By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
PANTANAL, BRAZIL – Resting mostly in Mato Grosso do Sul but spreading over parts of Paraguay and Bolivia, the Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world. Eighty percent of the area is flooded during the wet season, providing an enormous region of unparalleled wilderness experiences.
Going on a three-day tour of the area offers myriad possibilities to explore the area. Food and lodging, the latter of which is typically rows of hammocks strung up in communal rooms, is provided by most camp areas. Dinning options are usually three standard meals of beans, rice and meat a day at the campsites.
Other than that, the best choice is to smuggle a little lunch meat onto a hook and hone your piranha-fishing skills. If it is the dry season, it’s much easier to catch the toothy fish due to low water levels – there are a lot more hungry fished packed into concentrated spaces. And with piranhas, you never have to complain that the fish aren’t biting.
Once at camp, there are several different kinds of tours available, either explore the region by boat, horseback or safari-style runs in the back of a bumpy truck. Although the tours are replete with wildlife viewing opportunities, tourists shouldn’t go into the Pantanal expecting to see any particular animal.
Visitors are guaranteed to see something – typically more than the ubiquitous caimans – but it often comes down to luck. Adventurers pressuring guides in previous years to go out and tackle spotted fauna has been curbed in recent years in favor of running more sustainable kinds of tours.
Some people even step through the hordes of sunbathing caimans to swim in the muddy waters of the rivers – the only trick is to go fishing for piranhas before you go in. At the very least you may deplete the stock of potential teeth in the water. In any case, guides in the area state that it’s not the caimans to be worried about. Apparently a piranha bite packs a bigger punch of pain than the scaly reptilians.
While laws are slowly being passed to protect the flora and fauna of Pantenal, the amount of money the government puts into patrolling the area is minimal, so the laws are hardly enforced. Farmers still burn away large swathes of forest to make space for cattle, and poaching and smuggling of rarer animal species is a problem, particularly certain reptiles, large cats and parrots.
It is best to exercise caution when choosing a particular tour company to go through. Heavy competition makes touts selling tours more than pushy in Campo Grande. Tours can be organized directly through most of the hostels in Campo, Bonito, as well as Corumbá near the Bolivian border.
In any case, it would be a good idea to try to book ahead during busy times of the year as space in many campsites is limited both through space and (supposedly) quotas set based on sustainability.