The Pantanal

There are few places left in this world where it is possible to see a natural environment teeming with wildlife everywhere you look. The Pantanal in Brazil is one of those amazing places. We first got the idea to visit the Pantanal over a year ago when we were looking through an adventure travel book, which suggested that the Pantanal was a must-see destination for wildlife watching. When we planned our trip to South America, a visit to these wetlands was high on the list of priorities.

We arrived in Cuiabá without much of a plan. We had done some research on the internet and sent a few emails, to which we had no response, so we decided to just organise it when we got there. That was a little harder than expected, as the tour companies were not easily accessible, so we went with a tour organised through the hostel where we were staying. That turned out to be a good option! The four day trip was arranged just for the two of us, with a funny, friendly, English-speaking Brazilian biologist who had worked for over twenty years as a guide in the Pantanal. Our guide, Mr Santos, knew exactly where to look to see all the different birds and animals, and made the whole experience so much more rewarding!

We left Cuiabá early on the first day, stopping for breakfast, petrol and in the last town on the road before we hit the Transpantaneira Highway. This is not so much of a highway as it is a national park. It doesnt go anywhere, it is just a dirt road that stretches through the wetlands, with no where to go but back to Cuiaba. As such, it is an amazing place to see wildlife, because it goes directly through their natural habitats and many animals use it to cross from one side to another.

The whole place is a wildlife photographer's dream. It took us hours to drive a short distance because every few minutes we would stop to take photographs of the abundance of birds flying around us: parrots, macaws, toucans, storks, herrons, egrits, kingfishers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, water birds, birds of prey…the list goes on. In addition to the birds, there were caimans everywhere. As an Australian, I have an inbuilt fear of crocodiles, and it took me awhile to feel comfortable being a few steps away from so many predators. Apparently they are not interested in humans though, and they didn't take much notice of us at all.

We spent two nights at a lodge near a river, and a third on a huge farm. It was great having the two different locations from which to explore, as there are so many different habitats close to each other. We arrived at the end of the wet season, so there was still a lot of water around. Many mammals were hiding or stuck on dry “islands” until the water recedes, so we weren't expecting to see many. The jaguars and pumas are elusive, but we did see ocelot tracks, so there were some cats around. We did end up seeing howler monkeys and silvery marmoset monkeys, loads of capybaras (which are the world's biggest rodent), a few peccary (wild pigs), marsh deer, red brocket deer, agouti and acouchy (smaller rodents) as well as a huge family group of coati (which look a bit like a small bear, but are similar to raccoons). We also saw a few rare animals: a tayra (giant land otter), caiman lizard, tamandua (anteater), crab-eating foxes, and Mark saw the flash of a Brazilian tapir, trying to hide from us.

The early starts were hard, but as a result we saw so many things we would not have otherwise known to look for. We went on one early morning horseride, as well as an evening ride through the grasslands and forest. There was still a significant amount of water around, which meant we had to ride a horse or go by boat to see most things. Suits me fine! One afternoon, we went out on a boat through the marsh and on to a river, where we saw many more birds and some tiny bats. A huge viewing platform was built on top of a tree, where we watched the sunset over the Pantanal and made our way back through the water-laden hiking trails by boat, under the watchful glare of caimans and the twinkle of fire flies.

Overall, it was a great adventure! I took so many photos, it is impossible to put them all here so I have picked out a few and put them in separate blog posts below to make it easier to follow. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Saskia

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