Pantanal isn't in the Amazon. In fact, it is much closer to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro: 1,460 miles/2,360 Km away from Manaus (and 1,000 miles/1,600 Kms from Sao Paulo); on the other hand, Pantanal is quite the reverse of the Amazon in its colors. Pantanal is more like an African savannah, in the peak of the summer. Nevertheless, it shares some common features with the Amazon, namely its diverse bird and animal life.
Pantanal is little known. Many people know of Pantanal through John Grisham's book, The Testament. But Pantanal is considered a special place in the routes of world eco-tourism. A region of almost twice the size of England, with 50,000 sq. miles/140,000 sq. Km, try to imagine the biggest freshwater wetlands on earth, linked by rivers, lakes, water, with very few land routes most of the year. This unique world is the Pantanal: a place with 650 species of birds, 260 species of fish (such as the catfish, weighing up to 260 pounds), an unknown number of species of butterflies, with caimans (south American crocodiles), anacondas, capybaras (the larger rodent of the world), agoutis (other rodent), tapirs (the largest mammal of South America, looking like a pygmy hippo), peccaries, jaguars, pumas, giant anteaters, ocelots, giant otters, armadillos, five species of monkeys, including the capuchins, and dozens of other unusual kinds of animals.
The Pantanal is the world's biggest flooded plain; a wet territory larger than France, where many American birds - macaws, parrots, toucans, egrets, crakes, eagles, owls, oropendulas - come for food and for winter refuge.
The Pantanal has the biggest American concentration of animal life, namely of large wading birds.
Pantanal is a major destination for observing colonies of parrots, parakeets, toucans, kingfishers, storks, ibis, or pigmy owes - much more than the Amazon, where the birds can hide themselves in the the trees, well above the ground.
The diversity of birds is amazing and unique in the world. There is a dazzling diversity of parakeets, toucans or kingfishers standing in branches of isolated trees, or looking for fish trapped in ponds and small lakes. Different species of birds are always arriving and departing, some for North and Central America, others for other regions of the Pantanal or for southward regions of the continent. You will feel overwhelmed by the chants of so many large wading birds.
For books, see:
Books about the Amazon and the rain forest
While you won't be extremely unconfortable nor face any great risks when visiting the Pantanal, some discomfort is unavoidable.
Pantanal is a place of mosquitoes, where insect repellent is absolutely necessary. The Pantanal is a place with alot of water and mud (Pantanal is a word derived from the Portuguese word for swamp), where trips may have to be done on horseback, special trucks and jeeps or by boat. Pantanal is a place for those who love nature and are ready to make some sacrifices to see it at its best.
There aren't big hotels chains operating in the Pantanal. The accommodation is mostly done in the "fazendas" or lodges - tourist adapted structures - in the big local farmer properties.
Flights to Pantanal
If you live abroad or are outside Brazil, you can't take any direct flight to Pantanal or to the near cities. You have to go to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and get a flight from there to a town near the South Pantanal (Rio Grande) or the North Pantanal (Cuiaba).
See, for maps:
Map of the Pantanal
What You need
If you want to visit the true Pantanal, you will need more then just one pair of shoes (tennis, boots or hiking shoes).
In the dry season you will need light clothes and swimming suits (to go swimming in a river or lake), but also jackets and pullovers due to the wind. The temperature can be surprisingly low and the wind can be very disagreeable,at night.
As mentioned before, you will need insect repellent - lots of it. And also a good hat, sun block cream, sunglasses. A good photographic equipment is also a good idea, as well as a flashlight and binoculars.
Weather in the Pantanal
As mentioned earlier the Pantanal is flooded during months, and issues like this should be taken into consideration by those intending to visit the Pantanal,
About the Pantanal
Imagine a region almost twice the size of England; imagine it as an African savannah, at the height of the summer, and as an infinite water lake, with no signs of human presence and very few signs of vegetable life, most of the year.
Imagine a place with 650 species of birds, 260 species of fish (such as the catfish, weighing up to 260 pounds), an unknown number of species of butterflies, and caimans, anacondas, capybaras (the largest rodent in the world), agoutis (other rodent), tapirs, peccaries, jaguars, pumas, giant anteaters, ocelots, giant otters, armadillos, several species of monkeys, including the capuchins, and dozens of other unusual species of animals.
This world is not fiction. It exists, it shelters the hugest concentration of animal life in America. It is called the Pantanal, and is located in Brazil, 1,000 miles from Sao Paulo.
By its own right, Pantanal ranks very highly in the adventure tourism business. The concentration of animal life - especially big birds: macaws, parrots, toucans, egrets, crakes, eagles, owls, oropendulas - is unique in the world.
But you should also understand the nature of Pantanal, and the reason why it is largely unknown.
Pantanal doesn't have any shopping malls or air conditioning. It's a place of mud, most of the year. It's not necessary to face a high discomfort to visit it, but some discomfort is unavoidable.
The Pantanal is a place with too much water and mud, and plenty of mosquitoes (insect repellent - lots of it - is indispensable) where trips may be difficult, and may have to be made on horseback, or special trucks and jeeps, or by boat.
Pantanal is a place for those who love nature and are ready to make some sacrifices to see it at its best. If you are a bird and nature lover, and if you like adventure travel, you will love the Pantanal.
Avoid the rainy season (from December to March). It's not the ideal period to travel, unless you just want to have only a very partial view of Pantanal. It's much better to visit the Pantanal in the dry season (July to September).