The Heart of Adventure: The World's Top Jungles

The Pantanal: Brazil's Hidden Sanctuary

Brazil's best-kept secret is the wild, tropical wetland of the Pantanal. Located in mid-western Brazil, it comprises one of the largest, undamaged ecological reserves in the world. Remote and beautiful, it is a region of countless lakes and rivers and wide, peaceful grasslands marked by tropical flora. A wildlife sanctuary without peer, the Pantanal is home to vast numbers of birds and animals. It harbors more rare and endangered species than any other wildlife preserve on the planet.
Daily excursions into the wetland—the best way to explore the Pantanal—by foot, jeep, canoe, motorboat, and horseback are led by bilingual guides with degrees in agronomy, biology, and veterinary science. Guests can venture into the wild on morning and afternoon outings, or observe nocturnal animals on guided night walks. Some outfitters also combine land-based excursions with river kayaking. These narrow vessels provide a unique opportunity to get close to wildlife in tranquil wetlands untouched by civilization.

Practically Speaking
For the first-time visitor, the heat, humidity, and insects in the Amazon can be overwhelming. Everywhere but the highland tributaries, you should expect steamy weather in the 90s. Rain falls year-round, but the winter brings the heaviest storms in most regions. Mosquitos are a major problem. If you are on a big jungle cruiser, keep your bug spray within arm's reach. The smaller motorized canoes move fast enough to keep insects at bay—until you reach your destination. Swimming is safe in much of the Amazon, though you should not drink river water at any point. The more popular lodges offer a fair degree of comfort, though nothing on a par with the best of East Africa. Though most tours utilize English-speaking guides, you should try to learn some of the local language before you go.
The name Pantanal means swampland in Portuguese. About the size of Florida, the Pantanal is a floodplain for the Paraguay River. That means it fills up with water during the wet season, October through March. Expect your visit during those months to be hot (about 100 degrees) and steamy. If you like fishing, you may want to brave the elements during the rainy season when the Pantanal becomes especially rich in aquatic creatures (it is a popular sport-fishing spot among Brazilians). Around April, things start cooling off, the waters begin to recede, environment becomes profligate with wildlife. We recommend visiting during the Brazilian winter, May through August, when the land is still verdant from the recent rains, but the air is cooler and drier.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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