Pantanal travel guide. Amazing jungle experience

Pantanal travel guide
Feeding piranhas to caimans. Pantanal travel guide

Most people coming to Brazil want to visit the Amazon region to see exotic animals like anaconda, crocodiles, jaguars, piranhas, all sort of monkeys and tropical birds. Biodiversity of the Amazon forest is incredible with huge numbers of different animals and plants but it’s not the best place for animal watching. The main reason is that the jungle itself it’s too dense and the area is huge to penetrate deep into it and spotting animals becomes a very difficult task. On contrary the Pantanal which means wetland area doesn’t have dense jungle so it’s not that easy for animals to hide and not that difficult for us to spot them. We hope our Pantanal travel guide will help you to plan your trip.

Exploring Pantanal you can start from one of the gateway cities Campo Grande or Cuimba both are located in the area. It’s considered that going from Cuimba you have a better chance to spot a jaguar. I did a tour from Campo Grande where I flew from Sao Paulo and we didn’t see any jaguars but did see many animals and birds.

Campo Grande is quite a big city all tourists come here to do a Pantanal tour, the city itself is nothing special. The most interesting thing in the city is a big park with lots of capybaras walking around.

You can do a two/three/four/five days tour to the Pantanal the longer you stay the more activities you do, the more animals you can see and the more mosquito bites you get. I did a three days tour and could stay one or two days longer and go deeper into the forest to try to spot some rare seen animals, e.g. anaconda, jaguar.

Capybaras at Campo Grande Central park. Pantanal travel guide
Capybaras at Campo Grande Central park. Pantanal travel guide

Three day Pantanal itinerary. Pantanal travel guide

1st day

We arrived at our camping place about lunch time after three hours driving mostly off-road. That day we didn’t do much the main activities were jungle walk and night caiman watching. During the day walk we saw many capybaras, caimans and birds.

For the night safari we left just after dark and after about 30 min drive arrived to a lake. Trying to make as little noise as possible we approached the water with torches on. There were hundreds of lights I first thought it was a far away city BUT in fact there were hundreds of caimans in the water on the opposite shore! Their eyes are reflect light at night like cats’. There were some caimans nearby but they moved every time we came closer. We had some time to observe them and after that we went back to our camp. Don’t forget to check the night sky it looks amazing!

Hundreds of caimans during night safari in Pantanal. Pantanal travel guide
Hundreds of caimans during night safari in Pantanal. Pantanal travel guide

2nd day

Early wake-up you breakfast and get ready for a full day adventure! That day we had quite an intense itinerary. First a drive in our jeep a bit off-road to get to a horse stables. Though the engine noise scares animals we were lucky to see a giant otter that caught a small caiman. As well we spotted toucans and many monkeys.

Next we did a horseback riding through the meadows and bush it took about 1,5-2 hours we didn’t see much wild life but the walk itself was nice.

Horse riding in Pantanal. Pantanal travle guide
Horse riding in Pantanal. Pantanal travel guide

Next was a boat trip we tried to spot anaconda but weren’t lucky enough and saw only local women washing dishes waist deep in the water. And we caught some fish actually fish jumped in the boat destructed by the boat engine.

Traditional dishwashing in Pantanal, nevermind there are piranhas and caimans in the river.
Traditional dishwashing in Pantanal, never mind there are piranhas and caimans in the river.

In the afternoon we came back to our camp and after lunch went for piranha fishing in the nearby river. It was fun! We used row chicken meat as a bite and did catch some piranhas and even fed them to caimans. The rest was used to make fish soup. Other group’s piranhas were fried and tasted like any river fish but were too bony. The only one bad thing about fishing is the amount of mosquitoes at the river, they eat you alive and was sent back to the camp after 30 min.

I caught my first piranha, to be honest the first fish in my life. Pantanal travel guide.
I caught my first piranha, to be honest the first fish in my life. Pantanal travel guide.

3rd day

Again early wake-up, breakfast and jungle walk to spot more capybaras, toucans, monkeys and macaws. We did see all of them. Then back to the camp, pack our stuff and drive to the city. When we arrived three hours later we were quite exhausted, tired and covered in mosquito bites.

A typical day in Pantanal; fishing, walking, driving and eating
A typical day in Pantanal; fishing, walking, driving and eating

Prices for 3 days/2 nights tour start from BRL 450/$130 camping or hammock and from BRL 550/$160 per person for dorm. Prices include accommodation, food, guided tours and transfer to Pantanal. For transfer back you’ll pay additionla depending on where you want to go next.

Accommodation in the Pantanal

We stayed in a “house” just a roof and thin walls half planks half mosquito nets. There are no beds inside only hammocks where you sleep. It was the first time I slept in a hammock and I found it quite comfortable except the mosquito fact and the cold. It’s nice to have a mosquito net and a sleeping bag or warm clothes.

There were a toilet and a cold water shower with many insects inside so be ready to share it with spiders, moths, mosquitoes etc.

One more building was a kitchen/dining room with tables and benches. Here as well you can meet a wild life e.g. we spotted a tarantula in the kitchen corner. All food and drinks were included in the tour price, the food was good and enough for everybody. Tip, take some snacks or chocolates with you it’s possible to buy something there but of course for more expensive.

Our camp in Pantanal; canteen on the right and hammock house on the left
Our camp in Pantanal; canteen on the right and hammock house on the left

What kind of animals can you see in the Pantanal?

For sure you can see many caimans and capybaras as well as giant otters, marsh deer, tapirs, giant anteater, black-tailed marmosets, Capuchin monkeys and black howler monkeys. Birds are quite easy to spot there as well we saw toucans, hyacinth macaws, many different parrots, eagles, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, birds of prey, storks, herons, owls etc. 

What for jaguar or anaconda nobody will guarantee it but if you are there in a right season and very lucky you have a better chance to see them than in the Amazon. Of course piranhas and not just see but try them fried or in soup if you go for piranha fishing.

Spotted several couples of hyacinth macaws during our jungle trek.
Spotted several couples of hyacinth macaws during our jungle trek.

The best time to visit the Pantanal

The best time is the dry season from May to September easy access to even the most remote Pantanal areas. There are less mosquitoes during the dry season as well. Your chances to spot a jaguar are very high from June to August in the peak of the dry season. The rainy season is from October to April with its peak from February to March when the most of the territory is under water and it’s almost impossible to move around. The rainy season is as well the peak time for mosquitoes so not the best time to visit the Pantanal.

I was in Pantanal in January and it rained from time to time but didn’t bother us too much. Our real problem were mosquitoes we couldn’t do anything about it they were everywhere and repellents didn’t really help.

Rainy season can make driving through almost impossible. Pantanal travel guide
Rainy season can make driving through almost impossible. Pantanal travel guide

What will you need for the Pantanal?

Mosquito repellent is a must have. Long pants and long sleeve shirt for mosquitoes as well. Mosquito net for hammock will be very helpful at night. Sun screen, cap, sleeping bag for the night it gets quite chilly. Trekking shoes or trainers for walking in the jungle. Raincoat or water prove jacket it can rain really hard. Torch or head lamp.

Caimans are everywhere in Pantanal.
Caimans are everywhere in Pantanal.

How to get to the Pantanal?

First you have to get to Campo Grande or Cuiaba both have airports with direct flights from other Brazilian cities. For example a flight from Sao Paulo will cost about US$60-65, from Rio $100. You can get to Campo Grande from Foz do Iguazu by overnight bus, the journey takes about 10-12 hours. Tip, when use night buses in Brazil take warm clothes or sleeping bag it’s freezing inside. Cuiaba is a bit further away so a bus journey will be longer and probably will cost the same as flight.

From both cities you go by jeep or van deeper into the Pantanal region where you have chances to see animals.

Except for wild animals we saw many cows around.
Except for wild animals we saw many cows around.

Where to stay in Campo Grande?

I stayed at Hostel Campo Grande hostel and tour agency if you stay here or do a tour they pick you up for free from the airport and the bus terminal. I arranged everything over e-mail and they picked me up at the airport and booked a tour. The place is nice and clean, has hot shower which was great after three days in the jungle AC, wi-fi. Breakfast (fruit, butter, jam, toasts, tea, coffee) is included in the price. Prices BRL 70/US$20 for single and BRL 100/$30 for double with fan.

Planning a trip to South America? Check our South America travel budget article!

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