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.

Pantanal de Mato Grosso, photo courtesy of Creative Commons License.

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.

A caiman swallows a fish next to a Jabiru couple, photo by Joshua Learn.

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.

Fishing for Piranhas, photo by Joshua Learn.

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.


  1. We were in the Pantanal in October this year researching places to stay for Hidden Pousadas Brazil and would thoroughly recommend staying in a pousada fazenda and doing day/evening trips around the area rather than doing a 3 day tour. Much less exhausting, much better food and we saw literally hundreds of different species of birds and animals during the 3 days we were in each place. For a fazenda which is slightly easy to get to try the Fazenda Baia Grande (fly to Campo Grande, 3 hour bus to Miranda and then 40 minutes taxi) or to really experience the wild west try the Fazenda Baia das Pedras- a 7 hour drive by 4×4 from Campo Grande, half of it on sand roads, no traffic at all of any sort. Cheers, Alison.


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