Brazil is famed as the home of the Amazon Jungle, Iguacu Falls, and enigmatic cities like Rio de Janeiro. But did you know it’s also home to the Pantanal wetlands, the largest and most biodiverse wetland on Earth? In the past, little was known about the wetlands which meant it often went overlooked even by the most intrepid travelers and biggest nature lovers.
But now, the Pantanal has become the new must-see nature destination in South America. Those that go there get the opportunity to fully immerse (sometimes quite literally) in the wetlands, an ecosystem that humans rarely get a chance to see. From jeep safaris to canoeing, and horseback riding through floodplains, visiting the Pantanal is like visiting the Amazon, Africa, and Andes all rolled into one.
In this article, we share more about the Pantanal, its ecosystem, and its tours. We even advise you on the best time of year to visit and how to include it in an unforgettable Brazil itinerary.
What is the Pantanal in Brazil?
The Pantanal is a name known to few, yet it can easily be described as one of nature’s greatest spectacles — and here’s why.
Spread over 60,000 square miles across Bolivia, Paraguay, and (mostly) the large State of Matto Grosso do Sul in Brazil, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland. In Portuguese, the name literally translates to ‘big wetland’. Its unique ecosystem is distinguished by a vast expanse of relatively flat land saturated with water creating a tropical landscape filled with natural ponds, marshes, mangroves, swamps, and floodplains.
The high levels of moisture and flooding in a wetland make it a paradise for flora and fauna. The variety of vibrant green trees, shrubs, and plants attracts a large selection of unusual and exotic animals that are rarely found elsewhere in the world (read on to find out exactly what you can expect to see there). A selection so large in fact, that it has a higher concentration of wildlife than anywhere else in South America. Yes, even higher than the Amazon.
What Animals Can I See on a Pantanal Brazil Tour?
With such a big biodiversity, the Pantanal is a paradise for everyone from birdwatchers to herpers, and big cat lovers, There are several small and large ecosystems within the Pantanal that create one large harmonious ecosystem across the wetlands. While some are more populated with birds scanning the grasslands and reptiles hiding within them, others are optimal for big mammals like the marsh deer and lowland tapir. And of course, where there’s water, there are weird and wonderful amphibians too. However, there is one creature in particular that people like to keep their eyes peeled for — the Pantanal jaguar. Here’s a list of the main animals you can expect to see on a Pantanal Brazil tour.
Birds: hyacinth macaws, crested caracara, yellow-headed vulture, kingfisher, cardinal, heron, manakins, rufous-tailed jacamar
Mammals: jaguar, deer, tapir, anteater, capybara, howler monkey, capuchin, ocelot, giant otter, southern tamandua, maned wolf
Reptiles: caiman, iguana, anaconda, boa constrictor, cobra, coral snake
Amphibians and fish: chaco tree frog, veined tree frog, pepper frog, orange-legged leaf frog, horn frog, South American toad, piranha, dorado, pintado, pacu
What Can I Expect to Do on a Pantanal Brazil Tour?
In order to see, experience, and immerse in the Pantanal wetlands and its ecosystem, you’ll need to join guided tours. Not only is this important for the protection and conservation of the region’s biosphere, but it’s also crucial for your own health and safety. There are two ways to arrange Pantanal Brazil tours:
- On an individual pick ‘n’ mix basis alongside your hotel stay
- As a multi-day tour that includes a variety of activities, locations, and accommodations
Here are some of the activities you can expect to experience when you visit the Pantanal:
Jeep Photo Safari
Board a 4WD with a small and intimate group led by a wildlife expert to spot and photograph some of the Pantanal’s most famous wild residents. With the skill and expertise of your guide, you’ll be likely to spot even the most camera-shy animals like the jaguar.
Canoeing Through the Floodplains
In an ode to the locals that have navigated the Pantanal by canoe for centuries, you’ll hop in your own to explore the rivers and floodplains. While there is always a chance of spotting the Pantanal’s array of snakes, frogs, and lizards, the goal of this activity is to simply enjoy the views.
Caiman is one of the most populous animals found in the Pantanal, although you might not believe it at first glance. It often takes an expert eye to spot caiman and caiman-spotting tours give you the best chance to observe this menacing yet often misunderstood creature.
Nocturnal Night Safari
The Pantanal transforms into a different world at night as the nocturnal animals step out of hiding. No visit to the Pantanal is complete without embarking on a night safari to see, hear, and feel the presence of things coming to life after darkness descends.
Horse Riding through the Marshes
Horse riding in the Pantanal is likely to go above and beyond any horse ride you’ve ever had before. The Pantanal horses will take you through the forests, grasslands, and even through the flood plains and marshes for a truly immersive experience of the wetlands.
Discover the mighty strength of these infamously sharp-toothed fish as they take the bait of your fishing line. Of course, there are no hooks used that could injure the piranhas and they are released straight back into the water after being caught.
Boating along the rivers
A boating excursion allows for a more relaxed, slow-paced experience of the Pantanal wetlands, giving you time and space to soak up the scenery, do some wildlife spotting, and take a few moments to appreciate where you are in the world.
Hiking through the grasslands
Those up for an on-foot adventure can lace up their walking boots and head through the grasslands, forests, and shallow marshes on a nature hike through the Pantanal. Of course, your accompanying guide will be on the lookout for cool wildlife along the way.
Bonito is considered one of the main tourist hubs of the Pantanal since it’s often used as a base or starting point for people exploring the wetlands. The small city surrounded by floodplains and marshes is known for its waterfalls, caves, and crystal-clear waters which are excellent for snorkeling.
Conserving the Pantanal
As the most biodiverse place on earth, the protection and conservation of the Pantanal and its flora and fauna is of high importance. There are several areas including national parks and private reserves that strive to ensure the ecosystem continues to thrive for centuries to come. Naturally, the wetlands are so vast and largely inaccessible that protection and conservation are not yet enforced in all areas.
Tourism in rich natural environments such as the Pantanal wetlands has to be taken with extreme precaution and sensitivity. Being part of the damage and destruction of an ecosystem you’ve traveled to enjoy for its beauty is something we all want to avoid as tourists. Fortunately, many of the Pantanal’s tourism businesses are committed to ecotourism and allowing tourists to see the wondrous wetlands without leaving a footprint. The most responsible way for you to ensure you’re choosing Pantanal hotels and tours committed to ecotourism, it’s best to book your trip through a trusted and eco-committed travel agency like Totally Latin America.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Pantanal?
The Pantanal wetlands are dictated by wet and dry seasons. The wet season stretches between November and April, peaking in December, January, and February. The dry season stretches between May and October, peaking in June, July, and August. While wildlife is generally more abundant in the wet season, the best time to visit the Pantanal is generally considered to be the dry season when the water levels are lower giving you much more possibility to explore. This is when you’re more likely to see mammals like the tapir and jaguar too.
Many of the Pantanal tours and hotels are closed in the height of the wet season but they’re open during the shoulders seasons as well as the height of the dry season. Some of the best deals can be found in the shoulder seasons.
Temperatures remain at a steady 20-35 degree Celsius range year-round, so it’s not a necessary factor to consider when booking your trip.
Pair a Pantanal Brazil Tour with a Visit to the Iguacu Falls
The Pantanal wetlands are just a short journey away from one of Brazil’s other extraordinary natural spectacles — the Iguacu Falls. As the world’s biggest and most impressive waterfall, it is titled as one of the official 7 Wonders of the Natural World. Together, the two destinations make an unforgettable Brazilian itinerary. Start your trip in the Pantanal wetlands where you can embark on daily tours and adventures and then head to Iguacu Falls where you can witness the waterfall’s majesty and relax in one of Brazil’s most luxurious resorts like Hotel de Cataratas.
Book your Pantanal Brazil Tours and Itinerary
If you want to spot jaguars, canoe through floodplains, and hike through grasslands in the Pantanal, get in touch with Totally Latin America today by messaging us here or calling on +1 855 217 9045. We will arrange the very best Pantanal Brazil tours, hotels, and itineraries with both the environment and the utmost luxury in mind.