Who would expect that one of the world’s largest wetlands would be situated thousands of miles away from the coast, virtually in the middle of a continent? Known for its incredible biodiversity and stunning sunsets, the Pantanal—a UNESCO World Heritage Site which sprawls over almost 75,000 sq mi of territory in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay—is an immense floodplain ecosystem of lush plant life and a dizzying array of animal species: jaguars, caimans, anacondas, anteaters, iguanas, wolves, macaws, otters, and yes, mosquitoes.
In fact, whereas in the Amazon, the animals have the dense rainforest in which to hide from curious visitors, the animals of the Pantanal are easy to spot amongst the tall grasses and flat floodplain. Visitors can stay at one of the various pousadas (rustic inns) or fazendas (ranches) that dot the region, accessible by the Transpantaneira highway, which is really a long dirt and gravel road that’s often impassable during the rainy season. In fact, touring the region can be problematic during the wet season, from November to March. The dry seasons (April and May, then September and October) are the best times to go, when wildlife spotting is easiest.
Due to the sheer vastness of the Pantanal and its remote location, independent travel to the region is discouraged. Flights from Brazil’s major cities connect visitors with the gateways to the Pantanal, Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso state, and Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul state. As public transportation is virtually non-existent, several tour companies in these cities offer packaged Pantanal tours ranging in physical difficulty from a little light walking to full-on trekking and featuring campsites and hot meals along with horseback riding, birdwatching, fishing trips, and caiman-spotting. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people have tainted the reputation of organized Pantanal tours, despite their absolute necessity, therefore always make sure to get all agreements in writing and never pay the entire package fee up-front, saving the remainder as a bargaining chip should the situation not prove satisfactory.
Lastly, know that deforestation, farming, mining, and increased tourism are all negatively impacting the Pantanal and it’s important to be cognizant of the challenges the region faces and how you can have an amazing experience with minimal environmental impact.
-Ernest White II