New Trip Report: Brazil and Bolivia

Here’s an interesting – first time – report from Guido Rommens and Micheline De Vleminck, who saw some great stuff in Brazil and Bolivia in June, with species including Giant Anteater, Jaguar and Hoary Fox.

Jon


Although we have already made many trips with the purpose of spotting animals, this will be my first real travelogue , so please don’t judge this too harshly as I’m only an amateur compared to the most reports I read on this fantastic website.

We are Guido Rommens and Micheline De Vleminck from Belgium and did this trip in june 2022.

We started with Bolivia.

We first flew to Uyuni and booked a three day tour with Cordillera Traveller  ( cordilleratraveller.uyuni@gmail.com ), we  asked for an English speaking guide because our Spanish is terrible, we got a fantastic guide ( and he brought his drone !)

His name: Juan Carlos Gemio Alvarez ( everybody calls him Carlos ) his whatsapp:  +591 78719220

You should go here especially to enjoy the scenic landscapes , after all you are in the Andes; the salt flats ( salar de uyuni), the geysers ( sol de Mañana) thermal baths in the laguna Salada , the colorful lagoons ( Verde, Blanca ) and  the volcanoes.

We drove an all-terrain vehicle almost continuously along unpaved roads and that resulted in unforgettable moments ( but: june is also the beginning of their winter, we even had snow and hail and the nights were very cold , coldest night  MINUS17°C )

Along the way we saw many vicuñas , some plains viscachas and one Andean fox, the latter could only be seen with binoculars at a considerable distance

Along the way you also regularly come across rheas and you can see the three species of flamingos that occur in the Andes together in one lagoon, the laguna Colorado

To reach our second overnight place ( Tayka del Desierto ) close to the border with Chile, which cost us a lot of effort because of the fresh snow, you pass the Cañon de las vizcachas , that’s the place you have to be to see these cute animals up close, they look like a large rabbit but are related to the chinchilla.

From Uyuni with Boas airlines via Cochabamba to Santa Cruz to start the second  part of our Bolivia trip, this time with the intention of seeing as many mammals as possible.

Most of you visiting this website will already know who we booked with: ( nicksadventuresbolivia@gmail.com ), to be honest I was a bit skeptical and had some doubts about whether all those reports about his tours were correct but I admit I was wrong.

In about 5 hours you drive from Santa Cruz to the now well-known private estate called Jaguarland , there were two of us , Nick as a guide , the driver José and at the back a sympathetic lady called Nathaly who turned out to be the cook.

Along the way Nick found one three-toed sloth behind the other , apparently they are in a specific tree species and it’s really easy to photograph them from very close by.( I think we saw more than 20 )

By the way we won’t mention the birds and small rodents as our passion doesn’t go that far ( yet)

Overnight stays were in a tent, so a bit basic ( he has recently moved from the entrance of the domain to a place much deeper in the reserve), you get a mattress , there is a shared place with one sink and one shower with cold water and there is one flush toilet

The food was excellent thanks to the fantastic cook Nathaly who in her immaculate white blouses stood out in stark contrast to the filthy unshaven, smelly animal lovers.

Nick is a bundle of energy who is passionate about his work, he has  great observation skills  and together with his driver they form a set of trackers that see just about everything there is to see, only downside: Nick has little patience: if he says here we wait an hour, you can be almost certain that you leave after half an hour at most if there is no movement in the area. If he notices an animal you will have known it, he gets over -enthusiastic, if necessary he will just drag you out of the car if you don’t get out quickly enough and even grabs you by the neck to point the right direction if you don’t see the animal directly but he is a great guy who lives for his job and nature and gosh what has he found for us in the four days we were together.

Here is the list:

Two giant anteaters ( one long sighting during daytime at close range) FIVE jaguars ( during daytime and therefore very visible, sometimes very close , even one jaguar swimming across a river ), FOUR lowland tapirs , THREE ocelots of wich one crossed the road in full day

One neotropical otter , Bolivian red howlers , brown tufted capuchins, squirrel monkeys , red and grey brocket deer , big marsh deer, crab eating foxes , crab eating racoons , coatis, Azara’s agoutis and collared peccaries

Also a lot of capybaras and caimans.

Late at night we also heard the sound of blowholes from river dolphins but we didn’t get to see them.

Strangely enough there was little to see in the early morning hours , most sightings were between 10 am and 15pm. Nick claims that it’s almost the case there which seems  very strange  to most of the experienced animal trackers because we assume that the best hours are very early in the morning and from dusk

So NOT here!

Just before we left the reserve on the last day , everyone had got out of the car to go to the toilet and Nick had to arrange something with the concierge, so only Nathaly stayed in the car but she saw a TAYRA, one of the animals that are very high on my wish list ( anyone a tip for me???), bad luck but no worries we were more than satisfied with what we had seen in such a short time.

Which was also great, NO other tourists , you can get out and walk wherever you want and as a bonus, José and Nick allow you to crawl on the roof of the car during the rides, needless to say you have much better views and get an extra portion of adrenaline for free

UNFORGETTABLE!!!!

After Bolivia to Brazil, we had Julinho as a guide ( more about him later) . He can be reached via  www.pantanaltrackers.com.br

We started in Northern Pantanal ( we went there also 15(!)years ago in September ) and maybe it was due to the “less”” favorable period to explore this area but we were very disappointed: the Transpantaneira was widened a lot, almost all wooden bridges have been replaced by concrete ones and because of this there was much more traffic and therefore much less wildlife on and next to the road. Fortunately the part behind the river Pixaim (at hotel pantanal Mato Grosso ) is still authentic and therefore much more pleasant to drive.

The main reason for me to return after 15 years was that we hadn’t seen the giant anteater at the time, Pousada Piuval and Pouso Alegre were put forward as the best contenders to see one but it turned out to be NOTHING.

Piuval is very popular with locals, it’s not too far and they come for the good food and to lie by the pool. We did one nightdrive : 2 crab eating foxes and Brazilian rabbit was the poor result.

Early morning drives and walks yielded brown capuchins and capybaras ( the latter can be seen very close in the evening at the water well just next to the lodge) yacaré caimans walk over the lawn and can be approached very close

Around the lodge we saw many colourful birds such as toucans and hyacinth macaws and both the smallest owl ( ferruginous pigmy owl ) and the largest ( great horned owl ).

For birdwatchers eveywhere in the Pantanal is a big party!

Then we drove to Porto Jofre and stayed at the Hotel Pantanal Norte , located right on the river Cuiaba. Julinho always stays here because he has his OWN BOAT ( with shelter so that you are somewhat protected from the heat )and it is moored there, this is a real added value because the three of us were always in the boat during our river trips and ourselves could decide everything, bring a lunch packet instead of going back to your lodge for lunch if you have the chance !

Our three days on and around the river were absolutely unforgettable and made the Pantanal part of our trip worthwhile; we saw SIX jaguars : one of which made a sudden jump just in front of our boat and with one fatal bite grabbed a caiman and dragged it out of the water (the caiman was the same size as the jaguar: big!), all this happened a few meters from us, there were a dozen other boats even if it wasn’t high season yet.

At one point, Julinho was notified that a jaguar could be seen elsewhere but quite a distance from our location; just about all the boats went at full speed to that place but Julinho suggested we sail very slowly down the river to look out for our “own” jaguar, we immediately agreed and after half an hour: BINGO!!!

A jaguar was sleeping in the shade under a tree and no other boat in the area , what a treat

After a few minutes the animal decided to get up and more or less followed the riverbank; at one point he dived into the water and emerged with an anaconda in his mouth: needless to say a little euphoria was heard in our boat and we thanked our “hero” Julinho profusely.

The jaguar sightings were all extraordinary and very close and the animals were less shy than the ones we had seen in Bolivia

On the last day we also encountered giant otters that were hunting, we did not see them out of the water but very beautiful with their heads and fish in their mouths, they were eating fish while their bodies were leaning against a tree and they seemed very relaxed and used to people watching them

In the afternoon ( as if we were not lucky enough) we also briefly encountered a jaguarundi that was drinking ( extremely rare to see according to the guide )

About the hotel Pantanal norte , it is a beautiful place where you can observe many birds up close, there is also a small airstrip in front of the hotel ( Julinho is also a bush pilot and you can also fly  over the Pantanal with him , we didn’t). This airstrip is “ the place” to be in the Pantanal to see and photograph the hyacinth macaws up close, especially in the late afternoon , they are not shy at all. Behind the hotel you can walk over a swamp via a bridge and there are many capybaras to see up close.

There is even a semi tame neotropical otter wondering around the hotel which even sometimes dives into the pool of the hotel ( seen it)and you can get very close to him.

Then on the way to Pouso Alegre we encountered our sixth jaguar on the Transpantaneira in the afternoon

Alegre is very popular and known among animal lovers ( we ourselves made phenomenal sightings there FIFTEEN years ago such as the maned wolf and tamandua among many other animals )but now it was a big setback ( not even the expected giant anteater )

What did we see: tapir(s), capybaras , two crab eating foxes , rabbits , a group of playing coatis and black-tailed marmoset

There is a feeder for birds and you can see two species of toucans up close , the largest one toco toucan and the chestnut eared aracari wich was really worth it

Then to Emas NP, still about 8 hours drive from Cuiaba, our guide Julinho had never been there but was interested in joining us as a translator and we made a deal where he made his truck available to do the safaris. We were lucky that we had done that because when we arrived at the lodge ( posada Gloria ) , the owner and guide Ana did not speak a word of English.

Ana is a very friendly lady, the lodge is beautifully situated and very clean , the food excellent but Ana is NOT a top tracker, luckily julinho is and he found many more an much sooner animals than Ana.

Ana is very well aware of where the animals are thanks to the information she gets from her husband Marcus who lives next door to the lodge and is the director of the park, he regularly gives her the latest findings of sightings and traces of the animals which is also very important.

However, Emas is a big challenge, it is a huge park of 1250km² where you can see just about all possible animals, virtually no tourists so you have the empire to yourself and all that made it super exciting for us.

We quickly found a fresh den of a giant armadillo, fresh droppings of maned wolves , sharp smell of puma and spent many hours around these zones  but without any success.

Apparently it was abnormally cold ( it was freezing cold at night ) and this was not good for sightings, two weeks after we had left Julinho was contacted by Ana and she told him that they were seeing maned wolves every day because it had become warmer.

What did we see: striped hog nosed skunk ( 2x daytime), 5 tapirs of wich 4 during daytime , so very well visible , 2 nine banded armadillos , lots of crab eating foxes but also 2 HOARY foxes ( new species for us ), many deer most red brocket and pampas deer.

The highlight for Julinho was a crowned solitary eagle that was very visible in the top of a tree.

Thanks to Marcus ( Ana’s husband) who personally guide dus OUTSIDE the park , we managed to find a giant anteater in full daylight but in high grass, we started the pursuit on foot but the wind was wrong and we lost the animal soon , but at least we did see one in Brazil.

On the way back to Cuiaba we stopped in Parque Municipal dos Pilares ( in the town of Alcinopolis ) where apparently you have ( had) a reasonable chance to see the maned wolf, we found many tracks but no fresh ones and so did not see them but it is a very nice park with rock paintings, caves and very nice landscapes. In the park itself we saw a very nice tapir from very close ( daylight)but the road to the park is just as interesting; there is little traffic and you pass  a lot of farms and meadows : on that road we saw an armadillo and our SECOND GIANT  ANTEATER ( crossing the road). Definitely do this road if you have time

We stayed in hotel Pilares ( basic but very friendly owners )

Finally something about our guide Julinho, he is a real Pantanal “ local”, knows the behavior of the animals through and through, speaks several languages fluently including English, is very smart ( he hates stupid questions)y and sometimes does things out of the box ( jaguars !), he is a perfectionist and when he is busy with something, he sometimes seems a bit “absent”, he doesn’t respond immediately when you are speaking to him and it can sometimes seem wrong like he doesn’t want to pay attention to you but after a while you realize that but I can assure you  he is an extraordinary tracker.

His contact details:    julinho_andre@hotmail.com ( underscore between julinho and andre )  whatsapp: +55 65 9603 9706

3 Comments
  1. Manuel Baumgartner 2 months ago

    Dear Guido and Micheline

    Thank you for your first report, which is exciting.

    I just want to give some information about Emas and Alcinopolis, as such a report can have quite an influence on whether mammalwatchers go to the area or not.

    It is very good that you have tried the places and looked for mammals there – Emas and Alcinopolis are truly worth the trip.

    For Emas being one of the few national parks in the highly endangered Cerrado, there are really few tourists there.
    It is certainly worth it if you are there for at least 5 days or better more – then you have a good chance of seeing the maned wolf and pampas cat and much more.

    What you say about Ana is a bit harsh. She tries very hard and she gave us the right tips that we saw the pampas cat and the maned wolf. She has been a guide for over 15 years and has a lot of experience. Anyway, it is always better to become a top spotter/tracker yourself and see the important things independently of guides (for many reasons). 🙂
    Ana and Marcos give everything and live for the Emas – thanks to them it is well managed and therefore protected – not easy with the conditions.

    We are very happy that you also went to Alcinopolis, there you should best contact the local biologist “Bruna”. If she goes with you, she can (if it’s still the case?) show you the maned wolf very easily (see our report) – but of course it’s nicer to find it yourself.

    What you write about the Pantanal shocks us a bit. It is unfortunate when the area changes so much. We saw a lot of mammals – and many rare ones – in long night drives (6h+) on the Transpantaneira – also f.e. ocelot every night. How long were you on the night drives – and on the Transpantaneira? In that case, were there some cars out at night?

    With kind regards
    Manuel Baumgartner

  2. rommens guido 1 month ago

    Hi Manuel,
    I understand your reaction and like I told, Ana KNOWS where the animals are but to know is something else than to find them , we could see the difference as our own guide was with us , it was extremely cold and even Ana was not capable doing the spotlighting for a long time because she had too cold , so Julinho had to do it
    Bruna is now working in New Zealand , she gave us a contactnumber and because of Covid they don’t see the maned wolves anymore ( people did not go to the park anymore during covid and so there was not many food leftovers anymore and the wolves were used to eat them ), we spoke to a lot of locals even a renowned photographer and they don’t see the maned wolves anymore , it was now more than one year they did see one.
    We had a lot of contacts with tourists tracking the Transpantaneira late at night but with no exeptional sightings but again there was a cold front wich made it difficult ( but julinho is from there and he says there is not much to see anymore on the road )
    Wildlife is always a mix of luck, the ideal weather and persevaration, we spend 4 nights in Emas and this from early morning till very late and we had a very good tracker with us , so this is just my experience

  3. Rob Jansen 1 month ago

    Thank you for this trip report. I actually like the nuance in the report, saying the good things and possible improvement points of places/guides. Too often I think that everybody is just praising guides just because they don’t want to shed a bad light on someone. Information like this can really help future travelers in my opinion, even if it’s just to get expectations right (or to specifically ask a guide for certain things to prevent certain things happening to previous travelers). I think it’s nuanced enough, and it’s always a reflection of the persons experience (N=1). The more trip reports the better the impression of a region or place. We met Ana and were surprised too that she didn’t speak English, but indeed she was very helpful and friendly! We also didn’t get to see a Pampas Cat during a week of intense searching by the way. Same for the Pantanal, mammal activity seemed very low due to the cold.

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