. If you have dense bushes and trees on both sides of the road, it is almost impossible to spot the animals, so speed up, until you reach a more open area again.
- Take pictures from the car. As soon as you get out the animals figure out what you are and run, fly, jump or hide.
- Drive on sunny days. When it rains or if the cloud cover is thick, you will not see much. The alligators will be in the water and the birds are just sitting there looking wet. Also the light is much better for taking pictures, when it is sunny.
- Find a good place for lunch and breaks. Just sit there very quiet, and the animals will get use to you and get closer.
- Sunset is the best time! From about 4 pm and until sunset is the best time to spot anteaters and macaws (the big parrots).
- Anteaters. You can spot them all day, but they are mostly active late afternoon. Look for them on open dry fields with no cows or horses. There has to be some termite mounds, but if the mounds are really tall it is a sign that this place is not often visited by anteaters, because the anteaters tear them down.
- Get up with the sun and enjoy the sunrise.
For us it was all about the wildlife, so check out the next four posts to experience the Northern Pantanal. The post are divided in part 1, 2 and 3 with an additional post about the birdlife. All the pictures on our blog have been taking by Esben with his SONY A6500 using the zoom lens “SEL70300G” or the lens “SEL1670Z”. After visiting the northern Pantanal we had seen so much wildlife, that we decided not the visit the southern part, which is visited from Corumba. We also took this decision due to extra heavy rain this April/May, which has resulted in higher water levels this year. The southern part was still completely flooded in June, and the ferry that complete the southern Pantanal loop was not sailing. Also the animals are the same in the northern and southern part of Pantanal. There is also third road, that leads into the northern Pantanal, which is the road from Cuiaba to Cáceres, where boat tours leave into the Pantanal on the “Rio Paraguay”, but since we didn’t go there, we don’t have more information about it.