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Although “Pantanal” is Portuguese for “swamp,” the world’s largest wetlands – 80 percent of which are located within Brazil’s vast Central-West region – are no mere marsh. Roughly the size of Great Britain, this unique ecosystem – which mingles forests, grasslands, and lots of water – is actually a gigantic floodplain that lives according to the ebb and flow of the Paraguay River and its thousands of tributaries. During its 6-month-long wet season, the region is impenetrable without a boat. However, come the dry season, those who venture forth by foot, Jeep or horseback are treated to unspoiled landscapes and exotic birds and beasts ...

Although “Pantanal” is Portuguese for “swamp,” the world’s largest wetlands – 80 percent of which are located within Brazil’s vast Central-West region – are no mere marsh. Roughly the size of Great Britain, this unique ecosystem – which mingles forests, grasslands, and lots of water – is actually a gigantic floodplain that lives according to the ebb and flow of the Paraguay River and its thousands of tributaries. During its 6-month-long wet season, the region is impenetrable without a boat. However, come the dry season, those who venture forth by foot, Jeep or horseback are treated to unspoiled landscapes and exotic birds and beasts ranging from slithering anacondas, giant anteaters, and elusive jaguars to run-of-the-mill caimans and capybaras. Birders and sport fishing aficionados will also be in heaven.

The profusion of wildlife is assured by difficult access and the inability of civilization to gain a foothold. Exploring the Pantanal is best done by basing yourself at one – or visiting several – of the traditional cattle ranches (fazenda-lodges) that provide the region’s livelihood while infusing it with a rich “cowboy” culture.

Michael Sommers
About the Expert

Michael Sommers is the author of Moon Brazil and Moon Rio, as well as the blog Thrill of Brazil. He has been living in Salvador, Brazil since 1999.

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Michael Sommers for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    May-September coincides with the dry season, which is the best time for spotting wildlife (and for land travel). For sport fishing, come during the wet season (armed with plenty of mosquito repellent).