The Amazon may get all the hype, but the world’s largest tropical wetland — the Pantanal — is also in Brazil and boasts some of the finest opportunities for wildlife viewing in all of South America. Covering 66,100 square miles and home to stunning species like the hyacinth macaw and the elusive jaguar, a visit to the Pantanal is an absolute must on any trip to Brazil.

Here’s what you need to know for the ultimate Pantanal experience:

Photo Credit: Bart VanDorp

About The Pantanal

The Pantanal is characterized by flooded grasslands, savannahs, and tropical forests that’s ten times the size of the Florida Everglades, and home to nearly 1,000 species of birds—not to mention capybaras (the world’s largest rodent), caymans, jaguars and more.

Nearly 80% of the Pantanal is submerged during the rainy season, so make sure to time your visit to the dry season (April to October) for optimal animal spotting.

The conservation of the Pantanal remains threatened, specifically by unsustainable farming practices and beef cattle ranching. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only 2% of the Pantanal is under government protection, but through education and choosing eco-friendly tour operators, the Pantanal can continue to thrive.

Photo Credit: Xkiter

Getting In

Most trips begin from Cuiaba (the capital city of Mato Grosso) or Campo Grande. Tour operators and hotels typically pick up guests from the Cuiaba airport or another arranged meeting point before beginning the journey to the Pantanal. Transportation usually includes an open-air jeep that allows you to enjoy the scenery and wildlife along the ride.

The real adventure begins when you arrive at the Transpantaneira, a 90-mile dirt road. Between navigating potholes and crossing 120 rickety wood bridges, the journey takes a total of four to five hours from start to finish. However, there are multiple lodges and hotels along the Transpantaneira if you need a break.

What To Do

For the ultimate Pantanal experience, venture as far along the Transpantaneira highway as possible. You want to stay near the Piquiri River, where you’ll have the best chance of spotting a jaguar.

Some tour operators offer accommodation on the river via houseboats. Alternatively, try a simple but comfortable hotel like the Jaguar Ecolodge Reserve. From here, you’ll be able to split your days exploring the wetlands on foot and jet down the river by speedboat. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a jaguar, but you are likely to spot capybara, caymans, and birds while cruising the shores. Budget at least two days on the river for your best chances of spotting the allusive cat.

In addition to boating and hiking through the Pantanal, the journey along the Transpantaneira itself is a highlight for many. Be sure to ask your driver to stop along the way to enjoy the wildlife spotting opportunities.

Photo Credit: Silvo Assuncao

Extra Pantanal Tips

Due to the sheer size of the Pantanal, consider staying at multiple lodges along the Transpantaneira highway to optimize your experience. It’s recommended to spend at least four days in the Pantanal to get the most out of the long journey.

It’s necessary to have a tour guide while exploring which most hotels and lodges will arrange. Beware of purchasing Pantanal trips at the border, as scammers are known to overcharge.

The Pantanal is brimming with beauty and life. Grab a camera and your sense of adventure, and you’re sure to have a memorable time in the world’s largest wetland!