Few places in the world are better for viewing wildlife than the Pantanal wetlands, a mosaic of lakes, rivers and forest.
Each year the landscape of the Pantanal is transformed into a watery wonderland as water levels rise to flood the lowland savannahs and wetlands, this creates vast areas of shallow lagoon with great open expanses and fantastic opportunities to watch the magnificent array of animals. The lack of dense vegetation offers one of the best bird and wild-life spotting experiences imaginable, with the various habitats of the Pantanal creating an extremely rich and varied ecosystem.
There are thousands of exotic plants and hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish and reptiles calling the Pantanal their home and it is an important rest-stop migratory birds. The dry season brings storks to shallow waters to feed to a place that boasts a land area larger than England.
Leading deep into the heart of the Pantanal is the Transpantaneira, a raised dirt road carved into the landscape and sectioned by small wooden bridges, providing access to lodges and farms of the region. The lack of towns and people means there is only one road and it can be difficult to get around this area, which is 15 times the size of the Florida Everglades. Commonly used are jeeps and motor boats, although our personal favourite is to explore on horseback, just like the locals, which can take you to places otherwise inaccessible.
Our guests will stay at one of the fazenda-style lodges, such as the Caiman Ecological Refuge in the south or Pousada do Rio Mutum in the north. These are comfortable properties, all with excellent guides who accompany you on excursions into the wetlands to discover the local flora and fauna, exploring on nature walks, horse-rides, canoe trips and jeep safaris.
The scenery of the Pantanal changes dramatically depending on the season, which can influence the animal and plant life to be found.
January to March is the wet season, when the summer rains causes parts of the Pantanal to flood and creates a majestic watery wonderland. The plants above water are lush and green, with colourful blooming hyacinths and giant water lilies, water birds, inspects and butterflies are active, though mammals are dispersed, seeking refuge on high ground.
April to June is an in-between season, as the water level starts to recede small fish become trapped in ponds and lakes, attracting large numbers of birds. During this time of plenty, many species of birds nest in preparation for the breeding season and the mammals which are displaced to higher ground during the wet season, start to return.
July to October is the dry season the best time to spot wildlife and the breeding season for birds, whose vibrant plumage and mating calls can be seen and heard throughout the Pantanal. As the water levels of the lakes and ponds slowly diminish, large areas of savannah re-appear and provide rich grazing areas for mammals, whilst the remaining water sources are a magnet for all wildlife. It is at this time that the piúva blossoms, a beautiful flowering tree which is the symbol of the Pantanal.
November to December is the rainy season and the beginning of a new cycle for the Pantanal. This is the best period to see birds feeding and raising their chicks, as there is an abundance of food and water levels are lower. The majority of annual rainfall in the Pantanal happens between November and March, as water slowly starts to saturate the ground and begins to flood.
Insights - Pantanal Express
There are several ways to explore the world’s biggest wetlands; on foot, on horse-back, in a canoe or in a 4x4, but you can also take the Pantanal Express and enjoy panoramic views of the breathtaking scenery before you even arrive. The train, operated by Serra Verde Express, carries passengers at a gentle pace the seven hours and 140 miles between the city of Campo Grande and Miranda, in the southern part of The Pantanal.
The journey affords the opportunity to appreciate the wetlands, waterfalls, steep gorges, abundant birdlife and the Aquidauana River out of the large windows, all from the comfort of the luxurious carriages. The train is air-conditioned and has an on-board restaurant.
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