The Pantanal is one of Brazil’s biggest hidden gems. Wildlife including jaguars, caiman and giant otters are some of exciting animals that you will see in the Pantanal. I visited the Pantanal in July 2022. I travelled overland from Iguazu falls and went onto Bonito afterwards. Here is your full guide to visiting the Southern Pantanal.
What is the Pantanal
The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland area. It floods in the wet season meaning it is host to a huge variety of animals and birds. The majority of the Pantanal is in Brazil but it also spans across Bolivia and Paraguay.
Why visit the Pantanal
The wildlife you find in the Pantanal is just on a different level. The concentration of wildlife in the Pantanal is actually higher than in the Amazon! Because the Pantanal is flat and open it also gives you more chance of seeing the wildlife rather than it being hidden in the trees of the jungle.
North Pantanal vs South Pantanal
Brazil is just an enormous country so whether you visit the northern or southern Pantanal could depend on where you are coming to or from. The North Pantanal is accessed through Cuiba and the Southern accessed through Campo Grande. Personally, I was coming from Iguazu falls and then onto Sao Paolo so logistically it made clear sense to visit the southern Pantanal.
The southern Pantanal tends to flood more in the wet season than the north and the north is easier to access as it is closer to an airport. You may have slightly more chance to see jaguar in the north. However, the north tends to be higher in cost than the south. It all depends on what works for you, either way you will see lots of animals and have a great time.
How to get to the Southern Pantanal
The easiest way to get to the southern Pantanal is by road connecting in from Campo Grande. From Campo Grande is about 4-5 hours by car to most lodges.
How to get to the Southern Pantanal by air
Campo Grande airport has daily flights to Sao Paulo and other internal locations within Brazil.
How to get to the Southern Pantanal by land
If you are going to the Southern Pantanal by bus be prepared for some long journeys. Here are some possible bus journeys to Campo Grande:
- Foz Do Iguacu to Campo Grande is 14 hours by bus
- Sao Paulo to Campo Grande is 15 hours by bus
- Rio De Janeiro to Campo Grande is 23 hours by bus
What animals are you going to see in The Pantanal
The big draw of the Pantanal is the possibility of seeing a jaguar. I always like to say that mother nature is a strong independent woman so cannot be predicted. Apart from jaguars, expect to see a huge amount of caiman, capibaras and also a massive variety of birds. Another exciting animal is the giant otter which are more dangerous to humans than a caiman – I had no clue before I visited.
Dare I say after 4 days in the Pantanal I was slightly bored of seeing caiman I saw THAT many. I saw baby ones which were super cute.
Where to stay in the Southern Pantanal
There are a wide variety of accommodation options that cater to every budget. The lowest budget options include campsites contrasting to very high-quality eco-lodges. There are also house boats that offer which offer lodging on the river which is a fun option. Personally, I stayed at Pantanal jungle lodge and I really liked it. I stayed in a dorm which was ensuite and very comfortable. Pantanal jungle lodge overlooked the river and had a great pool, lots of birds just hanging around the complex and the food was lovely too.
What to Pack for the Pantanal
Mosquito repellent, mosquito repellent and more mosquito repellent? Hehe I am exaggerating but this is not something you don’t want to forget. There are lots of mosquitos and it’s not so fun spending your trip itching your whole body.
Pantanal is very low altitude so is very warm. Combine that with the humidity and it feels extremely warm. Bring light clothing that’s breathable. Don’t forget a swimming costume for swimming in both pools and rivers. For seeing lots of birds and animals binoculars are always a great shout.
The Best Cameras to Bring to the Pantanal
As much as phones make great videos and photos, the zoom sometimes just isn’t up to scratch. I used my canon DSLR with a 75mm-300mm lens and got some great shots on it. A waterproof camera is a good idea for the water activities.
Visiting the Pantanal as a Package
When I went to the Pantanal, I booked my trip with Gil from Pantanal Discovery. I found Gil as he was recommended by our trusty friends at Lonely Planet. I chose the 4-day option and the package included transfers, activities and all food. Gil was brilliant at communicating and went above and beyond to make sure I had a good trip. I had an issue booking my bus to Campo Grande online and he booked it for me to help – so kind. (Not an ad just my opinion).
I love exploring independently and tent to avoid organised tours. However, almost all the nature viewing activities such as boat safaris are organised through accommodation and organised tours. To visit the Pantanal without an organised tour or organising activities through a lodge is quite difficult and limits the amount of nature you can see. This is the place that an all-inclusive package is worth it.
4 day itinerary Visiting the Southern Pantanal:
Here is my 4 day itinerary when I visited the Southern Pantanal.
Visiting the Southern Pantanal Day 1: Arrive and Piranha fishing
Day 1 of the tour was majority travelling. I arrived in Campo Grande at 7am after an overnight bus from Iguazu falls. I met Gil from Pantanal Discovery for breakfast at a hotel in town that had a swimming pool – it was a great rest bite after a night bus. The transfer to campo Grande left at 10am.
The journey was in a minivan with a stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant. After 5 hours in the van, we changed for an open top jeep for a transfer to the lodge. The lodge was a great welcome after lots of travelling with macaws snacking on the lawn just as we turned up.
We met our guide, and the rest of our group then went for a first evening activity of piranha fishing. Piranha fishing was on the shore of the river at the lodge using beef as a bait. I was a bit rubbish but did catch 1 after a while!
The first evening was a chilled-out affair with time to get to know the rest of the group.
Visiting the Southern Pantanal Day 2: Jeep Safari and Boat trip
The animals are up early so we were too with an alarm at 6.30am on day 1. One of the guys in my group was a big fan of yoga so I ended up doing yoga with the sunrise – it was a great way to wake up.
After breakfast, we jumped into the open top jeep for a safari. From the jeep we saw caiman, capibaras, wild deer as well as macaws. We also paw prints from a jaguar but no jaguar. Half way through the safari we went for a walk through the bush. The walk was about 45 minutes long. We didn’t see many animals but lots of tracks of a jaguar suggesting that the jaguar had been there recently and scared off a lot of the animals.
After lunch and a rest by the pool it was time for our afternoon activity of floating down the river! We got on the boat from the lodge to a tiny island upstream. From here we were given floating noodles and those combined with our lifejackets were more than enough to float. The current took us down stream meaning we could wildlife watch peacefully. It was a bit disconcerting swimming seeing a caiman close but we were assured by our guide they were harmless to humans.
After the floating fun, we had an evening sunset boat tour. We weren’t lucky enough to see a jaguar but saw loads of caiman, even 1 with 4 babies on it’s back. The babies were less than a week old so that was a rare sighting. As well as a beautiful sunset, the stars with beautiful and there were even fireflies to make it even more magical.
Visiting the Southern Pantanal Day 3: Boat trip and Horse riding
Another early day with a 6.30am wake up to make it in time for a morning boat ride at 7.30am. As well as caiman a plenty we saw lots of capibaras. I saw multiple families of capibaras which was very cute! I also saw giant otters with their young at their nest. We got back to the lodge at about 11am so had the rest of the morning to enjoy some pool time.
The afternoon activity was horse-riding at a ranch about 30-minute drive away from the lodge. This was calm and could easily be done if you haven’t ridden a horse before. We were in 1 single file line for the trip. We saw lots of birds and the light was beautiful as we were getting the early sunset. It was a sunset ride back to the lodge in the jeep to be back in time for dinner.
Visiting the Southern Pantanal Day 4: Kayaking and Leave
Another 6.30am wake up for breakfast before our last activity – kayaking. We were in pairs in the boats with our guide in a motor boat following along. We saw lots of caiman, caipabaras and black howler monkeys from the boat!
The rest of the morning was chilling by the pool and packing up all of our things before lunch. The transfer picked us up at 2pm. I went on to Bonito and some of the rest of the group went onto Campo Grande.