North Pantanal Destination Guide
Though the Amazon often grabs the headlines and most of the tourists, the Pantanal offers all that you could possibly wish to see in a lifetime. There are plenty of things to see and do in the Pantanal, particularly for wildlife lovers. It's an experience that remains forever memorable. As the world's largest uninterrupted wetlands, the Pantanal is an unparalleled expanse of nature, with meandering rivers and vegetation bursting with life in all its splendour and colour. Though population is sparse, visitors will get to see a plethora of populous animals in Brazil such as anacondas, capybaras, caimans, giant otters, jaguars, kites, hawks, colourful hyacinth macaws, flocks of storks and herons.
Make the Pantanal National Park a stopover on your tourist program and be one with nature!
Take a look through our list of exciting things to see and do in our North Pantanal Destination Guide below. One of the best ways to experience the highlights is by taking a North Pantanal tour, which not only allows you to see the sights but also helps you meet the locals and learn about the history and culture of the region. For general information on travel to Brazil, see our Brazil country guide.
Things to See & Do in North Pantanal
A Pantanal tour into the wilderness starts from the lodges. Lodges in and around Pantanal Norte offer a variety of activities. A horseback trip through the fields, a boat trip to spot the caimans and birdwatching by foot or in an open vehicle are just some of the daytime expeditions on offer. Take a nighttime jaunt into the wilds - you could spot a jaguar in its natural domain.
The weather in the Pantanal is critical to the eco-system balance. The annual spells of floods and dry summers shape the land, which makes the Pantanal truly unique. As rivers recede and the heat takes over, many life forms thrive in the salty lagoons and the disappearing pools. The dense little islands amidst the wetlands become the playground for a variety of birds and animals. The lack of towering foliage also gives an unequalled view of the fauna at its abundant best. If you are lucky, you just might spot the rare Blue Macaw.
Cáceres is an important stop in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, on the banks of the Paraguay River. It is the host city for the Festival Internacional de Pesca (the International Fishing Festival) and has a carnival feel when tourists descend. But more commonly the man on the street calls his city Porta do Pantanal (door to the Pantanal). It is from here that you can begin to travel to the Pantanal. In contrast to the abundant wildlife that surrounds the city, the city boasts eye-catching historical architecture, most notably the Catholic Cathedral, which is located near the banks of the river.
When you have lots of inlets and waterways to contend with, canoeing is a great option. Catch the caimans up close and personal. Canoeing in the Pantanal allows you to quietly thread through the waters and watch the incredible population of birds in the Pantanal. In total harmony with nature, canoeing works out the stress of the city dweller.
Old cattle farms are being rejuvenated to offer packages grounded in ecotourism in the Pantanal. North Pantanal offers mega diversity and choices galore for the thrill-seeker. Horseback rides, boat trips, guided hikes, photographic safaris - visitors can have their pick. From ordinary days relaxing in nature to exotic activites like piranha fishing, there is something for everyone.
Many visitors make the long journey to the Pantanal to do one single activity: fishing. Fishing in the Pantanal is the chief attraction, drawing anglers from around the world. With numerous varieties of fish catalogued into 262 species, Pantanal Norte is an angler's adventure. Pintado catfish for the reeling challenge and dourados for the fight, as well as piranhas, curimbat, pacus and piraputanga, are just some of the top draws.
Say hello to the largest flying parrot in the world. The hyacinth macaw, an endangered bird, is one of the16 living species of macaws in the world. The size and the deep blue colour of the bird make it one of the most recognizable birds in Pantanal.
Being in the Pantanal is like being on your own ‘Animal Planet' show; it's not just the abundance but also the sheer variety of birds in Brazil that can be seen here. Even those who have never gone birdwatching before will reach for their binoculars. The region is pleasant and conducive to birdwatching due to the absence of dense foliage; spotting is as easy as watch and point. The Caiman Ecological Refuge is a good place to be if you want to learn more about the Blue Macaw Project. It affords a rare opportunity to watch this endangered bird from close quarters.
A shutterbug will feel trigger happy. The spectacular wildlife in the Pantanal will surely bring out the enthusiastic photographer in you.
The most well-known of Pantanal lodges, the main attraction here is the chance of a close encounter with a splendid array of wildlife like the caiman, anaconda, american rhea (three-toed ostrich), hyacinth macaw, capivara (river rodent), and deer. Savannah grasslands,cordilheira forests, marshes and a beautiful open fields with scattered patches of vegetation are the viewing grounds for white-lipped peccaries, bare-faced curassows, red-footed tortoises and many other animals in Brazil. Take a safari in North Pantanal to learn more about these animals in the wild. Nighttime safaris are an added plus. The refuge is also an interesting place to learn more about the day to day lives of the pantaneiros' (South American cowboys).
SESC's Private Natural Heritage Reserve (RPPN) ensures that the rich biodiversity of the Pantanal remains protected. The initiative not only brings one-third of the area under reserved protection, but also serves as a template for wildlife management. The practices focus on sustainable development of the rich flora and fauna through studies in agriculture, cattle-raising, aquiculture, biomedicine and wild fauna management. This ensures the survival of some of the most endangered species in South America and also provides for financial benefits.
The Pantanal National Park came into being in 1981, but it was not until 1993 that it was given the status of an Environmental Preservation Area - EPA. The starting point for the national park is in Pocone, 102 km from Cuiaba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso.
Today it is a World Biosphere Reserve with recognition from UNESCO. The acknowledgement has brought windfalls like direct government support and a policy aimed at sustainable development of the rich biodiversity of the region. The reserve headquarters stands on a plateau protected from the annual flooding. A visitor's centre and available boats make the area more accessible for tourists all year around.
Stringent rules like the presence of an accredited guide and prior authorization from Ibama - the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources - make it a bit of an expensive affair. It is possible to scope for a better deal. The port to embark on the trip by boat is at the Jofre port. Make sure your backpack contains generous amounts of insect repellent and sunscreen. Light clothing, water-proof boots, and a hat or cap are critical. Also pack some light snacks with fruits and water for the trip.
The park lacks infrastructure; therefore, lodging for the night is lacking. There are a number of Pantanal hotels in the vicinity, though. It's necessary to return on the same day. Some rules like prohibition of hiking, trailing and fishing or hunting are strictly enforced between the months of November and February. And do remember not to venture out for nocturnal alligator watching without a guide.
May to September is the best time of year to visit. This is when the waters begin to recede and it is easier to observe the fauna. When the rains come from October to February, you wouldn't want to brave the mosquitoes and the inhospitable Transpantaneira Highway!
A boat trip along the Paraguay river as it rambles from the north to the south of the wetlands will take you through the Pantanal. The Miranda, Aquidauna, Taquari and Cuiaba rivers flow into the Paraguay River. From October to April, a boat trip through the Pantanal reveals unspoilt lakes, inlets, bays and river branches, each holding a niche ecosystem of its own.
The Refúgio Ecológico Caiman is a must do, if only to see the pantaneiros (cowboys) at work. This is a working ranch and also the headquarters for important scientific research on flora and fauna in the Pantanal. One projects is the Hyacinth Macaw Project, which focuses on preservation of the endangered hyacinth macaw. The Jaguar Conservation Project, which covers an incredible 693,165 acres, tirelessly attempts to conserve the jaguar. The project involves local farmers in order to educate them on the importance of this endangered species.
Here, you can catch the beauty of the sunset. And you just might be astonished as the horizon erupts with hyacinth macaws, black-hooded parakeets and other wildlife. For this experience alone one is thankful that Refúgio Ecológico Caiman also has accommodation facilities. The centre also serves as a base camp for sojourns and tours in the Pantanal.
You might not call a 149 km stretch of dirt road with 126 bridges much of a highway. But the Transpantaneira is that and much more. Stretching from Pocone to Jofre Port along the Cuiaba River bank, it is one of the few tractable roads through the Pantanal and one of best ways to enjoy the wildlife while on the move. Leave early from Pocone to catch a glimpse of alligators, capybaras and birds. You can have lunch at one of the highway inns and return to Pocone by noon. May to October is the time when the road is at its hospitable best. The rains during November to April bring floods, and the road becomes impassable from the 65 km mark.
An excursion into the Pantanal wilderness would be incomplete without a glimpse at the indigenous species of crocodiles called the caiman. They are plentiful in these parts. Smaller than their crocodile cousins elsewhere, caimans are relatively non-aggressive. Watching them warming themselves in the morning sun is worth a few memorable moments.