When traveling the world there are certain things that draw my curiosity. Uncharted, remote corners of the world in which explorers have yet to map out. Typically, these places tend to be deep jungles that span for thousands of miles and the Amazon Rainforest happens to be the largest of our worlds last frontier to explore. I have spent much time exploring different regions of the Amazon throughout Peru, Ecuador and Columbia but have never ventured into the marshland, Amazon region known as the Brazil Pantanal. It is a muggy, mosquito packed swamp with little to no infrastructure, but it is a region that is teeming with Jungle wildlife and the star of the show in the elusive Pantanal Jaguar! I spent a week in search of the Pantanal Jaguar, and this is my guide to the Pantanal in Brazil.
Getting to the Pantanal – Brazil
The Brazil Pantanal region is found in Brazil’s Southwest near the massive “Amazona” region. Campo Grande is the starting off point the Southern Pantanal which most people end up in. It’s a small, interesting city with enough accommodation and food to keep a traveler suffice for a few days. From Sao Paolo there are direct flights which will take you to Campo Grande. Further from Campo Grande you must call an agency to get into the thick of the marshlands as there is no transport or accommodation options once you reach the true Pantanal.
I simply used a search engine for my flight to Campo Grande and then had Gil from Gil’s Pantanal Discovery arrange me a budget trip to the Pantanal Marshlands to search for the Pantanal Jaguar. The drive from Campo Grande to the heart of the Pantanal takes anywhere from four to eight hours, so prepare yourself for a long drive!
Pantanal Wildlife Guide
The majority of the Brazil Pantanal is flat and somewhat featureless. It is beautiful in its own way, but with saying that the real reason most come to this region of the Amazon is it has the largest and densest wildlife population out of anywhere in the Amazon let alone South America.
The first activity Gil took me on after arriving to the Pantanal was zig zagging down one of the snake like rivers in a traditional dugout canoe. Within minutes of leaving the dock we were spotting toucans, sloths, giant river otters and colourful macaw parrots. Unfortunately, no Pantanal Jaguars.
Listen, I have traveled the Amazon Jungle extensively. Every so often after hiking through sweaty dense rainforest I have seen the odd toucan or macaw, but never have I ever seen so many of these rare birds in one area! In the span of only a few hours, Brazil’s Pantanal has exceeded my expectation in wildlife spotting.
Staying on a Pantanal Cowboy Ranch
Leaving the Pantanal River systems behind us we drove the bumpy, dusty roads to where we will call home over the next week. Although the Pantanal is famous for wildlife, it is also well known for its Ranches and Brazilian Cowboys.
I come from Alberta, Canada which is also known for cowboys, but our cowboys do not carry around revolver handguns to protect themselves from Pantanal Jaguars!
Brazil’s Pantanal is famed for cattle ranching, these same ranches which seemed to be stuck back in time are now the places in which travelers such as myself stay while exploring the areas.
Staying on the ranch I experienced much of this little-known Brazilian cowboy culture. During the day we rode horse to many watering holes where Capybara line the shores and crocodiles fill the water. At night we would BBQ meat and be told stories of the Pantanal jaguar attacking cowboys staggering home drunk from the bar at night! It was an experience I did not realize I was going to have, but glad I had!
Searching for the Pantanal Jaguar
This was the goal for my expedition to the Pantanal. Searching for the Pantanal Jaguar is why most take a Pantanal Tour. It quickly became an obsession at the ranch for who could find a jaguar first!
We clambered through the jungles on foot to different watering holes. There we found Jaguar footprints and the bones of their victims. On horseback we were able to cover more ground, but because of the summer heat the Jaguars were most likely to be hiding in the forests.
For this reason, we spent most of the time on dugout canoes in the Pantanal Rivers, Walking the trails through the forests and interviewing farmers who had recently seen Jaguars on their ranches. Now, I know what your thinking “I saw Pantanal Jaguars on Instagram”. Double check where those photos were taken as much of the fake ass instagrammers go to resorts that bait the Jaguars to come.
I on the other hand wanted to find one just like explorers had before me. After a week of exploring, I had given up, sitting in my pity along the river I thought back of the Anaconda I saw eating a chicken, the baby sloth crawling up to its mother, the lakes filled to the brim with crocodile, the toucans, macaws and of course the hordes of capybara. It had been an incredible week and I had seen wildlife worth of National Geographic.
“Look there!” My guide yelled just as a jaguar pounced onto a baby crocodile killing it and dragging the corpse quickly into the jungle…. I have no photo evidence of course, but hey, its not about what you think, its about the fact I just had one of the most memorable experiences in Brazil’s Pantanal Region!
With the Pantanal becoming more well known, wildlife is becoming harder to find due to more tourists visiting the area. Luckily, there is hope if you are willing to “rough it” a bit. Gil at Pantanal Discovery is all about authenticity, he has his guests stay on a real working Brazilian Ranch, only takes small groups, and immerses you deep into uncharted Pantanal jungle territory. His tours are how all should experience the Pantanal and if it’s the Pantanal Jaguar your looking for, he can find that as well, unbated of course!