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Brazil Wildlife: Jaguars of the Pantanal

11 days from £7,357pp

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Brazil Wildlife: Jaguars of the Pantanal:
Trip Dossier

Travel to the Pantanal and southern Amazon where wildlife is at its most prolific, and aim for that most prized of sightings: a jaguar. Encontro das Aguas State Park near the remote outpost of Porto Jofre offers the best chance in South America of glimpsing these creatures in the wild. As with some other big-ticket wildlife experiences there is no guarantee of seeing jaguars but the excited accounts of sightings suggest that, for most, it is well worth the time, expense and hardship.  

You also spend time at a lodge in northern Pantanal and also at one of the best wildlife-spotting locations of all, Cristalino Reserve on the fringes of Amazonia. The Pantanal’s open area of swampy grasslands, rivers and lagoons leaves fauna exposed to view. You might observe regiments of alligators, and flocks of thousands of roseate spoonbills, ibis, macaws and giant storks.  In contrast, the area around your lodge in Alta Floresta has undisturbed primary rainforest hosting an enormous variety of mammals, reptiles and birds.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Fly to Alta Floresta bordering Amazonia, by road/boat to jungle lodge.

Days 3-5

Guided wildlife-spotting expeditions.

Day 6

Fly to Cuiabá; by road to lodge in the northern Pantanal.

Day 7

Travel down the Transpantaneira road to Porto Jofre.

Days 8-9

Safari by boat in search of the jaguar.

Day 10

Guided wildlife-spotting expeditions from the lodge.

Day 11

Transfer to Cuiabá airport for flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Cuiabá. Transfer to hotel in Cuiabá deep in Brazil’s 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.

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Pantanal storks

Day 2

Fly to Alta Floresta bordering Amazonia, by road/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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pantanal caimans

Days 8-9

Safari by boat in search of the jaguar.
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

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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.

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Araras Lodge Pantanal excursions

Day 11

Transfer to Cuiabá airport for flight home.

Essential information


In the dry season, scores of caiman laze on the river beaches, capybara (a type of giant guinea pig) stroll across the roads, and you may come across armadillos, anteaters and howler monkeys. There are few mosquitoes and you will spot fauna throughout.

Jaguar spotting is only possible at the height of the dry season, June to October, when the river is low. In the flood season, jaguars do not need to come to the river to drink. Late July, August and September are the best months – this is the very driest time, when jaguars come to the river bank in search of food.  September is the hottest month of the year.

Alta Floresta:
There is an enormous biodiversity within the Cristalino Private Reserve with 612 species of birds, 1,370 plant species and a growing collection of endemic creatures including jaguars. Cristalino is considered one of the very best places in Brazil (if not South America) in which to appreciate primary rainforest and its inhabitants; the forest here has never been cut down and the density of enormous hardwoods testifies to this.

In the dry season, May – October - matching the Pantanal - lower water levels mean better chances of seeing mammals such as giant otters on the river. Weeks can pass with little or no rain.


2 domestic flights, plus 2 others connecting from/to your international transatlantic flight; 4 road journeys.


We have chosen a variety of comfortable hotels and lodges offering en suite accommodation and excellent opportunities to spot a wide range of wildlife in significant numbers, with naturalist guides and varied excursions. Cristalino Lodge is beautifully crafted, and Pousada das Araras has a lovely pool area which attracts a multitude of birds. Hotel Porto Jofre has guest bungalows in an idyllic riverside setting.

The Cuiabá hotel is a functional, mid-range option where you can rest before your explorations.


Breakfast daily; dinner day 2; full board days 3-10.


We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Guided boat expeditions in search of jaguars.
• Guided safari expeditions from Pantanal lodge.
• Daily guided explorations from the rainforest lodge in Alta Floresta.

Summary of nights

11 days, 10 nights: Cuiabá 1; Alta Floresta 4, Pantanal lodge 1 Porto Jofre 2; Pantanal lodge 2.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.


The unit of currency in Brazil is the real (plural reais).

Daily spend

Most of your meals are included in the holiday itinerary, but you will need cash for tips, drinks and the odd souvenir. Drinks other than local juices, water, coffee and tea are charged in the wildlife lodges.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip. You can withdraw Brazilian reais at the airport on arrival and at the airport in Cuiabá, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused.

Credit cards are accepted in the lodges but you should not depend on their use as there may be problems with connectivity upon attempting the transaction.


Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

You can tip the guides at the lodges in dollar bills or reais. 

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.


Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are a few long days of travel on this trip for positioning at the lodges but there are many opportunities to spot wildlife and enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace so they are really part of the adventure.  

At the lodges guides are well-informed and expeditions, which include kayaking, nature walks and horse riding, are suitable for most ages and abilities. The Pantanal excursions will include drives down occasionally bumpy unpaved roads, and there are walks and canoe rides in the wetlands, although none of these is compulsory. Hard hats are not available during riding activities.

With its ease of access, good quality accommodation and excellent excursions, Cristalino Lodge in Alta Floresta is suitable for a wide range of visitors. But those with a deeper interest in the rainforest will find it particularly rewarding for its biodiversity, intact rainforest, observation towers and ease of spotting wildlife. Bird lovers especially will appreciate the emphasis on locating and identifying birds during all excursions.  General interest visitors will enjoy the comfortable accommodation but some may be surprised by the fairly intensive programme during their stay.

Jaguar spotting safaris are done by small boat, far from luxurious, and some stamina is required. You may spend much of the day waiting for sightings   and without shade or on-board toilet facilities. In the heat of the day, temperatures reach 40°C. Back on dry land however, your accommodation is very comfortable.

Families are welcome at the lodges but we would only recommend it for those with older (teenage) children as some excursions and the long periods of waiting for jaguar sightings are not suitable for young children.


This jaguar spotting trip only operates in the dry season, from July to September, the southern winter. Jaguars are only visible at this time. Late July, August and September are the best months – this is the very driest time, when jaguars come to the river bank in search of food. September is the hottest month of the year.

The dry season is also the most comfortable for visits to the Pantanal although the sun can be strong. It can be cool in June and July with temperatures just before dawn dipping on occasion to just above zero, though it will be warm during the day.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day outdoor wear you should take loose-fitting, breathable clothes including long-sleeved shirts and light, quick-drying trousers for protection on jungle walks. Comfortable shoes or walking boots, a sun hat and sunglasses are essential. You should take a light fleece for cool nights and consider a Gore-Tex layer or rain cape and rain hat, as well as swimwear, insect repellent, sun-block and a torch. Be sure to take your own binoculars for observing wildlife; the better the quality, the more rewarding the wildlife observation experience. Similarly you won’t regret taking a camera with a long lens, and plenty of memory.

Clothing at the lodges is informal but you might take one smart change of clothes to wear in the hotels.


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A and yellow fever. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.


Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the Brazilian consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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