We traveled to the Pantanal and other parts of Brazil during the first two weeks of August 2014. The trip was designed to maximize wildlife photography and we saw 17 species. Our adventure was planned through Charles Munn at SouthWild. Mr. Munn has ridiculously outstanding knowledge of the Pantanal and South American wildlife in general. His group at SouthWild arranged most of our accommodations, transfers and fantastic guides throughout the trip. Our group consisted of three families. We all traveled from the US and met in Cuiaba, where we stayed one night at the Hotel Deville. It was a great hotel, perfect for our group and very safe. We left the next morning by air conditioned van, with our amazing guide Paulo Barreiros. His command of english was outstanding and his wildlife/bird knowledge was equally impressive. We traveled to Pocone, about 100km south of Cuiaba. The Transpantaneira Highway ( the TP) starts on the south side of the town of Pocone. We entered the TP and traveled 145km to the Cuiaba river. The TP is a wildlife and bird bonanza, with our first siting of an Anteater just wandering across the road.
We arrived at the SouthWild Jaguar Flotel on the Cuiaba River in the late afternoon-in time to do our first Jaguar boat cruise in smaller speed boats. Though no jaguars seen that evening, we had great close views of a group of foraging Giant Otters. Truly incredible and powerful carnivores.
Over the course of the next three days we motored up and down the river and its tributaries. There were plenty of other boats looking as well and like buffalo jams in Yellowstone, the Pantanal has Jaguar “jams”. However, there were not too many boats. One morning, we found a beautiful male Jaguar and had him all to ourselves for a quite a while.
The boats with SouthWild were some of the best–comfortable, fast and quiet. We saw 4 different spectacular jaguars at very close range, including a mother and her two almost adult sized cubs.
If you never been to the Pantanal, The Cuiaba River is a wildlife/bird wonderland. It is majestic and teaming with caimans, howlers, birds, capybaras, piranha and otters.
One time, while watching the mother jaguar and her cubs, a family of Capybaras was hilariously floating down the river on a makeshift log debris raft right in front of the bank with the three Jaguars. Just as they went by the bank, their raft imploded because of the brutal current. They fell into the river and only then did they notice the Jaguars. They started barking and desperately swimming against the current to get away from the onlooking jaguars. Sheer panic— but they eventually made their escape to the delight of the several boats full of Jaguar seekers/photographers.
The younger part of our crew really enjoyed fishing the river -catching piranha and catfish. They even went swimming in the river! Apparently, piranha don’t attack people-just a myth– or so we were told.
The accommodations on the flotel were impressive. Comfortable rooms and surprisingly delicious and varied meals. The well air conditioned flotel remains stationary and no rocking. On the one of flotels there is even wifi.
Next, we left the Cuiaba river and traveled north on the TP to stay at the charming ranch hotel-Pouso Alegre. Before we got on the TP, we transferred at Porto Jofre where we had great looks at the residents of the world famous nesting Hyacinth Macaw tree. These nesting macaws provided an amazing photo op!
On our way to Pouso Alegre, we had lunch and spent the afternoon on the grounds at SouthWild Pantanal Lodge. It is a great property with excellent food, beautiful grounds and an amazing platform view of habituated nesting Jabiru storks.
Like the Cuiaba river, Pouso Alegre is a beautiful Eden—a must see and must do. It is a working ranch lodge surrounded by wildlife. We only had two nights at Pouso Alegre but we saw a Tapir, Giant Anteaters ( incredibly close), Capybara, Tamandua, Crab eating foxes, Marsh deer, Brazilian Rabbit, Agoutis, Coati and Capuchins.
We saw a rather violent clash between a horse and Anteater-see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLx9bx6kLCo
And if it s birds you want to see, this is an amazing place to get close to so many species. Pouso Alegre’s owner, Luis, has so much knowledge and is just a delightful host. It is a simple but undeniably welcoming lodge. We headed back to Cuiaba, where we stayed overnight at the Hotel Taina. The hotel stay was short due to an early flight but the accommodations were really nice and very convenient to the airport. The next day-as expected- was a long travel day to the wolf camps, but the journey was well rewarded. We took an early morning flight to Brasilia and then another flight ( 90 minutes) to Barreiras. At Barreiras airport we met our next guide Rafael who also spoke great English and provided a wealth of information. He was incredibly knowledgeable, kind and patient. We took a van for an approximate 3.5-4 hour drive into Parnaiba River Headwaters National Park, where we arrived at the first of two camp sites-SouthWild Wolf Valley Camp. This camp is run by an amazing wildlife whisperer and host who kept a constant vigil looking for wildlife. From this camp it is a relative short ride/walk to view the large flock of Hyacinth Macaws from a large purpose built hide as the Macaws feed on rock hard palm nuts.
At the camp, there are quaint bungalows with generator electricity that is run for a few convenient hours each day to allowing guests to re-charge electronics! Nearby there is a feeding station that attracts various and beautiful birds and occasional visits from an adorable family of Black Tufted Marmosets and Brazilian Guinea Pigs.
The meals and service at the wolf camps were impressive. It was an amazing set-up and our group was just overwhelmed by the quality of the meals.
The next afternoon we left for SouthWild Wolf Cliffs Camp. We traveled for 23km deep into the heart of Parnaiba Headwaters National Park. During the beautiful ride we stopped and photographed a pair of Burrowing owls. Like the other camp, there are rustic double occupancy bungalows with private bathrooms. No air conditioning and no electricity but none was needed. The scenery is beautiful with red brown cliffs and brilliant blue skies. The star of this camp is the Maned Wolf. A truly spectacular giraffe like fox that came within a few feet of our group both evenings. The second evening, a pair showed up. Just an incredibly beautiful animal.
After our second evening with the wolves we drove back to he first camp ( about an hour back). We woke up the next morning well before sunrise for our journey to Nutcracker Monkey Valley to see the Bearded Capuchins that use rocks as tools to open Palm nuts. This is an amazing spectacle. Some of the rocks weigh nearly as much as the capuchins themselves. The leader of the troop we watched is called Angry and for good reason-he acts and looked mad the whole time we were there.
The next day, we traveled back to Barreiras where we caught an early evening flight to Brasilia. We stayed at the Laguna Plaza Hotel for one evening and left on early flight for Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio (where we only stayed one night but two days) we were greeted by guide Patricia Furtado at the airport who immediately toured us around the city. She provided incredible insight into a really unique and fascinating city. Patricia was even able to take us into the largest favela-Rocinha. Favelas are often described as urban slums/shantytowns. While one relatively brief visit does not make us favela experts, our experience was very positive. The community and how they operate is unlike anything we had ever seen in all our travels. At no time did we feel unsafe-just a truly unusual world. The city itself is dynamic but crowded. We had unusually cold and foggy weather so some of iconic sights were only partially visible but the scenery was still amazing. We stayed at the Best Western Plus/Sol-Ipanema which was a great hotel and location-felt very safe.
The next morning part of the group traveled north for two hours to search for the Golden Lion Tamarins. Ricardo Barbosa was our guide and like the other guides, he was fantastic. Wow -what a treat. These are gorgeous primates and the researchers that provided the service to help track them allowed incredibly close viewing. This was a great way to end an amazing adventure.
Tufted Brown/Bearded Capuchin
Golden Lion Tamarin
Black Tufted Marmoset
Grey Brocket Deer
Crab Eating Fox
Cavy- Brazilian Guinea Pig
Some of the birds we saw:
Chestnut billed guanvermillion flycatcherlittle blue heronbuff necked ibisplumbeous ibiscrane hawkcattle tyrantlarge billed ternpied ploveryellow billed ternblack skimmerhyacenth macawtourquious fronted parrotsmooth billed anidoves: white tippedearedscalelong tailedrudy groundband winged nightjarblue crowned trogongreen kingfisherrufus tailed jacamartoco toucanwhite wedged piculetfork tailed flycatcherswallows: gray breastedbrown chestedwhite wingedblue and whitesouthern rough wingedblack capped donacobiousbuff crested wrensparrowspalm tanangercowbirds: giantscreamingshinychopiscalesun bitterpicazuko pigeonplumbous pigeonwoodpeckers: whitelineatedcrimson crestedsolitary casisyellow rumped casischestnut eared caracarawide eyed parakeetgreat horned owltropical screech owlburrowing owlcoal crested finchspotted nothurarheayellow headed caracarablue and yellow macawblue winged parrotletblue crowned parakeetblue fronted parrotgreat potooanitshrikes: barredrufus wingedgreathummingbirds: planalto hermitswallow tailedsilver beaked tanangerel palate oriolecowled cardinalcoal crested finchrufus collared sparrowchopi blackbirdepaluet oriolecampo tropialcrested oropendolaJays: white napedpurpulishpalm tanangercheck browed mockingbirdburdened buff tanangerpygmy owlpeacockred and green macawcampo flicker