The Pantanal is a place of superlatives: the world’s largest fresh-water wetlands. It is ten times the size of the Everglades, covering about 200,000 square kilometers mainly in the southeastern Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. “Pantanal” is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “swamp”. It is a gently sloping basin with meandering rivers which slowly releases water to a single drainage channel, the Paraguay River. Annual flooding nourishes the producers of the Pantanal, which in turn nourish all other species as well. The shear numbers of birds and animals has to be seen to be believed. Considered by the American Birding Association to be one of the ten top places to bird before you..… Even relaxed birding can yield more than a 100 species a day, and on some days, dozens of mammals (especially capybaras), hundreds of yacaré (one of the smaller crocodilians), and thousands of birds; and the quality of these sightings is top-notch. How about the big blue hyacinth macaw for starters? Another five of the top targets might be the Greater Rhea, Helmeted Manakin, greater rhea, Toco Toucan, and Jabiru stork. A Jaguar sighting would be the ultimate mammal sighting, followed by five other large mammalian targets, the Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, Maned Wolf, and Puma. As for reptiles one serpent tops every visitor’s “wish list”, the world’s biggest snake, the anaconda; the rarer of the two species in the region, the Green Anaconda, is the largest reaching 6 meters and 250 kg. Traveling with us for the entire trip will be English speaking bird guide from Neblina Forest.
In the dry season between June and late September, the vast flooded fields shrink to smaller ponds, and many animals are drawn to these water holes. By October the rising Rio Paraguay River will flood the vast grasslands. The only road to penetrate deep into the Pantanal, the “Transpantaneira”, is actually an unfinished project from years ago (1970). It provides amazing elevated viewing from something close to a levee. Created during road construction roadside ditches are now filled with water and have become a magnet for waterbirds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. All drives along this “highway” are true “safaris”. The road crosses a wide range of habitats, from dry grasslands and open scrub in the north to large semi-deciduous forests and extensive swamps further south. This habitat gradient means that each of our lodges and fazendas (cattle ranches) has its own distinctive wildlife community even though they may be actually quite close together.
The trip begins when your international flight arrives in Brasilia. The next day fly to Cuiabá, the northern gateway to the Pantanal, and immediately drive south on the Transpantaneira to Pouso Alegre, a ranch near Poconé, where we spend two nights. Next we move a short distance to the Pantanal Wildlife Center for a three night stay. We’ll spend two more nights at a hotel in Pixiam. On our drive back north on the Transpantaneira, we stop overnight at Pouso Alegre on our way to our next overnight destination at Currupira dos Araras, with its famed Harpy Eagle nest site. After an overnight in Cuiabá in order to catch a flight to Belo Horizonte, the trip finale will be two nights at a monastery in Caraça Sanctuary. For the return to Miami, International flights leave Belo Horizonte in the evening, or domestic flights are available to other destinations in Brazil for post-trip travel you may wish to plan.
Brazil is a surprisingly large country. In square miles, it is larger than the 48 states. Distances within the country are long and flights from the US are even longer, typically 9 hours. Furthermore, Brazil is an expensive country for travel, due especially to the dollars decline against the overvalued Brazilian REAL. Portuguese is the language spoken in Brazil, and while closely related to Spanish, the pronunciation seems totally foreign to this struggling student of Spanish.
Day 1: Most flights from the US arrive in the morning at the Brasilia airport International Airport Transfer to our hotel and spend the day catching up with the change in time zones (4 hours for California PDT – BRT) and resting after the very long flight. A welcome dinner will give us a first chance to meet together and learn more about our trip to come.
After an early morning domestic airline flight to Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso, where we will immediately drive south to Poconé and then on to the Transpantaneira and Pouso Alegre, a huge cattle ranch known for excellent wildlife viewing (about 1 ½ hours). Even along the bumpy entrance road we might see brocket deer, Crab-eating Fox, coatis, Chestnut-bellied Guan and Bare-faced Curassow. Trails from the lodge offer chances to view the rare Giant Armadillo, Black-tailed Marmoset, Black Howler, Southern Tamandua, and Giant Anteater. Among snakes to see is one of the greatest of them all, the Yellow Anaconda. Among the birds to see at Pouso Alegre are 13 parrot species, 7 owls, 11 woodpeckers, 16 hummingbirds. Hyacinth macaws roost within earshot of the lodge.
A full day at Pouso Alegre will allow us to take dawn and dusk walks along trails and roads searching for more birds and mammals on the lodge manager’s long list.
More time for wildlife walks in the morning before we move on to the Pantanal Wildlife Center, also known by its original name, Fazenda Santa Teresa. The drive is short by miles, but the road is not in the best condition and the wildlife viewing is excellent, so we may spend several hours enjoying animals and birds in roadside trees and in the water-filled ditches beside the road. The accommodations at PWC are simple but attractive; rooms are air conditioned and have hot showers. Even the gardens are filled with wildlife. Imagine relaxing in a hammock with a cold, evening beer, watching the bats and nighthawks foraging overhead.
Day 5 and 6:
Full days at Pantanal Wildlife Center where we will enjoy wonderful opportunities for close up views from “moving” observation towers provided to watch nesting jabiru storks and great potoos, and a feeding platform for hyacinth macaws. Four species of monkeys and all the Pantanal’s forest bird specialties are present on five kilometers of trails from the lodge through dense gallery forest. A highlight of boat excursions will be to find a group of giant otters, but sure to be seen will be iguanas on overhanging branches; we will be constantly on the look out for sun grebes, sunbitterns, zigzag and agami herons. Night excursions may provide sighting of owls as well as Brazilian Tapir or Ocelot if we are lucky.
A final morning at PWC and then we move on to nearby Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel right beside River Pixiam. Here we will search trails for monkeys and the Helmeted Manakins, a special target in the Pantanal, and take more nocturnal safaris. Look forward to sampling authentic Mato Grossense cuisine Grosso, including legendary piranha and very local beef.
We will explore by boat and vehicles the area near Pixiam. Our exact plans will evolve around the species that we have already seen and those we would still like to see. A river outing on the Pixiam might provide our best opportunity to find a jaguar.
More boating and roadside exploration before we return to Pousada Piuval for another night.
Spend the morning in the field at Pousada Piuval, then say farewell to the hyacinth macaws; in the afternoon, drive west toward Serra das Araras to Pousada Currupira dos Araras where a Harpy Eagle has been nesting within walking distance. The Harpy Eagle must be high on the list of most wanted birds in the world; it is truly impressive. No guarantee, but the harpy is normally loyal to a favored nest site. We will take our first walk to see the nest in the afternoon and after dark we will look for night creatures. The farm provides rooms with air conditioning and private bathrooms, and a swimming pool.
Early morning birding with chances to see some spectacular birds such as King Vulture, Red-shouldered Macaw, Dusky-headed Parakeet, Red-necked Woodpecker, as well as several tanagers and many others. During late afternoon we will transfer to a hotel in Cuiabá in order to be ready for the early morning flight the next day.
This could be a very early departure for our flight to Belo Horizonte, but our reward will be worth it. Our destination is the Santuário do Caraça, an hour and a half east of Belo Horizonte. The sanctuary was founded in 1774 to be a House of Holidays for the reception of pilgrims and visitors who wanted to convert and change their lives. It was reactivated as an Inn in the 1970’s and now has simple accommodations for guests as well as entry into the Nature Reserve. Our specific goal here is to see the Maned Wolf, South America’s largest and one of its few rare wild canines. An after-dinner ritual is pure magic as a priest sets out a ceremonial plate of scraps for the wolves. All watchers are silent in anticipation as one of these beautiful creatures quietly grabs a quick meal and then returns into the night.
All day to explore the very different habitats of Parque Natural do Caraça – cerrado (savanna) transitioning into Mata Atlántica, (Atlantic rain forest). Isolated from the rest of the world by a mountain ridge, the former monastery is nestled in a bowl-shaped valley, with side creeks forming waterfalls and natural swimming holes. The hillsides are lined with hiking trails. The evening provides another opportunity to watch for the Maned Wolf before we have our farewell party.
We still have time today to search for more new birds, but in the afternoon we will begin to head back to the Confins International airport (CNF) near Belo Horizonte. From there evening flights go directly to Miami, or afternoon flights go to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. I have already spoken with our guide and with our concessionaire about possibly arranging a 4 – 5 day post-trip excursion to the fabulous Iguaçu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina. More information will be available to participants when they have signed up for “Birds and Wildlife of Pantanal, Brazil”.
The trip begins in Brasilia and ends in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. You need to be in Brasilia no later than mid-afternoon on Sunday , July 22th, in time for the group dinner and hotel overnight. Most flights will arrive in the morning, often quite early. The trip ends on Thursday, August 4th with transfer to the international airport in Belo Horizonte for homeward flights in the afternoon or evening.
ACCOMODATIONS AND FOOD
We stay in big city hotels two nights, a monastery two nights, and at fazendas and lodges designed to serve the wildlife tourists who come to of the Pantanal. Accommodations in the field are simple but rooms have private baths and in most some locations, they have air-conditioning.
Pantanal lodges serve local cuisine typical of this region which is very rich in varieties of fish for eating, and, well you can’t escape the beef on a cattle ranch. The monastery meals are simple, but again specialize in typical local foods. A wide variety of foods are available in Brasilia and Cuiabá. Vegetarians can be accommodated, but choices will be limited in more remote lodges.
This trip is actually composed of three segments. The first, the primary target of the trip, is the 8 nights/9 days in the Pantanal proper. Always at a low elevation, there will be opportunities for many short to moderate walks, cross-country vehicle trips, and on the water outings. We do a considerable amount of standing around as we carefully observe wildlife and birds. This will not be a trip to just “check it on the list” and move on. It can get hot, so we will emphasize early morning and late evening activities, allowing some mid-day leisure. The second segment of the trip involves fairly long but easy walking in gentle hills. The third segment offers options from total leisure to constant hiking on hillside trails at about 4000’. To fully enjoy this trip, you should be in good physical condition and ready to fully participate in all activities. You need to commit to rising early each morning in order to make the best of the day before it gets to warm to enjoy. Although hikes are not strenuous, there will be long periods in the field. You could call this a “relaxed” trip, but not a “leisure” trip.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
You must have a good pair of binoculars. These should be gas filled to prevent moisture from getting inside. This trip would be a good excuse to treat yourself to a new, excellent pair of binoculars, but be sure you take plenty of time to get thoroughly used to them and to test them well before this trip. A camera is not required, but for such a wildlife spectacle, most people will bring one; the same advice is offered to owners of new cameras.
For this trip you will want comfortable, loose clothing with long-sleeves and pants for protection from the environment. Temperatures will often be quite warm, but this is the season when cold storms blow up from the south, so you will need to have a warm jacket for that possibility. Laundry service will be available allowing you to travel with a minimum of changes. You will want a day bag for your “stuff” that goes everywhere with you as well as a moderate size duffle or soft-sided “Rollie” as your main piece of luggage. A packing list with many more details will be provided after you have signed up for the trip.
HEALTH AND DOCUMENTATION
There is no Malaria in the Pantanal, but Yellow Fever has recently been reported from Minas Genais state (Belo Horizonte is the capital), and elsewhere. Yellow Fever vaccine is strongly recommended for all travelers to Brazil except those only visiting Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and certain coastal areas. The vaccine should be taken at least two weeks before exposure and remains effective for approximately ten years. Be sure to bring your “yellow booklet”, the International Certificate of Vaccination. Taking measures to protect yourself from mosquito bites is an essential part of preventing Yellow Fever. Additional inoculations to discuss with your doctor if you have not already had them, are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus. It will be necessary to drink purified or bottled water in Brazil.
You must have a passport that is good for six months after you leave the country. In addition Brazil requires a tourist visa which requires some planning ahead in order to have enough time for processing.
• Pantanal Wildlife, A Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s Great Wetland, by James Lowen, a Bradt Guide. This small volume is just a terrific introduction to what this trip is all about.
• The Pantanal, Brazil’s Forgotten Wilderness, by Vic Banks, a Sierra Club publication. Times have changed a lot in the 20 years since this book was written – a first hand look at this endangered biological wonderland.
• Brazil, Amazon and Pantanal, by David L. Pearson and Les Beletsky, part of the Traveller’s Wildlife Guide series. Too heavy to carry on the trip, but excellent pre-trip reading about both habitat and wildlife.
• Birds of Brazil, The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil, by John A. Gwynne, Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel, by the Wildlife Conservation Society. A brand new, beautifully executed field guide perfect for the specific region of this trip.
• Pantanal, South America’s Wetland Jewel, many contributors, photographs by Theo Allofs, a Firefly book. This wonderful collection of wildlife photographs is nicely complimented by short, interesting text.
• The Pantanal, Understanding and Preserving the World’s Largest Wetland, ed. Frederick A. Swarts. This collection of papers and presentations by world authorities on the Pantanal provides excellent background information about conservation and preservation issues.
• Map of Brasil, 1:400,000, by Borch – English version available from Amazon.com.
The land of the Pantanal is 99% in private ownership primarily for the purpose of agriculture, ranching in particular. There are 2500 fazendas in the region, with up to 8 million head of cattle. The Pantanal is under threat from many other human activities, including recreational over-fishing, hunting and poaching of endangered species, uncontrolled tourism, deforestation and burning for agricultural use, and mining of gold and coal. Pressure for economic development, such as the plan to dredge the Paraguay and Parana Rivers to create a “hydro-road” allowing ocean-going ships to travel far inland, would have serious consequences for the ecosystem by altering the flooding and drainage cycles.
When we see the hordes of caimans, you might think that that yacaré are abundant, and that is true now, but only due to recent conservation efforts. For nearly all the 20th century these animal were hunted savagely to supply the global demand for “crocodile skins”. Only since 1990 has trade legislation been enforced strongly enough for poaching to cease. Yacaré have recovered rapidly and current population are estimated around 35 million.
The story of the recovering Hyacinth Macaw raises our hopes as the population in the Pantanal has risen from 1500 in 1990 to 3000 in 2000, due primarily to the efforts of The Hyacinth Macaw Project started in 1980 by a 27-year-old biology student to increase breeding success. These macaws nest in one particular tree, manduvi, that is soft enough for them to hollow out with their beaks, and they prefer to eat the nut of a particular tree, the Acuri Palm. Both trees are scarce and fall victim to cattle.
Included / Not Included
July 21 – August 4th, 2012
Sept 15 – Sept 28 ,2012
Trip number : Brazil – Pa -01
Maximum part : 7
Price : $ 5.150 per person in double room
Deposit : 10 %
Staff: Xavier Munoz , plus local guide.
• World’s largest fresh-water wetlands
• See a “big five” of mammals: Brazilian tapir, maned wolf, giant anteater, giant otter, and jaguar
• See a “big five” of birds: hyacinth macaw, greater rhea, toco toucan, helmeted manakin, harpy eagle
• All lodging, meals, guides, and entrance fees
• All on-trip transportation, including in-country air flights and taxes, and riverboats
• All tips to guides and drivers
LINKS FOR HOTELS :
The links are as follows :
Planalto Bittar Hotel http://www.hoteisbittar.com.br/hoteis/planalto/index.php
Pouso Alegre http://www.pousalegre.com.br/
Pousada Piuval http://pousadapiuval.com.br/
Pantanal Reserch Center http://www.pantanalwildlifecenter.com/pantanal.html
Pantanal hotel Mato Grosso http://www.hotelmt.com.br/pantanal/o_hotel.php
Hotel Amazon Plaza http://www.hotelamazon.com.br/
Santuario Caraça http://www.santuariodocaraca.com.br/