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Brazil Wildlife: Jaguars of the Pantanal

11 days from £5299pp

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Brazil Wildlife: Jaguars of the Pantanal

11 days from £5299pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive Cuiabá. Transfer to hotel in Cuiabá in Brazil’s remote interior.
 

Transfer to hotel in Cuiabá, capital of the state of Mato Grosso. The city lies on the northern edge of the Pantanal and as such its airport is the major transit point for visitors to the region.

Pantanal storks

Day 2

Fly to Alta Floresta on the border with Amazonia, by road and boat to jungle lodge.
 
Fly from Cuiabá to the tiny airstrip at Alta Floresta (90mins). It’s a 1hr transfer by rutted red-earth road to the Cristalino river, then 30mins by boat. You drive first through Alta Floresta town – it’s a small sleepy place.  You soon realise how remote the region is: just isolated cattle farms and a few patches of forest here and there.

After 45 mins you reach the boundary of the Cristalino reserve and you are suddenly immersed in pristine rainforest. Depending on how much wildlife there is en route, it takes 15 mins to reach the Cristalino river bank: you may spot red and green macaws and morpho butterflies .You then travel by motor boat (30mins) upstream to the lodge. It’s a beautiful trip: the river is wide with jungle foliage reflected in the still waters. Typical birds to be spotted include macaw, green ibis, tiger heron and kingfishers. As it is late afternoon, this is the perfect time to spot wildlife and the boat transfer is operated by excellent (Portuguese-speaking) field guides.

Guests are assigned a group and an English-speaking group guide on the day of arrival. The max group size is 8 per guide. The same group guide looks after you from start to finish, and dines with the group in the evening (when briefings about the next day’s activities are given). The guides are all very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, usually biologists and each has his or her specialist field.

Alta Floresta

Days 3-5

Guided wildlife-spotting expeditions.
 
There is a serious emphasis upon spotting and identifying wildlife, especially birds. While nothing is guaranteed there is much wildlife to be seen here. This sets Cristalino apart from more mainstream jungle lodges. As no-one lives here there are no visits to ‘native villages’ and other gimmicks.

Dawn is the best time to spot wildlife, and floating downstream with the boat’s motor switched off is a magical experience. The early morning mist which rises off the river is lit by the dawn sunshine with the sounds of the awakening forest. Macaws screech overhead and if you are lucky you may see a neo-tropic otter poke its head out of the water.  As the reserve is uninhabited, there are no other boats or people about and you may feel like you have the jungle to yourself. Look out for caiman, brown capuchin monkeys, otters, macaws, arassaris, green ibis, sun-bitterns and kingfishers.

Your second excursion could be one of the lodge’s 10 walking trails passing through a variety of forest ecosystems – flooded forest, terra-firme forest with ancient hardwoods, or deciduous forest.  Sightings of brown capuchin monkeys and agouti are common, and butterflies flutter across the path. One of the trails leads to a clay lick where if you are very lucky you might see peccaries or tapir taking a bath. All the trails are easy; only one has an uphill gradient which leads to a look-out point and a breathtaking view over the jungle.

Afternoon excursions usually depart once the heat of the day has passed.  This might be to one of the 2 impressive canopy towers, each 50m high and during your stay you will usually visit both of them; watching the jungle from the top at dawn and dusk. Late afternoon is also prime time to spot birds and animals: white-whiskered spider monkeys, howler monkeys and birds galore: toucans, arassari, macaws, spangled cotinga and swallow-tail kites. You stay at the top for a couple of hours, in order to watch the sunset and return just after nightfall to the lodge.

In the dry season, night-spotting excursions are offered on the river, with the opportunity to sight caimans.

Alta Floresta

Day 6

Fly to Cuiabá; by road to lodge in the northern Pantanal.
 
Fly back to Cuiabá, a major city in the heart of Brazil’s interior and the gateway to the northern Pantanal wetlands. Continue by road along the Transpantaneira “highway” (the only road through the heart of the Pantanal region), to your lodge, Pousada das Araras or similar (2hrs). Dinner and overnight.

The Pantanal wetlands cover a large basin half the size of France. This basin is seasonally flooded and is drained by the Paraguay river, which flows into the south Atlantic via the River Plate estuary. The result is a paradise for nature lovers, especially for wildlife observation. Unlike the areas of high jungle, the Pantanal is an open area of swampy grasslands, leaving some of the highest concentration of fauna in the continent exposed to view.

Pantanal

Day 7

Travel down the Transpantaneira road to Porto Jofre.
 
Continue down the unpaved Transpantaneira, to its finishing point at Porto Jofre (3hrs) 28km south of Cuiabá. The journey, with its classically beautiful Pantanal scenery is a highlight in itself. Along the 148km between Poconé and Porto Jofre there are over 120 rickety wooden road bridges, crossing caiman-clogged pools and streams. The Transpantaneira is only passable in the dry season: it’s quite rough going even then: hot, bumpy and dusty.

There is a lot of wildlife to be seen along this remote road. Traffic is light and so it becomes more like a wildlife-spotting drive than a means to an end.  Expect congregations of caiman and egrets, toucans galore – and if you’re lucky golden throated macaw, marsh deer, agouti, crab-eating fox and opossum. Fleeting glimpses of jaguar and puma may be possible along the road as you get close to Porto Jofre

In the afternoon you have your first jaguar spotting expedition by boat. About 45mins upstream from Porto Jofre is a marshy wilderness of gallery forest backed by wetlands, sandbanks and sluggish channels clogged with hyacinth lilies. It is believed there are about 20 jaguars living within a small radius of here, though as the cats have a range of 50km they are also spotted close to Porto Jofre as well as along the Transpantaneira . The jaguars are thought to have been attracted over the years by the activities of local fishermen innocently discarding bait at the end of the day.

Due to its recent surge in popularity and exploitation for tourism purposes, the area was designated the Encontro das Aguas State Park in 2009 and became a protected zone. Some of the jaguars are now tagged by the park authorities.

Pantanal caimans

Days 8-9

Safari by boat in search of the jaguar. Transfer back to Pantanal lodge.
 
Further boat trips in search of jaguars.

If a jaguar is spotted, the boat will stay put and observe it until it moves away. Sightings are often fabulous photographic opportunities as jaguars are often seen lazing on the exposed sandbanks and can do this for an hour or more. If you are lucky you may be witness to a jaguar sizing up a potential prey, usually giant otters or tapir.

In between time, there’s a good chance of other rewarding wildlife experiences: a colony of giant otter lives in one of the channels and spending time watching them feed and carry their young in their mouths can be a highlight. They are very inquisitive and swim close to the boat. Other wildlife to be seen includes howler monkeys and capybara while the sandbanks are lined with caiman. Birds frequenting the area include toucans, herons, curassow and rosy spoonbills.

On the afternoon of day 9, transfer back to Pousada das Araras for 2 nights

.
Pantanal jaguar

Day 10

Guided wildlife-spotting expeditions from the lodge.
 

The lodge offers a programme of activities where you can view wildlife. Wildlife viewing is usually very rewarding during a stay here (anteater, tapir, deer, ocelot, capuchin monkeys are seen regularly), and some reptiles and mammals - caiman, capybara - may wander into the lodge area from nearby freshwater pools. Giant storks and roseate spoonbills wade through the standing water while agitated parakeets and clouds of snowy ibis take to the sky.

Your stay includes explorations in all-weather open sided trucks or on foot, accompanied by English-speaking guides, and canoeing and horse riding (suitable for beginners), which are a highlight here.

Araras Lodge Pantanal excursions

Day 11

Transfer to Cuiabá airport for flight home.
 

11 days from £5299pp

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