Join Naturalist Journeys on this exciting Brazil wildlife tour deep into the famed Pantanal region. The Pantanal is home to the world’s largest fresh-water wetlands, ten-times the size of the Florida Everglades and draining into a single channel: the Paraguay River. This Pantanal wildlife tour travels deep into this world-class wildlife hotspot on a long road that bisects the Transpantaneira wilderness, in search of an adventure that can’t be missed.
In this famed region, we search for wildlife thriving in a mix of savanna, forest, and wetland habitats. Even a relaxed field day can yield 100+ species of birds and dozens of mammals—Capybara, the world’s largest rodent, are everywhere!
Maned Wolf, Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, and yes, Jaguar (we saw seven on our 2017 trip!), are five of many fantastic mammals we seek, while Harpy Eagle, Greater Rhea, Toco Toucan, Hyacinth Macaw, and Helmeted Manakin top the list of stunning birds. The Green Anaconda, the world’s largest snake, may be a lucky find, while the small crocodilian Yacaré can be seen by the hundreds. For many, it is the sheer number and variety of species that leaves the most lasting impression.
We stay at charming and working cattle ranches on this fun Brazil birding tour, each with its own distinctive wildlife community. Lazy afternoons beckon photographers to wander between shade circles of the ranch trees for rare time with Hyacinth Macaw, Red-capped Cardinal, and other species.
- Search for South America’s “Big Five” of mammals: Brazilian Tapir, Maned Wolf, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, and Jaguar
- Marvel at the “Big Five” of birds: Harpy Eagle, Greater Rhea, Hyacinth Macaw, Toco Toucan, and Helmeted Manakin. Add Southern Screamer, Sunbittern, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, and so many more!
- Traverse the Transpantaneira wilderness road on safari-like excursions
- Enjoy five species of kingfisher
- Indulge on delicious local cuisine and exceptional hospitality at fazendas (working cattle ranches) at several stages along the road
- Cruise the Cuiabá River for our greatest chance at a Jaguar sighting
- Experience water birds in mass congregation — like those of the Everglades, but magnified!
- Support the Pantanal Wildlife Center with your visit
- Watch for at least four species of monkeys and several hundred species of birds
- Search for night birds under intense southern sky constellations
Mon., Sept. 14: Arrival to São Paulo, Brazil
Arrive today in São Paulo, Brazil, at Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). No activities are planned for today so you can rest up from your travels. Please take the free shuttle to our convenient and comfortable airport hotel. Remember, you have at least 1.5 hours to get luggage and clear immigration and customs; there are comfortable public areas in the hotel where you can relax if you don’t want to pay an early room fee.
This evening we enjoy a welcome dinner?a chance to meet your guides and traveling companions, and learn more about our coming adventure. Those on our highly-recommended pre-trip to the Atlantic Forest are returning to join you this evening. We invite you to sample Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha, made with cachaça (sugarcane liquor), sugar, and lime. We predict this may be the first of many.
Accommodations at a convenient airport hotel (L,D)
*Note: Most flights from the USA originate Tuesday, August 4 to meet this arrival date.
Tues., Sept. 15: Early Flight to Campo Grande Airport | Explore the South Side of the Pantanal
We should arrive to Campo Grande about 9:00 AM and are met by our local guides. We drive by van or mini-bus to our lodge (around four hours drivetime) with stops for mammals and birding on the way there. We are motivated to get there, since this is where we have lunch!
After checking into our rooms, we spend time birding around the lodge until the end of the day, looking for birds like the Chaco Chachalaca, Hyacinth Macaw, Blue-fronted Parrot, Nanday Parakeet, Toco Toucan, Lineated and White Woodpeckers, Narrow-Billed Woodcreeper, Greater Thornbird, Giant Cowbird, Crested Oropendola, Purplish and Plush-crested Jays, Red-crested Cardinal, and many others.
We then gather with friends for dinner and for those that wish, the daily checklist.
Accommodations at Pousada Pequi (B,L,D)
Wed., Sept. 16 & Thurs., Sept. 17: Pantanal Safari from Pousada Piqui
Pequi is an excellent environment for birdwatching, a place where over 300 bird species have been recorded. The lodge is located just shy of 200 kilometers from Campo Grande city, which has an international airport, and about 60 kilometers from Aquidauana city, which is known as the gateway to the Pantanal. We have two full days to explore from the lodge, plus our pathway coming and going.
Interesting bird species are Southern Screamer, Blaze winged Parakeet, Gilded Hummingbird, Toco Toucan, Pale crested and White fronted Woodpecker, Red billed Scythebill, Helmeted Manakin, and the Scarlet headed Blackbird.
This morning after an early breakfast, we embark on a safari drive with good chances to see the Undulated Tinamou, Capped Heron, Jabiru, Savanna Hawk, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Buff-necked and Plumbeous Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Hyacinth and Yellow-collared Macaw, Red-billed Scythebill, Orange-backed Troupial, and many others.
After lunch we are back at the lodge and make time to enjoy a siesta in the hot part of the day, and then we make another safari drive until the end of the day, returning in the dark with chances to see mammals like the Crab-eating Fox, South American Coati, Capybara, Marsh Deer, Southern Tamandua, Crab-eating Raccoon, River Otter, and night birds such as Common and Great Potoo, Spectacled and Striped Owl, Pauraque and Scissor-tailed Nightjar.
We find this area to be the best place to spot Giant Anteater in the whole region and we make the effort to find them, so keep your fingers crossed!
We have dinner upon return, and for those that wish again, the checklist.
Accommodations at Aguapé Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Sept. 18: Birding from Pequi to Campo Grande
After an early breakfast we take a bird walk for excellent chances to see Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Blaze-winged Parakeet, Black-crowned Tityra, Chestnut-eared Aracari, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, among the many more.
This morning we also enjoy a motorboat excursion at Aquidauana River. This river is full of life with good chances to see a family of Giant River Otter and special birds like Black-collared Hawk, five species of kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-throated Piping Guan, and many others.
After an early lunch at the lodge we drive back to Campo Grande, check in to the hotel, and then enjoy a short visit to the “nesterar,” a place where a nice concentration of macaws and herons nest near the city.
Accommodations at Hotel Mohave or similar (B,L,D)
Sat., Sept. 19: Early Flight: Campo Grande to Cuiaba | Northern Transpantaneira Adventure Begins | Aymara Lodge
After an early domestic flight to Cuiabá we begin the second (northern) half of our Pantanal adventure!
Driving south, we reach the famed Pantanal via a paved road to Poconé. En route we have lunch in a typical churrasqueria, and enjoy simple Brazilian-style cuisine.
From here, we travel the dirt Transpantaneira Road, perhaps only rivaled by Tanzania’s Serengeti road for spotting wildlife.
Our destination tonight is Aymara Lodge. Along the way, we might see Ringed Kingfisher, Red-crested Cardinal, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Toco Toucan, Jabiru, Limpkin, our Capybaras (of course!), Yacaré Caiman, and more.
Aymara Lodge is located just 30km from Poconé. After check in, we can stretch our legs on a short walk. There is a lovely pool if anyone wants to cool off with a swim.
Accommodations at Aymara Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., Sept. 20: Birding & Wildlife Spotting on the Transpantaneira | Drive to Porto Jofre | Jaguar Boat Excursion
After some morning wildlife viewing at the ranch, we depart down the Transpantaneira, keeping an eye out for Red Brocket Deer, Marsh Deer, Crab-eating Fox, Greater Rhea, Chestnut-bellied Guan, Bare-faced Curassow, and a mix of wading birds. Bridges are hotspots from which we can view the presence of a huge food supply; Green Kingfisher, Great Egret, Cocoi Heron, both Bare-faced and Green Ibises, and White-lored Spinetail are just a few species we may see.
We pass through scattered palm woodlands, cerrado scrub, and seasonally-flooded grasslands reminiscent of the Everglades. Roadside ponds and canals are filled with waders: Roseate Spoonbill, Plumbeous Ibis, Limpkin, cormorants, herons, kingfishers, and their predator, Yacaré Caiman. August water conditions concentrate the fish for foraging waders like Jabiru and Maguari Stork.
At Porto Joffe, the “end of the road,” palms attract several resident pairs of Hyacinth Macaw. From this little town on the Cuiabá River, we settle into our lodgings—two days at a lovely and modern hotel right on the river. This hotel allows us to stay close to where the wildlife has been spotted; we explore from the hotel each day on smaller boats.
We check into our rooms, have dinner, then have a briefing on safety and wildlife we hope to see. If skies are clear, star viewing is impressive?you can see the Southern Cross!
Accommodations at the Santa Rosa Pantanal Hotel (B,L,D)
Mon., Sept. 21: Full Day Looking for Jaguar, Jabiru & More | Jaguar Boat Excursion
Awake to a host of sounds and the sight of macaws and more flying overhead. We use smaller speedboats to spend the day searching for the iconic Jaguar, known for their affinity to water. They are good swimmers, and often lay down along the shore after a swim. Chances are good that we see at least one individual, male or female?perhaps even together!
We lunch back at our hotel, take a short siesta (yes, love that AC … ) and try for Jaguar again in the afternoon. Wildlife is plentiful in this remote part of the Pantanal, so once we accomplish the main task (a Jaguar, of course) we have time to admire other species like Giant Otter, Black Skimmer, Pied Plover, Southern Screamer, and Yacaré Caiman. We also visit little streams for skulkers like Pygmy Kingfisher and Sungrebe.
By late afternoon we return to our welcoming lodge. We celebrate our sightings with caipirinhas before dinner!
Accommodations Santa Rosa Pantanal Hotel (B,L,D)
Tues., Sept. 22: Wildlife & Birding on the Lower Transpantaneira
After two days immersed in the wildest part of the Pantanal, we return north, retracing our route. We are not in a hurry though, and work some of the areas we previously traveled in more detail.
Perhaps we find a troop of Black-and-Gold Howler Monkey, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Snail Kite, Rusty-backed Antwren, Common Tody Flycatcher, White-browed Blackbird, and others species as we drive to our next lodge. We watch for Cream-colored Woodpecker, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Short-crested Flycatcher, Mato Grosso Antbird, Great Antshrike, and Purple-throated Euphonia. Near water we find Whistling and Capped Herons, Pygmy and Ringed Kingfishers, Sunbittern, Black-collared and Great Black Hawks, and Rusty-backed Spinetail.
Once we arrive at the Mato Grosso Hotel on the Rio Pixium, we settle in and check the feeders for brilliant-colored troupials, Palm, Silver, and Sayaca Tanagers, and Red-crested Cardinal. At this point in our journey we have seen numerous mammals and birds, and we can base our efforts on finding anything missing from our list that we hope to see.
Accommodations at Mato Grosso Hotel (B,L,D)
Wed., Sept. 23: Pixaim River Area Wildlife & Birding
It’s another morning for gazing at the sunrise while sipping good Brazilian coffee. This morning, pending what we still need to see, we can do a safari drive, or we can take a small boat ride on the Pixaim River to spot secretive species like Agami and Zig-Zag Herons. This is a good spot for Giant Otter and, with luck and some searching, a Tapir.
Driving back to Cuiabá, the landscapes are iconic and make for great pictures. We look for Black-capped Donacobious, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Little Blue Heron, and other species like some very impressive iguanas. We can break up our drive with a walk in Gallery Forest habitat looking for special birds like Helmeted Manakin, Mato Grosso Antbird, Band-tailed Antbird, Black-hooded Tanager, Blue-crowned Trogon, and more.
Dinner finds us sampling authentic Grosso cuisine, including legendary piranha and local beef.
Accommodations at the Mato Grosso Hotel (B,L,D)
Thurs., Sept. 24: Wildlife Viewing | Return Drive to Cuiabá
Today, we make our way back to Cuiabá; the paved road is perhaps a welcome sight as we bid adieu to the marvelous but often dusty Pantanal. Our plan is to arrive in Cuiabá in time for connections to São Paolo for evening flights out. Plan on flights after 4:00 PM. For those not finding a good match up, you can return to GRU and overnight, or simply overnight in Cuiabá at the Odara Hotel, close to the city’s botanic gardens, and start fresh the following day. If you plan to overnight in Cuiabá and would like to add an outing at the botanic gardens, we are happy to offer that (added charge). (B,L)
Atlantic Forest Pre-Tour Extension
Thurs., Sept. 10: Arrival in São Paulo
You arrive today in São Paulo for our Atlantic Forest pre-tour extension. After gathering your bags and going through customs please take the convenient shuttle to the hotel. Rest up from the long flight and get to know the others in the group at dinner tonight.
Accommodations in at a convenient airport hotel (D)
Fri., Sept. 11: Itatiaia National Park—Atlantic Forest
We want an early departure after breakfast so we can arrive at Itatiaia National Park (170 miles) before noon. Along the highway we look for Southern Crested Caracara and both White-tailed and Crane Hawks. Our stop at the park’s entrance station provides us with our first opportunity to bird the Atlantic Forest. White-eyed
Parakeet put on a show as they jet overhead, while we look for Curl-crested Jay, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Campo Flicker, Savannah Hawk, Ruby-crowned Tanager, Grey Monjita, and Crested Black-Tyrant. We have lunch, check into our rooms and then enjoy the stunning vista with an array of feeders and birds in the foreground. For birders and photographers alike, this is just such a treat to see so many of the colorful birds of this park, and so close: Red-breasted Toucan, Dusky-legged Guan, Green Honeycreeper, White-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Green-headed and other tanagers, Crested Oropendola, and Red-rumped Cacique. This is a fine introduction to some of the species of the Atlantic Forest.
Accommodations at Hotel do Ype or similar (B,L,D)
Sat., Sept. 12 & Sun., Sept. 13: Midlevel & High-Altitude Exploration of Itatiaia National Park
These two days are dedicated to exploring the trails and roads of the central part of the park. We stop for flocks as we climb the road to the higher elevations of the park where we should find Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Planalto Hermit, Surucua Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Rufous-capped Motmot, Tufted Antshrike, White-bearded Antshrike, Variable Antshrike, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Plain Antvireo, Star-throated Antwren, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Ferruginous Antbird, Ochre-rumped Antbird, White-bibbed Antbird, Rufous Gnateater, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Blue-backed Manakin, Gray-capped Tyrannulet, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, Buff-throated Warbling-Finch, Diademed Tanager, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-throated Woodcreeper, and Scaled Woodcreeper.
We drive through the area, making “specialty stops” to areas that have Violet-capped Woodnymph, Black Hawk-Eagle, and Collared Forest-Falcon. Higher elevation stops allow us to look for Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Itatiaia Spinetail, and Rufous-capped Antshrike. A number of different species occur along the transition zones of the various elevation-dependent habitats as we climb the road to the top. These include a long list: White-barred Piculet, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Plain-winged Woodcreeper, Black-billed Scythebill, Rufous-capped Spinetail, Pallid Spinetail, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, White-browed Foliage-gleaner, Yellow Tyrannulet, Gray-hooded Flycatcher, Cliff Flycatcher, Black-tailed Flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Velvety Black-Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-browed Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Golden-winged Cacique, Black-goggled Tanager, Rufous-headed Tanager, Golden-chevroned Tanager, and Ruby-crowned Tanager. We should also find monkeys: Black Capuchin along with Black-striped Capuchin.
One of the fascinating aspects of climbing this road is the different plant communities and species. We bird in Araucaria forest, a unique, high-elevation conifer of the park; the tundra-like plants found in the shrubby lands at the top of the park; and lower elevation cloud forest, complete with salvias, bromeliads, and orchids. Lower elevations have intermittent forests embedded with grasslands and streams. All of these habitats provide ample opportunity to experience this well-known and diversity-rich part of Brazil.
Accommodations at Hotel do Ype or similar (B,L,D)
Mon., Sept. 14: Morning in Itatiaia National Park | Return to São Paulo
This morning we enjoy an early breakfast, and then drive to the Agulhas Negras road into the highlands on the far side of the park. This road gives us access to higher elevation habitat where some specialty birds are found. Notable among these are White-rumped Hawk, Rufous-thighed Hawk, Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Itatiaia Thistletail, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Black-capped Piprites, Brown-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, Shear-tailed Gray Tyrant, Diademed Tanager, Gray-throated Warbling-Finch, and Bay-chested Warbling-Finch.
After we finish birding here, we drive back to São Paulo where we meet up with our companions, overnight before the start of our main trip (and in-country flight) to the Pantanal!
Accommodations at an airport hotel (B,L,D)
Chapada Post-Tour Extension
Thurs., Sept. 24: Cuiaba Chapada Dos Guimaraes
Those who opt to join this extension say goodbye to the rest of the group today in Cuiaba, and continue driving north to Chapada dos Guimarães, gaining in elevation for about an hour’s drive. Our first stop is the beautiful Véu de Noiva Waterfall, the highest fall of the Park (89m height). The landscape here is beautiful; and this eBird hotspot lists 277 species. We watch for Guira Cuckoo, Great Dusky Swift, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Blue-winged Macaw, both Purplish and Curl-crested Jays, and more.
We arrive to our lodge by afternoon, and after settling in, we can take in a panoramic natural balcony overlooking the plain of Cuiabá, from which we are able to appreciate a breathtaking landscape, and also observe Red and Green Macaw, King Vulture, White-eared Puffbird, and parrots. We return to our lodge for dinner.
Accommodations at Pousada Vento Sul or Pousada do Parque (B (on main tour),L,D)
Fri., Sept. 25: Chapada Dos Guimaraes
After breakfast we visit the wonderful Cidade de Pedras (Stone Town), stunning rock formations that best characterize Chapada dos Guimarães. Located within the National Park at the top the region of Vale do Rio Claro, it is the best place to observe the great sandstone cliffs and the gigantic hills. From there we can see an incredible landscape, where rock formations are continuously carved and transformed. We also watch for the beautiful Curl-crested Jay, Coal-crested Finch, Blue Finch, Campo Flicker, the regal King Vulture, and more.
After lunch we explore the Vale do Rio Claro; our excursion begins inside the National Park, driving between cliffs, streams, and trails, then we continue walking up to the Crista do Galo, a rock formation located in the center of the valley that gives us a panoramic view of the region. From here, we see the Rio Claro and the Invernada Rivers, and the huge sandstone walls that characterize the Chapada dos Guimarães. We continue walking up to Poço da Anta, a great well of crystal-clear water near the source, a true natural aquarium where you can swim.
We are back to the lodge for dinner tonight.
Accommodations at Pousada Vento Sul or Pousada do Parque (B,L,D)
Sat., Sept. 26: Chapada Dos Guimaraescuiaba
Today we visit the Geladeira trail and road to witness some final birds that we’d like to see, including Burrowing Owl, Red-winged Tinamou, White-rumped Tanager, Shrike-like Tanager, Black-bellied Antwren among others. We return to our lodge for lunch, and at the end of the afternoon after some nice birding time, we drive back to Cuiaba for the night. Tonight, we enjoy a celebratory dinner as we close out a fantastic trip. We choose this hotel for its modern amenities and also for its prime location – close to Cuiaba’s botanical gardens.
Accommodations at Odara Hotel (B,L,D)
Sun., Sept. 27: Departures
We make a short morning visit to Parque Mae Bonifacia, an eBird hotspot noting 300+ species. We keep our eyes peeled for Russet-crowned Crake, Blue-crowned Trogon, White-wedged Piculet, Little Woodpecker, Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Red-crested Finch, Grayish Saltator, and more. Then we’re off to the airport to catch connecting flights to our international flights home, most routing through Sao Paulo. (B)
Cost of the Journey
The cost of the 11-day main tour is $5590 DBL / $6150 SGL, and includes 10 nights’ accomodations, all meals as noted in the itinerary, airport transfers, land and boat transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. It includes two flight segments within country, the final segment out of Cuiaba is not included so you can set that timing and best match your outbound international (or explore more of Brazil). The tour cost does not include airfare to São Paulo and from Cuiaba, personal expenses like laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for your guides, drivers, luggage handling or other miscellaneous services. Fishing is an option, and can be arranged with local boats and guides. The cost depends on the number that want to go, details provided closer to departure.
Cost of the 4N/5D pre-tour Atlantic Forest extension is $1550 DBL / $1710 SGL.
Cost of the post-tour Chapada extension for those on our main tour is:
$1075 for the 3N/4D extension DBL, $1250 SGL. Price is based on a group of four persons minimum and includes all lodgings, meals, transportation, guiding and park and reserve entrance fees.
Arrival airport is Guarulhos International (GRU). For the main tour, plan to arrive at a time convenient for you on September 14. Note: Most flights arrive in the morning, and your room may not be available until noon – 2:00 PM, but there are public areas for that wait period. Please plan departures on September 24 from Cuiaba’s Marechal Rondon International Airport (CGB), with a flight 4:00 PM or after, timed to connect with your own international flight. Most flights leave São Paulo around midnight. If yours is a day flight, you will need to overnight in Cuiabá or São Paolo to go out the next day. We end in Cuiabá as some may continue to other parts of Brazil and can fly direct to those locations. Examples are Iguazu, Belo Horizontes, and Rio Cristalino.
If you participate in the pre-tour Atlantic forest extension, plan to arrive at a time convenient for you on September 10.
Photo credits: Banner: Hyacinth Macaws, Mark Wetzel; Jaguar, Peg Abbott; Toco Toucan, Peg Abbott; Giant Anteater, Leon Moore; Pantanal Horseback Ride, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Agami Heron, Lori Conrad; Rufous Hornero, Peg Abbott; Jaguar, Peg Abbott, Boat-billed Herons, Tom Dove; Capybara Family, Peg Abbott; Caracara, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Giant Otter, Peg Abbott; Caiman, Xavier Muñoz.