In preparation for my first trip to the Pantanal as a guide, I figured that I would share some of my learnings and findings with you in blog form in hopes that you may be as excited as I am. I based these Q&A style points from a video chat and vlog that I recently had Ricardo Casarin, a local Brazilian guide who has been working in and around the Pantanal for over 20 years. Ricardo has shared some of his stunning imagery, tips and stories below.
I have also attached our podcast and vlog below so be sure to check them out.
I hope you enjoy :)
What is the Pantanal and where is it?
The Pantanal is the worlds largest tropical wetland. A basin of sorts set in the heart of South America. Approximately 42 million acres in size which is simply incredible as it can easily fit the whole of England inside of its large expanse. The Pantanal actually covers three countries which include Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. 80% of the Pantanal sits within Brazil and is also one of the planet's richest biodiverse habitats, which is home to around 4700 plant species and mammals such as jaguars and caiman.
The Pantanal grasslands become flooded from about October to March and the floodwaters slowly recede from April to September making the best time to visit the area between April and September as you have more chance of seeing animals walk the 'beaches' or banks of the waters edge.
How do you get to the Pantanal?
When you travel with Wild Eye we will take care of you from start to finish.
DAY ONE: You will arrive in Sao Paulo, catch a charter flight to Cuiba and then transferred to your hotel where you'll meet other guests and your Wild Eye guide.
DAY TWO: After breakfast you'll be transferred to Piuval Lodge which about a 3,5 hour drive. This is a great introduction to the area and lots to see along the way and in the afternoon of your arrival you will explore the surrounds in search of mammals and birds.
DAY THREE: You will take a 3 hour drive to Porte Jofre crossing over 140 bridges as we navigate the worlds largest wetland. After checking in at the hotel we will get ready for an afternoon on the boats looking for Jaguars!
On your return day after breakfast we will be transferred to the local airstrip and catch a charter flight straight back to Cuiba.
What makes the Pantanal so special for photography?
So many reasons! The main attraction of course is the jaguar. You may have seen them on television before swimming across the bodies of water in search of prey, and believe it or not one of their main sources of prey is actually a caiman (similar to an alligator). There have been extraordinary sightings of jaguars jumping off the banks and catching caimans in the water! This is difficult to see however and there are of course other breathtaking subjects to photograph such as the bird life and deer species. The imagery in this blog belongs to our Pantanal local guide, Ricardo Casarin who showcases the breathtaking beauty of the area.
There are too many to mention but look out for the jaguars, giant river otters, capybaras, kingfishers, anhinga bird and the toco toucan.
What type of vehicle do you use if its a wetland?
The bodies of water can get deep forming 'rivers' and 'channels' so we actually use a boat to conduct all game drives. The boats are very spacious and stable making it really comfortable and a photographers dream when it comes to looking for opportunities.
What does a day in the Pantanal look like?
We wake up early and at around sunrise we grab a quick coffee and snack then head out onto the water in search of birds and mammals. Time is quite flexible and if there is something exciting happening then there is no rush to return to the hotel. If things are a little quieter then around 11am we head back to the lodge to recharge and grab some lunch as it can get rather warm out on the water. After a little downtime we head back out - this would be around 3pm. We will then stay out on the water as long as possible to enjoy a beautiful sunset and the golden hour before heading back for dinner.
What lenses and equipment must I bring?
Ricardo recommends a 100mm - 400mm or anything in that range. This is because the caimans and jaguars sometimes get really close to the boat and walk/swim a distance off. So you want the range of that sort of lens to help in any situation you may encounter. He also suggests a stronger lens of anything above 400m fixed focal length to get quality distance shots, but its not a deal breaker and he himself uses a 200mm - 400mm. A wide angle lens for landscapes will also be a good idea but for packing reasons a cell phone can also be just as good!
There are no bean bags or gimbals on the boat. If you have a heavier lens, then try bare that in mind and think about bringing a travel bean bag or monopod but this hasn't been too much of an issue in the past.
The boat is designed and booked in a way that everyone has at least 2 seats to put equipment on and move around freely. They have also removed the roof so it's easier to photograph birds in flight and you don't have the poles of the roof to contend with.
When is the best time to visit the Pantanal?
The best time would be May/June through to November. This is the dry season which means there will be better opportunities to spot game on the banks as the water has receded. The rains for the most part have also gone making it a little easier for comfort. Having said that I spoke with Ricardo who has done tours through the wet season and had as much success so it's not to say it's the only time, rather the better time.
What must I pack and what will the weather be?
First off the the bag weight limit is 23kg. This should help with planning. Ricardo and myself both agree that less is more in this case and packing for hotter days is key. However there are the odd cold front or two that moves through and it changes normal daily temperatures of 35 degrees celsius down to 5 degree celsius. These fronts aren't common but something to think about.
Because there is no roof on the boat and the heat levels can rise quite a bit, ensure to bring long sleeves and wide brim hats. We don't want to have to deal with sunburn while jaguars are hunting caimans.
In the off chance it rains, make sure you have some form of waterproof clothing and water-proofing for your gear. I normally take 2 rubbish bags with me as the take up very little space and weight and they are very affective.
There are umbrellas on the boat in case of rain or reprieve from the sun.
What about insects and malaria?
The Pantanal is a very low risk area for malaria and also any other tick born diseases. The likely hood of being bitten by a tick is also extremely low as most of your day is in the boat.
In terms of inoculations or preparedness we always suggest you consult with your travel doctor as we are not medical professionals, but from what we have learnt from locals it is a very safe place to travel to. Please also feel free to drop us a message at Wild Eye to chat to one of us who will be happy to go through all medical necessities, especially when it comes to Covid policies.
It's so exciting to now know just how easy, safe and comfortable it is to get into the Pantanal and also to be able to capture such unimaginable beauty. A trip I truly look forward to and one I am sure I will never forget!
To find out more follow the link below to see more info on the Wild Eye Pantanal tour.
Take care, Matt.
The Pantanal with Wild Eye
One of the most exciting tropical paradises that one can explore. Filled with excitement around every river bend and blinding beauty. Its no wonder that the Pantanal is at the top of every travellers dream list. Check out our Wild Eye Pantanal trip overview to see what we get up to on this exciting expedition.