The world’s largest freshwater wetland, Brazil’s Pantanal occupies the size of Great Britain. Most of the land is uninhabited, with around half of it taken up with cattle ranches.
A wildlife lover’s dream, the Pantanal is inhabited by thousands of different species of exotic plants and animals. There are monkeys, marmosets, anteaters, anacondas, giant otters, caiman, puma and more than 650 species of bird.
Remote and sometimes inaccessible due to heavy rainfall, logistics are challenging. With few tarmac roads, most exploring must be done on horseback or by canoe.
Saddle up with the Pantanal cowboys, campeiros, herd cattle and perfect your lassoing technique. Or head out on foot or by boat to look for anacondas, exotic birdlife and, perhaps, an elusive jaguar.
Where to stay in the Pantanal
Barra Mansa is a traditional working lodge. Still in the same landowning family since the 19th century, guides are experts on the Pantanal’s ecosystems.
Next to the Negro River, Barra Mansa is one of the most well-preserved parts of the Pantanal.
There are saltwater lakes, streams, flood plains and two large swamps that border the river.
With a stable of horses suitable for all levels, keen riders can embark on longer journeys, staying overnight in purpose-built camps.
Local multilingual guides lead hikes through the cordillera (ridges) flood plains and savannah, to spot capybara, coatis deer, peccaries and anteaters.
Arrive by a private charter, with spectacular views of the Pantanal. During the dry season (May through November) guests may travel by 4×4 vehicle.
With just six rooms, Barranco Alto is a small eco-lodge situated at the heart of 27,000 acres of land.
Explore the expansive farmlands on horseback. Herd cattle and discover the traditions and cultures of the campeiros.
Discover the ecosystem of the Negro River. Rise early and catch otters fishing for their next meal. Admire brilliantly coloured macaws swooping from the treetops.
Accessible only by plane in the wetter summer months (November through June), during the dry season Barranco Alto is a six-hour off-road drive from Campo Grande airport.
Araras Pantanal Eco Lodge
Araras Pantanal Eco Lodge is a small sustainable property with simple but comfortable rooms.
Accessible throughout the year, guests may stay during both the wet and dry season.
Specialising in bird-watching, head out with specialist guides and spot several of the 650 different species of exotic bird.
Some 130 kms south of Cuiaba, the property is easily accessible by private vehicle.
Caiman Ecological Refuge
One of the more accessible Pantanal lodges, Caiman Ecological Refuge is four hours by road from the nearest airport.
Founded in 1912 as a traditional cattle ranch, Caiman was originally the property of English investors. 11 rooms are split between two pousadas, Baiazinga and Cordilheira. Knowledgeable cowboys and guides roam the 131,000-acre ranch and are excellent at spotting rare wildlife.
Caimans, South American crocodiles, float below walkways, disguised as drifting logs. A herd of around 28,000 cattle roam the grasslands.
Fish for giant dorados while tapir and capybaras roam.