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Pantanal

Planning Your Trip to the Pantanal – Information About the Pantanal

Mato Grosso is the third largest state in Brazil with more than 900,000 km2 and within area are found three great and distinct eco-systems: Savannah or Scrubland, dominates the whole of the Brazilian Central Plateau and adjacent areas; the Amazon Forest, situated in the north of the state, where one of the largest indigenous reserves of the country is situated – the Xingu National Park – and, finally, to the southwest of the state is found the immense sedimentary plain part of the Silver (Platina) Basin, the Matogrossense Pantanal, a fascinating ecological sanctuary.

Pantanal Travel and Tourism Information

Cuiaba, the capital of the state founded at the beginning of the 18th century as a consequence of mining, is located at the geodesic center of South America. Strategically positioned at the convergence of three biosphere (Savannah, Amazon and Pantanal), makes it the best starting point for expeditions to any of these fantastic and fascinating worlds.

The Pantanal of Mato Grosso is an extensive plain of approximately 230,000 km2 and its area occupies territory of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay in the heart of South America. This sedimentary plain is still undergoing geological formation and so is influenced by its two cycles. During the wet season (November to April), the region is flooded as a consequence of the overflowing of its numerous waterways (rivers, lakes and streams) which form the Silver Basin: this is the time of an explosion of colors in the rich flora. The animals, especially the mammals, look for capões – wooded mounds- where they shelter during this period. In the dry season (May to October), the region presents small lakes, many of which are perennial, which constitute the food source for a great variety of animals including migratory birds form various parts of the Planet.

Approximately 700 species of birds; 100 of mammals; 80 of reptiles; 240 of fish as well as a great number of invertebrates still not classified, constitute the richest variety of fauna to be found in the Americas. On the edge of the Brazilian Central Plateau stands the mystical Chapada dos Guimaraes, a region of peculiar topography, at an altitude of 650m. Rock formations of various geological era and fossils of marine deposits from the Devonian Period, as well as reptiles from the Mesozoic Period, illustrate the various geolocial phases this region has been through.Situated at a point equidistant from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and being the watershed between the Amazon and Silver Basins, the region was used by the paleoindians during their wanderings through South America, leaving various marks as well as the remains found in the archeological sites.

One of the most majestical emergent rock formations in the World is today the source of various rivers which, descending in waterfalls, find their way into the Pantanal.

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Information About the Pantanal History

The history of the Pantanal region actually begins with the legend of El Dorado. Portuguese settlers in the 16th century heard from many Indians about the great white king who lived in the gold kingdom beyond ‘the Great Mountains’ (the Andes).

As the Spanish advanced through Central America, a few Portuguese adventurers gathered an army of Indians and in the first attempt marched through the Peabiru, an Indian road that cut through central Brazil until the Andes. This army got to the borders of the Inca’s territory and attacked many Inca border towns, sacking all the gold and silver they could.

When they were returning to the central base, which today is in Uruguay, they passed through the Pantanal and were amazed by its beauty. Unfortunately on the way back they were attacked by the fierce Paraguay Indians and almost all of them got killed.

A second expedition decided to try to go by boat, because they had received stories from the survivors, descriptions of a huge land full of rivers, where they could navigate and certainly avoid the terrible Paraguay Indians. By boat they could also carry more weaponry that would help them conquer the great Indian kingdom that was full of gold. This second expedition couldn’t fulfill its objective, but while navigating through the Prata River the Portuguese reached the Pantanal and started to navigate its rivers, demarcating them and drawing the first maps of the region.

The region, originally inhabited by Indian tribes, was developed by Brazilian Bandeirantes, Portuguese descendants who came to the area as gold diggers and slave hunters at the beginning of the 18th century. Many Indian tribes faced extermination. After the war with Paraguay in 1864 some newcomers, impressed by the beauty of the land they had found, engaged in extensive cattle raising, small farming, fishing and hunting activities that had little effect on the region. In 1914 the northwest railroad was built to connect the area with other Brazilian states. Since it was still a remote area, not much happened until the 20th century.

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Information About the Pantanal Culture

Living in the immense area of Pantanal with its adversities, is the native man of the region: the pantaneiro. He is known as peao, integrated with everything around, he knows that all the actions of nature, inundations and dry season, are responsible for the richness and life of Pantanal. The area has been used for cattle farming for decades. Pantaneiro ‘cowboys’ and their cattle herds have a history of living in harmony with the Pantanal wildlife.

The long distances and the difficult access to other regions have made the pantaneiro man used to isolation and loneliness. Once in a while the pantaneiro´s solitude is broken when a group of pantaneiros get together to herd cattle, or when they participate of the traditional parties in the neighboring farms. Herding the cattle can make days turn into weeks as the men travel by horse, taking thousands of cattle to dry pastures so they can eat.

After leaving the animals by themselves for a few months, the peao brings them back to their original pastures or takes them to be sold in a nearby city. This kind of trip resembles American cowboys’ journeys through the Middle West, but in this case, the travelers traverse a wetland area. In that isolated region the most usual means of transport is the pantaneiro horse, resistant to work inside the water, and crafts of varied sizes and types.

The people of the Pantanal preserve their culture and traditions not only through their work on the land but also in their traditional festivals and parties, where people dance to the sound of the violeiro (guitar player), who by the end of the party plays his sad songs. It is said, that because of his or her ability as a musician the devil is forbidden to touch the violeiro. One such traditional festival is the Festival of Sao Benedito, which takes place in Cuiabá.

A religious display that is Afro-Brazilian in origin; the festival of Sao Benedito takes place in June and is a tradition that has been kept alive by the African people who settled in Mato Grosso to work in the mines, on the farms, in factories and as domestic servants. The festival has taken place since 1718 at the time Cuiabá was founded, and is dedicated to the Afro-Brazilian Saint Benedito, patron of the city, featuring folkdances such as the siriri, the cururu, the congo, the boi-a-serra and the masked dance, in addition to the plentiful distribution of typical Cuiaban sweetmeats.

Fishing is also a big part of the culture here, as there is an abundance of fish in the rivers flowing through the Pantanal. The Pantanal has the second biggest variety of fresh water fish per square meter in the world. A lot of the cuisine in the region is based on fish from the rivers of this region. Fishing in the Pantanal basin is a major attraction and you can expect to catch native Brazilian species like the Dourado, catfish, Pintado, Pacu, Jaú, Piraputanga, Piabuçu, Curimbatá, Arraia (Freshwater Ray), Tucunaré, Surubim, Lambari, Jeripoca, Corimbatá, and Cascudo among others.

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Information About the Pantanal Weather

The weather is classified as a savanna climate, according to the Köppen classification. The basin has two distinctive periods of precipitation: dry from about April through September rainy with heavy rain from October through March, with 80% of the annual precipitation during the wet season.

The Pantanal floodplain could be categorized as a big receptor, given that the average precipitation is only 800mm, while the average precipitation in the surrounding highlands reaches 1,200mm annually. The rain rapidly drains into the Pantanal basin, where there is a reduced run-off bed resulting in a flooded plain. The inclination of the area is very low, about one-to-two centimeters per kilometer from north to south and about six-to-eight centimeters per kilometer from east to west, contributing to the wetland formation. It can be hot during the day, but the nights are fresh or cold. Summer begins as the rains come and the temperatures rise.

A heavy rainfall can lower temperatures, but as soon as the rain stops the temperature rises again. The annual pluviometric rate varies from 1,000 to 1,400mm and December and January are the months with heaviest rains. In that period the Pantanal is humid and warm and it becomes a huge lagoon with rivers, bogs and small lagoons all intermingled. The predominant climate is tropical, presenting well defined features concerning the dry and the rainy seasons. The minimum temperature is 12°C (54°F) and the maximum 34°C (93°F).

Dry Season From April to September, during the dry season, the temperature is very agreeable and the rains scarce. In the ‘pantaneira’ region the landscape changes dramatically according to the two well defined seasons of the year: the dry and the rainy one. During the dry season, on the extensive fields covered by gramineous species and ‘cerrado’ vegetation, the water is scarce being restrained to the perennial rivers with defined beds, to the lagoons near those rivers and to some swampy lands in the lower areas of the plain. During this season temperatures range from 24°C (75°F) to 34°C (93°F).

Rainy Season From November to March Pantanal has the flood period. The vegetation changes according to the kind of soil and inundation, and what takes precedence are species of ‘cerrado’ on the sandy lands – known as High Pantanal – and gramineous species on the clay lands of Low Pantanal. With the flood, the depressions are inundated and form extensive lakes, known as ‘baías’ (bays). Those bays, especially if alkaline, present an astonishing beauty with waters in different colors according to the algae that develop there, creating shades of green, yellow, blue, red or black.

As the waters rise a voluminous quantity of organic material is carried by the stream throughout large distances. During the reflux those remains are settled at the margins and beaches of the rivers, lagoons and swampy areas, becoming fertilizing elements for the earth. Average temperatures range from to 10°C (50°F) to 25°C (77°F). To check out how the weather is today in the Pantanal click here.

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Information About the Pantanal Natural Aspects

The Pantanal, is considered to be the world’s biggest wetland area, it covers an area of approximately 150,000 km² situated in the upper Paraguay River Basin. The greatest part lies in Brazil, divided between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

One of the biggest sedimentation plains in the world also spreads out to the neighboring countries of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, but of the total area, 140.000 km2, belongs to Brazilian territory. The huge plain, exposed to recurrent overflowing, presents light undulations, detached low mountains and several flat depressions. Its borders are demarcated by varied systems of elevations like plateaus and sierras, and it is cut by an impressive quantity of rivers, all of them belonging to the Paraguay Basin. There are few towns, people and roads in the Pantanal. It is an area of large fazendas, farms or ranches that may offer guest housing. In this immense, pristine and biologically rich environment, the Pantanal, there exists an extraordinary concentration of diverse flora and fauna, and a landscape spanning a variety of ecological sub-regions.

Enormous flocks of waders and waterfowl from America and Canada spend the winter months here. Though the Pantanal offers sanctuary for migratory ducks and geese moving between Argentina and Central America, most of the 600 species of water birds found here are residents that follow the changing water levels inside the huge swamp, in pursuit of the 350 species of fish that support them in the food chain. Rainfall cycles are the key to the Pantanal.

During the rainy season the rivers rise by more than 3 meters, flooding their banks and spreading into huge closed lakes where fish have been breeding. The waters activate ground vegetation and enable the overhanging trees to produce fruit on which the fish gorge themselves, before swimming through open canals to spawn in the rivers. Because the altitude varies little throughout the 600 km extension of the Pantanal, water drains slowly, producing a tremendous surge in fertility. During high water in the northern part, the southern Pantanal has shallow water, which attracts the wading birds.

After April, the situation is reversed and the birds fly northward to nest between June and September. Here the lakes are once again cut off from the rivers and their fish become captives for predators. The word ‘Pantanal’ derives from the word ‘pântano’, which generally translates as swamp, marsh, or bog. The Pantanal, however, is more than one of these specialized wetland types. The term designates a river floodplain region, an internal delta encompassing a variety of ecological sub-regions.

One can find in the Pantanal an aquatic system of large rivers and standing water, terrestrial systems, and diverse types of ‘wetlands’ — the transitional, halfway world between aquatic and terrestrial systems. This area is an unparalleled wildlife sanctuary of spectacular beauty, an ecological paradise containing hundreds of species of birds, thousands of varieties of butterflies, myriads of brightly colored flowers, and shoals of fish.

The Pantanal is noteworthy for its extraordinary bio diversity and abundance of wildlife and is known as ‘the world’s biggest ecological sanctuary’. Animals like Capuchin and Howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, anacondas, caimans and tapirs, the endangered jaguar, the increasingly rare Hyacinthine macaws and giant river otters, all make their home there. The Pantanal is also home to the New World’s largest concentration of animals with a variety far greater than seen in Africa. Unfortunately, the fauna of the Pantanal, which encompasses the biggest variety of mammals, birds and the second biggest variety of fresh water fish per square meter, has been threatened by poaching and smuggling and killing of animals. Palm trees, orchids, fafero, taboa and hundreds of other species compound the rich and colorful vegetation of Pantanal and are distributed among aquatic plants, ciliary forest, clean fields, cerrado and even caatinga (land covered with crooked trees and prickly plants).

The wonderful colors of the ipê trees (Brazilian timber) with their flowers varying from white and yellow to purple and pink, divide the show with the beauty of acácias, unhas de vaca and dozens of other species creating an always changing visual panorama year round. In areas not affected by the flood, it’s usual to find the pequi (tree that can be 10 meters high) that produces a fleshy fruit with a strong yellow pulp used in the pantaneira cookery and for the manufacturing of a liqueur very popular in the region. The huge variety of vegetation in the Pantanal provides nourishment, shelter and reproductive areas for all animal species in the area.

The pantaneiro man is also extremely dependent on the vegetation and makes use of it with the wisdom given by his direct and continuous contact with nature. As a wetland of exceptional size, the Pantanal has one of the most impressive freshwater fisheries on earth. The Pantanal is a truly unique and exquisite natural paradise. This magical place is the heart of the Brazilian interior and deserves to be seen.

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Pantanal Travel Tips

Airports

  • BYO (few or no comercial flights)
  • Campo Grande Airport CGR (has commercial flights from other Brazilian cities’ major airports)

What to bring and wear:

  • Insect repellent
  • Sun screen
  • Rain gear
  • Comfortable clothing (quick dry, long sleeve, pant/shorts, socks, sandals)
  • Camera with a good telephoto and lots of memory cards and charger
  • Backpack
  • Bathing suit
  • Long sleeve shirt for nocturnal sightseeing and hiking in the woods
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Binoculars
  • Ziploc or dry-sacs to protect your camera equipment
  • Personal hygiene items

Vaccinations

  • Yellow Fever Vaccination is compulsory for all travelers visiting Mato Grosso, the region where the Pantanal is.  Please note that yellow fever vaccinations take approx 10 days to become effective.  That being said, Yellow Fever is very rare and the best precaution against it is a good long sleeve shirt.
  • Malaria Malaria is not a high risk in this region, with reports of the illness only occurring very occasionally during the wet season
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Pantanal Vacation Packages, Tours and Vacations