Pantanal South Info and Miniguide
The Pantanal is the world’s largest area of wetlands, a flat landscape, with gently sloping and meandering rivers. The region, whose name derives from the Portuguese word “pântano” (meaning “swamp” or “marsh”). In total, the Pantanal covers about 195,000 square kilometers (75,000 sq mi). The Pantanal floods during the wet season, submerging over 80% of the area, and nurturing the world's richest collection of aquatic plants. It is thought to be the world’s most dense flora and fauna ecosystem. It is often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest, partly because of its proximity, but is just as vital and interesting. The ecosystem is home to a known 3,500 species of plants, as well as over 1000 birds, 400 species of fish, around 300 species of mammals, and 480 species of reptiles, including the caiman, a species closely related to the alligator, of which there are an estimated 10 million. The Pantanal is a natural home for the Hyacinth Macaw. Other threatened species abundant in the Pantanal include the Jaguar, Caiman, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, Giant Otter, Giant Armadillo, Capybara, Jabiru and Brazilian Tapir. Because of the enourmous size of the Pantanal area, we divided it into two sub-areas named "Pantanal North: with its center in the city of Cuiaba, and the "Pantanal South", best reached through the city of Campo Grande, gateway to the famous Cayman Eco resort as well as to the city of Bonito, known for its lagoons and clear water cave diving.
Read More about Pantanal South
Often called the jewel of the wetlands, the Pantanal is an immense wilderness region of marshes and swamps in Brazil well known for its amazing wildlife. The major part of the area is in the states of Mato Grasso do Sul and Mato Grasso. It has been a well kept secret only discovered by movie makers and authors. Its ecological landscape includes river corridors, perennial and seasonal wetlands, lakes and gallery forests.
Flora and Fauna of the Region
The wetlands created because of the flooding of the river Paraguai support an amazing array of wildlife. The region is just bursting with animals; it is home to more than 700 bird species, 100 species of mammals, over 250 fish species and 70 reptile species. Among the animals found here are the marsh deer, giant otter, the endangered jaguar, jabirus stork, hyacinth macaws which are a kind of parrot in risk of extinction, over 25 species of parrots, caymans etc. It is a sanctuary for bird lovers and is the most important breeding spot for specimen wetland birds. They thrive in the endless network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and marshes. It supports nearly 3000 plant specimen.
It would be ideal to plan a trip during the dry season between May to September/October. July to September is the best time to view the birds, when the waters have totally receded and they can be spotted in large numbers. Rainfall is heaviest during February and March. Incessant rains, floods and heat make traveling a difficult proposition during the wet season from November to March. Some areas get entirely flooded for months together. September and October are the driest months and are excellent for viewing jaguars. November and December can be quite hot with temperatures peaking to 40 C with many lodges shutting down during this period. Fishing enthusiasts should come during February to October when the government encourages the activity.
If you are coming from abroad, you need to note that there are no direct flights to Pantanal or the nearby cities. You have to arrive at Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and take a flight to either of the three gateway cities of Cuiaba connecting to the Transpantaneira Highway, Corumba standing on a cliff overlooking the Pantanal and providing access to hotels in the southwest of the region or Campo Grande. There are direct flights from Brasilia to Cuiaba and Campo Grande. TAM is the sole major Brazilian airline connecting Corumba to Sao Paulo and Campo Grande. It is much cheaper and easier to plan your visit through a tour operator who will arrange transfers, help out with flights and arrange your stay.
Getting Around Pantanal South
Lodges are the sole places where you can eat, sleep and drink and since public transportation is extremely limited, independent traveling can become difficult. Driving is no easy task and very few roads reach into the interiors of the Pantanal and these too are frequently closed down due to rain. Only the Estrada Parque and the Transpantaneira in Mato Grosso go deep in the area. The options you have are hiking (not safe), going with a tour operator or having the lodge arrange for transport.
South Pantanal is the home of the town of Campo Grande, Rio Verde de Mato Grosso, Coxim, Aquidauana, Corumba, Miranda and Bodoquena highlands. Bodoquena covers three interesting places namely Bonito (known for its crystal clear waters and caves), Jardim e Bodoquena (which has beautiful waterfalls) and Campo Grande (which offers plenty of restaurants and museums.) Rio Verde, situated 125 miles from Cuiaba is excellent for those who enjoy the thrills of radical sports such as white water rafting, rock climbing and is the right place to observe fauna living in harmony with nature. Coxim, situated 148 miles from Campo Grande, is known as water’s paradise because of its rejuvenating waterfalls.
Bonito is the main attraction of the region. The clear waters of the Sucuri River provide the perfect opportunity to observe the underwater fauna and flora. This small village is rapidly gaining a global reputation as a place to see thousands of freshwater fishes as you relaxingly float away on the Municipal Balneario. Gruta do Lago is yet another attraction of the region. It is a 300 feet deep cave, which was discovered by Indians of the Terena Tribe in 1924 and it ends in a 250 feet deep lake of crystal blue waters.
The local geology is such that the rivers have high concentrations of calcium carbonate that remove all impurities from the water, changing them into natural aquariums. As you float along the rivers, you will have close contact with various species of fish, including the beautiful Pacu and the great Dourado. The most outstanding attraction of Bonito is the Abyss of Anhumans which is a 72 meters deep abyss that leads to an underground lake with gigantic stalactite formations. It is indeed a surreal experience to see the diverse cave formations, some of which are over 10 meters high, inside and outside the waters.
The South Pantanal offers a great opportunity to closely observe the ecologically endangered flora and fauna species during photographic safari tours, spotting of nocturnal animals in a four wheel vehicle or a boat, and trail trekking in different landscapes.
Many of the area’s cattle ranches or fazendas have been transformed into lodges and staying here is the ideal way to get a native feel of the region and involves a number of activities like a canoe trip to spot wildlife such as the camain, bird spotting by foot or in an open vehicle and horseback rides through fields. Many lodges offer fishing expeditions and specialized bird watching outings. The farms have multifarious activities such as eco tourism, cattle ranching and fishing. At Fazenda Rio Negro you will learn some of the techniques used by researchers to study jaguars. At Fazenda San Francisco, spread over 14800 hectares near the mouth of the Miranda river, visitors can participate in the day to day activities of authentic farm life attuned to conserving the environment.
At Bonito, you can go snorkeling and scuba diving at the River Sucuri, River Rio da Prata and River Rio do Peixe. Visitors would love the combined attractions of a foot safari and snorkeling tour at the Ecological Park at Baia Bonita. You can see waterfalls at Boca Da Onca, Aquidabã and Parque das Cachoeiras and caves at Lagoa Azul, Cave of Sao Miguel and Hole of Macaws. If you like adventure, you can take a rafting tour on boats across Formosa River covering three waterfalls and 2 rapids and watch the monkeys, birds and snakes perched on high trees. Rappelling at the Abismo Anhumans is for the brave hearted and strong willed. Don’t miss the opportunity to try your hand at four wheel motor-biking on the off roads at Bonito.
Where to Stay and Tour Operators
There are no resorts or hotels in the region but the local lodges and fazendas are quite comfortable and take care of all your needs. There are some good operators who offer lodges and expeditions in South Pantanal. You will find excellent packages to a number of lodges, including the Araras Caiman Ecological Reserve, one of the pioneers of Pantanal ecotourism. With a little research you will find superb packages for Pantanal, Bonito and difficult-to-reach reserves such as Fazenda Rio Negro and the Fazenda Barranco Alto.
There are no great restaurants on the Pantanal, the food is usually taken care of by the lodge where you are put up. The Pousada Santa Teresa beats them all with its array of amazing dishes, fish, meat and buffets. Don’t miss out this opportunity of sampling the freshest local fare and the juiciest steaks made from the meat of ranch bred cattle.
Shopping at Pantanal South
It is a good opportunity to shop for some beautiful hand made wood handicrafts usually depicting animals of the Pantanal. You can find these at any of the tourist information desks. Don’t forget to bring along all your essential toiletries as they are in limited supply here. Please don’t purchase souvenirs made from the skin of endangered animals, which are sold illegally by traders. The jaguar, manned wolf, giant otter, capybara, armadillo, Brazilian tapir are included in the list of endangered species.
You will require more than one pair of shoes. Boots, hiking shoes and tennis shoes must be included in your gear. For the dry season you should carry light clothes and swimming costumes and also pack windbreak jackets and pullovers as the weather can get unexpectedly chilly due to the cold wind blowing. A good hat, sunglasses, sun block cream, insect repellant, photographic materials flashlight and binoculars are other essentials you should have with you.
A certain amount of discomfort is unavoidable when you are visiting the Brazilian tropics. While you don’t have to face risky adventures, you must remember that is a breeding ground for dangerous mosquitoes and insect repellant is absolutely necessary. It is also an area which is flooded often and tends to be muddy, slippery and marshy. Some trips are especially difficult and must be done on horseback or on special jeeps or trucks or by boat.
The Pantanal is a region for those who love nature ardently and who are ready to make sacrifices to experience the great wilderness in all its resplendence and glory.
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