The Pantanal is one of the world’s most fascinating wildlife-rich, waterlogged regions. Located in Brazil and parts of Paraguay and Bolivia, the unspoiled Pantanal is a major drawcard for wildlife enthusiasts from across the globe. An extensive mosaic of swamps, rivers and marshlands sprawl across an enormous alluvial floodplain.
Brazil’s Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland system. It’s home to the highest population of jaguar in the world.
Jaguar aren’t the only species to spot while in the Pantanal. The Pantanal ecosystem is also thought to be home to 1000 bird species, 400 fish species, 300 mammalian species and 480 reptile species. Included in this count are the iconic Pantanal species to spot, which include : the giant river otter, hyacinth macaw, marsh deer, yellow anaconda and green iguanas.
There are ample activities on offer in the Pantanal, each offering a unique way of exploring the scenic wildlife-rich landscape. Finding your pace in Brazil’s Pantanal is easy – choose to indulge in an array of adventure-packed guided tours, kick-back at your eco-lodge while looking out for rare hyacinth macaws, or simply enjoy a relaxing boat trip down one of the tributaries in the network of rivers.
We’ve scoured the area for the best activities in the pristine Pantanal, so that you can find a pace of life that suits your holiday style.
Bird watching trails in the Pantanal
There is normally a criss-cross of trails surrounding the lodges in the area, offering guests the opportunity to explore a variety of eco-systems. Savannah, wetlands and woodlands provide the perfect habitat for a wealth of birdlife. The carefully and clearly marked hiking/walking trails are often in loops. Guests can arrange tailor-made birding tours, which tend to produce the most rewarding sightings from November – March.
The swampy plains in the area lead to sightings of Maguari stork, southern screamer and heron – to name but a few. Find a lodge with birdwatching trails and set walking tours, you’ll find there are plenty available.
Horse riding in the Pantanal
Horse riding in the Pantanal is a fantastic way to see the region. The terrain is quite tricky to navigate on foot, so being up high on horseback offers a good vantage point where hidden, marshy corners of the Pantanal can easily be explored.
This is the largest continuous wetland in the world, best explored on horseback during the intermediate season, which is from April-June. This is the period of time when water settles into the lakes and the surrounds become quite dry. Because access to water is concentrated in certain areas, it draws in a plethora of animals seeking out available water sources.
Boating and canoeing in the Pantanal
The giant river otter is often spotted deep in the Pantanal, and enjoys a watery domain where it has easy access to schools of fish. Canoe and boat trips offer an opportunity to navigate narrow channels and areas that can’t be normally be explored. While cruising through the pristine waters, look out for caiman, the adorable capybaras, wading birds and colourful macaws peeking through the green vegetation. Early morning and late evening tend to be the best time to see wildlife. Scenery wise, sunset and sunrise give rise to enigmatic skies filled with remarkable colours.
Occasionally, jaguar are spotted patrolling the perimeter for signs of prey. There are specific jaguar tracking tours available for keen big cat fans that normally leave at night.
The piranha is a tiny and feisty fish, capable of biting off your finger in an instant. There is nothing more entertaining and thrilling than trying to catch these powerful fish. Piranha are actually an important source of food in the Pantanal and a favourite local dish is piranha soup, something worth “getting your teeth stuck into”. Piranha congregate in schools, and it’s rumoured that they will bit your line every 20 – 30 minutes, provided you have the correct bait : meat! These critters are so tough that they will gnaw their way through a fishing net. Your guide will teach you how to fish for piranha.