Here's my Northern Pantanal Trip Report:
We spent a week in the N. Pantanal in early Sept. Amazing place and all the more so because of Julinho of Pantanal Trackers. He picked us up at the airport late in the evening when we arrived in Cuiaba, delivered us to our hotel and made sure we got checked in OK. What follows is a brief day-by-day about accommodations & experiences followed by a summary.
Day 1: Our adventure started early the next morning with the drive from Cuiaba to Porto Jofre, taking our time and seeing all the wildlife along the way. By the time we reached our destination for the day we had seen about 70 species of birds as well as caiman & mammals. By the time we arrived at the lodge, our minds were on information and sensory overload! The lodge at Porto Jofre (a very fine fishing lodge actually) was very nice - comfortable room with air cond. & stocked mini-bar, excellent food at the restaurant, pleasant and accommodating staff and a great setting as well.
Days 2, 3, 4: These (long) days were spent on the river looking for jaguars and whatever else nature set before us. We had 4 jaguar sightings - one we watched laze about the river bank for about an hour, another we watched walk along the bank for 30 minutes or so. . Then, 2 other sightings, one at night which was really incredible. We camped for two nights with a local family which was a very special experience and then back to Porto Jofre for a night. By now we had seen many more birds & other creatures (more in the summary).
Days 5, 6: Drove to Pousada Rio Claro for 2 nights. Wildlife along the drive, night spotting, hikes. We enjoyed the lodge and were able to see the giant river otters while we were there! Rio Claro offers horseback riding as well as a number of different excursions. Rooms are comfortable and have air conditioning. There is a pool and the food was good. From here we went to the Araras Lodge tower one evening to watch the sunset and look for wildlife - did some night spotting on the return trip to Rio Claro.
Days 7, 8: Drove to Pousada Piuval for 1 night. The lodge is comfortable - air cond., pool. The food was delicious. This was a bonus day for us as we had planned to go to Chapada dos Guimaraes, but it was closed so we spent an extra day in the Pantanal - a great choice! We only wish we could have spent more time there. The evening of day 8 had us back in Cuiaba.
Summary: A trip to the Pantanal is an extraordinary experience. We were astounded not only with the variety, but the sheer number of birds as well as the mammals we saw. All totaled, we saw about 120 bird species. Besides birds, we saw the jaguars, crab eating fox, giant river otter, marsh deer, red brocket deer, brown capuchin monkey, howler monkey, marmoset, capybara, caiman, anaconda, collared anteater (its back, sleeping in a tree), coati, agouti, neotropical otter, green iguana, other lizards AND a rat in the claws of a barn owl on a night spotting excursion. We also saw tapir tracks and might have spotted it if we hadn’t been running on empty and declined another night spotting trip. I’d like to say again that Julinho made this trip really special. His heartfelt passion and respect for the Pantanal and its creatures and ecosystem are admirable and his knowledge is outstanding. He pioneered the jaguar sighting trips and his commitment to responsible treatment and respect for these magnificent creatures sets him apart from some of the others we (regrettably) had occasion to observe. And on top of that, he was a pleasure to be around for those 8 days!
Pantanal tips: Expect early to bed and early to rise for the best wildlife viewing. Take your guide’s advice on excursions, timing, where to go - he knows the Pantanal and the wildlife - you don’t. You probably know the rest but...... Take insect repellent (we treated a set of clothes with permethrin) , sunscreen, rain poncho, dry pack if you have one, water bottles, flashlight, LOTS of digital camera cards & extra camera batteries, binos, backpack, (forget a suitcase full of clothes, take your gear). Our camera battery charger can operate on 110-240V & we didn’t need a plug adapter but check your voltage requirements - most places had both type of outlets and they were marked but not all. Make sure you don't go past Pocone without everything you will need - you won't find a shop or drugstore beyond.
One last thing... If every morning you need to shave or apply makeup or wash & style your hair, or can’t spend 10 or so hours in a small boat and enjoy having lunch on a river bank with caiman nearby, this is not the trip for you - you should choose another destination and/or trip. If this is the trip for you, you are in for a wonderful adventure!!
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