Brazil 2010 – Pantanal & Amazon

The largest country in South America, Brazil has the greatest biodiversity of any nation on Earth.  Its wilderness areas encompass both the gigantic Pantanal wetland (almost ten times the size of the Florida everglades), as well as 60% of the Amazon rainforest (which is home to more than one-third of all species on earth).  As a result, Brazil is home to a huge variety of spectacular wildlife, including such mega-fauna as jaguar, giant otter, giant anteater and Brazilian tapir, as well as more than 1600 species of birds.

The Pantanal stretches across the Brazilian border into Bolivia and Paraguay, but 80% is located in Brazil.  This vast wetland is bisected by the Cuiabá River and this, together with the varied topographies, mean that both the southern and northern parts of the Pantanal have much to offer the wildlife-watcher, with different habitats and different wildlife, which is why we will be spending time in both sections – always looking for our main quarry: jaguar.  From the Pantanal we fly northwards into the Amazon basin, and to the remote lodge in the Mamirauá Reserve.  The itinerary is timed to coincide with the end of the flood season in the Amazon so that we can enjoy the forest, and our beautiful floating lodge, at their best, using canoes to glide through the rainforest looking for the abundant wildlife.  Mamirauá is most famous for the spectacular primate, white (or red-faced) uakari, as well as black-headed squirrel monkey, brown capuchin, pink river dolphin, Amazonian manatee and black caiman.

This itinerary offers a wildlife-watching bonanza.  Focussing on the best wildlife-viewing areas in the Pantanal on our quest to spot a jaguar, as well as the many other mammals, birds and reptiles that live there, and ending in one of the most spectacular parts of the Amazon at Mamirauá Reserve.  For anyone who has not visited the most spectacular waterfall in the world there is also an optional extension to Iguassu Falls.

Day 1;                        June 17th

On arrival in Sao Paulo we transfer onto our domestic flight to Campo Grande, gateway to the southern Pantanal.  From here we drive into the southern Pantanal, looking for our first wildlife sightings.  On arrival we settle into our wonderful lodge, before meeting for our Welcome Dinner.

Days 2 & 3;               June 18th & 19th 

The Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland, a seasonally flooded plain fed by the tributaries of the Paraguay River.  These floods have created a hugely productive aquatic ecosystem, home to more than 260 species of fish, which in turn attract large numbers of birds and mammals.  As well as being a wildlife paradise, the Pantanal is home to vast cattle ranches.  Cattle live alongside jaguars, not always in harmony, but tourism is helping to persuade ranchers that jaguars are worth more alive than dead.

We spend two full days in the southern Pantanal, exploring the tracks and rivers by game-viewing vehicle and boat, looking for giant anteater, giant otter, capybara (the world’s largest rodent), marsh deer, Brazilian tapir and, of course, the elusive jaguar, as well as Yacaré caiman, yellow anaconda, and a huge number of birds, including the rare and range-restricted hyacinth macaw.  As well as taking excursions in the early mornings and afternoons, we also go spotlighting on the vehicle at night, looking for the eye-shine of jaguar, ocelot or common potoo.

Day 4;                        June 20th    

Today we leave the southern Pantanal to journey to the northern Pantanal.  No roads connect the northern and southern portions of the wetland, and so to explore both parts we have to fly from the southern city of Campo Grande to the northern city of Cuiabá, and enter the northern Pantanal via the Transpantaneira, a raised dirt road that links the cattle ranches with the outside world, and which also gives us a great vantage from which to look for wildlife.  This section of the road is great for spotting ocelot, crab-eating fox and crab-eating raccoon.  

Day 5;                        June 21st

We spend our time here exploring by boat and in our game-viewing vehicle, including spot-lighting at night looking for a variety of wildlife, such as Brazilian tapir.  Early this morning we take a boat cruise on the Pixaim River looking for giant otters: at over six feet long the largest otter on Earth.  The river is also a wonderful place to look for water-birds, among them sungrebe, sunbittern, and several species of herons and storks, including the New World’s largest, the mighty jabiru stork.

Day 6;                        June 22nd   

This morning we continue our drive southwards on the Transpantaneira, looking for and photographing wildlife along the way.  The drive takes us through beautiful marshlands, where we hope to see the uncommon marsh deer.  After a few hours we reach the end of the road, at the Cuiabá River, where we find our comfortable hotel.  The hotel is set in beautiful grounds on the edge of the river, including a large wetland which is home to the world’s largest waterlily, Victoria amazonica.  The gardens are also frequented by hyacinth macaws, which make their home there.

Days 7 & 8;              June 23rd & 24th

The Cuiabá River and its tributaries offer one of the best chances for us to see jaguar, with regular sightings being made along the riverbanks.  To maximise our chances of spotting this elusive beast, we have two full days here, with plenty of time spent cruising on the rivers.  In addition to jaguar, we also look for a variety of other wildlife, including giant otter and Brazilian tapir.

Day 9;                        June 25th  

This morning we drive north on the Transpantaneira, to a beautiful and characterful lodge near to the northern boundary of the Pantanal.  The gardens and forest around the lodge are home to many species of wildlife, including Azara’s agouti, black-and-gold howler monkey and Pantanal marmoset.  There is also a canopy tower which gives spectacular views over the surrounding area, as well as providing a wonderful vantage for viewing wildlife in the nearby marshes.  Night drives are also very productive in this area, and we will make the most of our time as we look for ocelot and crab-eating raccoon.  

Day 10;                      June 26th  

After a final day in the Pantanal we bid this amazing National Park farewell, and drive north to the city of Cuiabá to prepare for our journey into the Amazon.

Day 11;                      June 27th  

Early this morning we fly to Manaus, capital of the vast state of Amazonas.  Situated at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers, Manaus had its heyday in the nineteenth century during the rubber boom.  We explore the city and its surroundings this afternoon, including a visit to the spectacular Opera House, which is a relic of the city’s former grandeur.

Day 12;                      June 28th  

This morning we return to the airport where we transfer onto a small plane for our flight into the heart of the Amazon.  We land at the airstrip in Tefé, and transfer to our comfortable floating lodge.  Today we start our explorations of the reserve.  Overnight Uacari Floating Lodge. 

Days 13, 14 & 15;    June 29th, 30th & July 1st  

We have three full days to explore Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve.  The Reserve was created to protect a large area of seasonally flooded varzéa forest at the confluence of the Solimões and Japurá rivers, and is the largest reserve of its nature in Brazil at over 4,300 square miles.  It was also the first Brazilian conservation unit to give local people a major share of responsibility for the management of its natural resources.  Each year the rivers rise by up to 40 feet, and waters rich in sediments flood into the forest.  These sediments bring huge quantities of nutrients that enrich the soils of the forest, and make it an unusually fertile area within the Amazon Basin, as well as ensuring that the area is rich in biodiversity, including some rare species.  During the floods fish move into the flooded forests and fill the important role of seed dispersal agents.  (Interestingly, around 80% of the species of the feared piranha are frugivores who act in this way!)  During our time here we explore using boats, looking for the rare and localised white uakari monkey, as well as red howler, brown capuchin and black-headed squirrel monkeys, and some of the more than 400 species of birds, including the bizarre hoatzin, scarlet macaw and Amazonian umbrella-bird.  Overnights Uacari Floating Lodge. 

Day 16;                      July 2nd   

This afternoon we fly back to Manaus, via Tefé, and transfer to our international flights home.  Those of us taking the extension to Iguassu Falls transfer to our hotel for the night.

Extension:

For those who have not yet seen the world’s most spectacular waterfall (or for those who want to see them again!), there is an optional extension to Iguassu Falls.  The Falls are shared by Brazil and Argentina, and the Iguassu River also forms the border with nearby Paraguay.  We stay on the Brazilian side, at a beautiful colonial hotel set right at the edge of the falls in the National Park.  However, during our time here we explore both sides of the falls, spending time in Argentina as well as Brazil.

Day 17;                      July 3rd  

This morning we fly to Iguassu Falls, and settle into our gorgeous hotel, set in the heart of the Iguassu National Park on the Brazilian side.   

Day 18;                      July 4th

Today we have a full day marvelling at the glory of Iguassu Falls.  After breakfast we drive across the international border into Argentina, to visit Iguassu Falls on this side.  The majority of the falls are in Argentina, so there are extensive walkways and viewing points to visit, with wonderful views along the falls, and across to Brazil.  This afternoon we return to Brazil to visit the falls on this side and look back at where we stood only hours before.

Day 19;                      July 5th

This morning we re-visit the falls on the Brazilian side.  After lunch we head to the airport for our flight back to Sao Paulo, and to connect with our international flights home

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