Brazil 2012 – Pantanal & Amazon

The largest country in South America, Brazil has the greatest biodiversity of any nation on Earth.  Its wilderness areas encompass both the gigantic Pantanal wetland (almost ten times the size of the Florida everglades), as well as 60% of the Amazon rainforest (which is home to more than one-third of all species on earth).  As a result, Brazil is home to a huge variety of spectacular wildlife, including such mega-fauna as jaguar, giant otter, giant anteater and Brazilian tapir, as well as more than 1600 species of birds.

The Pantanal stretches across the Brazilian border into Bolivia and Paraguay, but 80% is located in Brazil.  The vast wetland is bisected by the Cuiabá River and this, together with the varied topographies, mean that both the southern and northern parts of the Pantanal have much to offer the wildlife-watcher, with different habitats and different wildlife.  This is why we spend time in both sections, looking for everything that the Pantanal has to offer.  From the Pantanal we fly northwards into the Amazon basin, and to the remote Cristalino Jungle Lodge.  The Lodge is set in its own 46 square mile private reserve, bordering the 450,000 acre Cristalino State Park.

This itinerary offers a wildlife-watching bonanza.  Focussing on the best wildlife-viewing areas in the Pantanal on our quest to spot a jaguar, as well as the many other mammals, birds and reptiles that live there, and ending in one of the most spectacular parts of the Amazon at Cristalino Jungle Lodge.

Day 1;                                    September 30th

On arrival in Sao Paulo we transfer onto our domestic flight to Campo Grande, gateway to the southern Pantanal.  From here we drive into the southern Pantanal looking for our first wildlife.  On arrival we settle into our comfortable lodge before heading out for our first night drive.

Days 2 & 3;                           October 1st & 2nd 

The Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland, a seasonally flooded plain fed by the tributaries of the Paraguay River.  These floods have created a hugely productive aquatic ecosystem, home to more than 260 species of fish, which in turn attract large numbers of birds and mammals.  As well as being a wildlife paradise, the Pantanal is home to vast cattle ranches.  Cattle live alongside jaguars, not always in harmony, but tourism is helping to persuade ranchers that jaguars are worth more alive than dead.  We spend two full days in the southern Pantanal, exploring the tracks and rivers by game-viewing vehicle and boat, looking for giant anteater, giant otter, capybara (the world’s largest rodent), marsh deer, Brazilian tapir and, of course, the elusive jaguar, as well as Yacaré caiman, yellow anaconda, and a huge number of birds, including the rare and range-restricted hyacinth macaw.  As well as taking excursions in the early mornings and afternoons, we also go spotlighting on the vehicle at night, looking for the eye-shine of jaguar, ocelot or common potoo.

Day 4;                                    October 3rd     

Today we leave the southern Pantanal to journey to the northern Pantanal.  No roads connect the northern and southern portions of the wetland, and so to explore both parts we have to fly from the southern city of Campo Grande to the northern city of Cuiabá, and enter the northern Pantanal via the Transpantaneira, a raised dirt road that links the cattle ranches with the outside world, and which also gives us a great vantage from which to look for wildlife.  This section of the road is great for spotting ocelot, crab-eating fox and crab-eating raccoon.

Day 5;                                    October 4th  

We spend our time here exploring by boat and in our game-viewing vehicle, including spot-lighting at night looking for a variety of wildlife, such as Brazilian tapir.  Early this morning we take a boat cruise on the Pixaim River looking for giant otters: at over six feet long the largest otter on Earth.  The river is also a wonderful place to look for water-birds, among them sungrebe, sunbittern, and several species of herons and storks, including the New World’s largest, the mighty jabiru stork.

Day 6;                                    October 5th     

This morning we continue our drive southwards on the Transpantaneira, looking for and photographing wildlife along the way.  The drive takes us through beautiful marshlands where we hope to see the uncommon marsh deer.  After a few hours we reach the end of the road, at the Cuiabá River, where we find our comfortable lodge.  The lodge is set in beautiful grounds on the edge of the river, including a large wetland which is home to the world’s largest waterlily, Victoria amazonica.  The gardens are also frequented by hyacinth macaws which make their home there. 

Days 7 & 8;                          October 6th & 7th  

The Cuiabá River and its tributaries offer one of the best chances for us to see jaguar, with regular sightings being made along the riverbanks.  To maximise our chances of spotting this elusive beast we have two full days here, with plenty of time spent cruising on the rivers.  In addition to jaguar, we also look for a variety of other wildlife, including giant otter and Brazilian tapir.

Days 9 & 10;                                    October 8th & 9th   

This morning we drive north on the Transpantaneira, to a beautiful and characterful lodge near the northern boundary of the Pantanal.  The gardens and forest around the lodge are home to many species of wildlife, including Azara’s agouti, black-and-gold howler monkey and Pantanal marmoset.  There is also a canopy tower which gives spectacular views over the surrounding area, as well as providing a wonderful vantage for viewing wildlife in the nearby marshes.  Night drives are also very productive in this area, and we will make the most of our time as we look for ocelot and crab-eating raccoon. 

Day 11;                                  October 10th    

After breakfast we bid this amazing National Park farewell, and drive north to the city of Cuiabá for our flight into the Amazon.  Landing in the jungle town of Alta Floresta we then transfer by vehicle and boat to our home for the next four nights.

Days 12, 13 & 14;                October 11th, 12th & 13th   

We have three full days to explore the forest and rivers around Cristalino Jungle Lodge.  The lodge is set at the meeting point of a white-water and black-water river which add to the variety of different habitats in the area, and the different wildlife we can find.  During our time here we explore on foot and by boat, looking for red howler, brown capuchin and white-whiskered spider monkeys, giant otter, and some of the more than 600 species of birds, including the rare harpy eagle, hoatzin, scarlet macaw and Amazonian umbrella-bird.  There is also a 160 foot high observation tower which gives us a bird’s-eye view of the forest canopy, and the opportunity for up-close encounters with birds and monkeys. 

Day 15;                                  October 14th   

We bid a sad farewell to our lodge and transfer back to the town of Alta Floresta where we settle into our comfortable hotel.  The hotel is set on the edge of 235 hectares of primary forest which offers a haven for 360 species of birds, including crimson-bellied parakeet, cinnamon-throated woodcreeper and chestnut-tailed antbird, and even the majestic harpy eagle has been known to nest in the grounds.

Day 16;                                  October 15th

This morning we spend time exploring the forest around the hotel for some last-minute birding before flying back to Sao Paulo, via Cuiabá, and transfer to our international flights home.

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