Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguar and so much more
South America's best wildlife photography destination
|Tour||Dates||Days||Group Size Limit|
|Brazil's Pantanal: Jaguar and so much more||Friday 3rd August - Monday 13th August 2018||11||8|
- No fewer than five days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá and its tributaries devoted primarily to Jaguar photography
- A high chance of repeated good photographic encounters with the magnificent Jaguar
- Giant Otters, Giant Anteaters, Capybaras and numerous caimans in a vast wetland landscape
- Hyacinth Macaws and Toco Toucans - the world's biggest parrot and toucan!
- Jabiru, the world's biggest stork and a host of other herons, egrets and ibises
- Wide variety of other photogenic Neotropical bird species
Brazil’s remarkable Pantanal is simply one of the natural wonders of the world. It is a vast watery wilderness harbouring one of the greatest wildlife concentrations on the planet. In fact we think it is not just the best place for wildlife in Brazil but also one of the world’s best wildlife photography tour destinations in terms of number and quality of opportunities and subjects. We will visit the northern part of this huge expanse of wetlands, which is nowadays known as The place to photograph the magnificent Jaguar, and we will have five days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá and its tributaries devoted to finding some.
A very impressive supporting cast of other photogenic wildlife in this part of Brazil includes the impressive Giant Otter, the extraordinary Giant Anteater and an enormous number of caimans. Around 1000 bird species have been recorded in the Pantanal, far too many to mention here, but some of the most obvio ones that we photographers want to capture include the very attractive and sought-after Hyacinth Macaw, the world’s biggest parrot, and the Toco Toucan, the world’s biggest toucan. The impressive Jabiru, the world’s biggest stork, feeds alongside a throng of herons, storksus, egrets, ibises and other waterbirds. In fact the sheer number of wildlife photography subjects in this corner of Brazil is truly mind-boggling.
Called ‘Terra de Ninguem’ (No Man’s Land) by the Brazilians, the Pantanal is a vast alluvial plain, half the size of France, situated at only 100 metres (330ft) above sea-level and inhabited by just a few thousand people. Receiving the run-off from the Planalto Highlands of southwestern Brazil, this immense and seasonally watery world is essentially a huge inland river delta, which has been the subject of some awe-inspiring wildlife films.
The main attraction of the Pantanal for the wildlife photographer is the near certainty of multiple encounters with the most powerful cat in the New World, the fabled Jaguar. Although this magnificent animal is still quite widespread in Central and South America, occurring from northern Mexico south to central Argentina (including most of Brazil), it is only rarely seen elsewhere in its range and is more commonly detected by camera traps. Jaguars are usually associated with large tracts of dense rainforest, but it is now known that they feel equally at home in more open habitats, with a very marked preference for the immediate vicinity of watercourses. Hunting of Jaguars ceased a long time ago in the Pantanal of Brazil, and as a direct result these magnificent creatures have gradually become less afraid of people, sop much so in recent years that a boatload of wildlife photographers seem to faze few of them! Needless to say, this increasing unconcern for visitors is making for some truly wonderful photography.
The Pantanal holds the highest density of this enigmatic creature and is the world’s foremost locale for viewing and photographing Jaguars. The most reliable way of seeing this otherwise elusive cat is to take boat trips on the rivers, as they like to loaf during the day at the edge of a river or on sandbanks. As we patrol the waterways we will be keeping a constant lookout for this spotted beauty, which is regularly active by day here, in contrast to its more crepuscular and nocturnal habits elsewhere. The largest individuals of the Jaguar live here in the southern Mato Grosso of Brazil, where average adults usually weigh twice as much as their relatives in Central America at up to 140 kilograms (300 pounds)! We stand a high chance of encountering this cold-eyed, exquisite marvel on a number of our outings and we may well get some great photography encounters.
Although the Jaguar dominates the scene in the Pantanal as the keystone predator, they would not be here were there not a healthy population of prey animals. Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are a favourite prey of the big cat and occur all over the Pantanal, leading a semi-aquatic life. Many Pantanal Jaguars also prey on caimans, their ultra powerful jaws enabling them to bite through the crocodiles’ skulls!
We should also see the awesome Giant Otter. Several family parties inhabit the narrower stretches of the rivers and, sometimes, inquisitive individuals come to inspect the boat and can then be photographed at minimal range.
Other mammals that we have a fairly good chance of encountering during our exploration of the Pantanal include Crab-eating Fox, South American Coati, Black-striped Tufted Capuchin, Black Howler Monkey, the curious-looking Brazilian Tapir, and Marsh Deer.
We will also be stunned by the masses of crocodilians here. It is estimated that as many as 10 million Yacare Caimans inhabit the waters of the Pantanal – the largest single concentration of crocodilians in the world! The sheer quantity of these creatures in some parts of the Pantanal makes for some interesting photography.
As well as our five days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá in search of the wonderful Jaguar and other wildlife, we will spend the rest of our time exploring other excellent sites for wildlife photography along the famous Transpantaneira, a dirt road that runs from near Cuiabá southwards towards the border area between Brazil and Bolivia. The road has more than a hundred, sometimes rather dilapidated, low, wooden bridges, that runs through a variety of habitats including pastures, palm groves, gallery woodland, scrubby growth, meandering rivers, ponds and extensive flooded marshes.
Photographic opportunities abound along the Transpantaneira. Here we can drive within metres of the gigantic nests of the huge and grotesque Jabiru stork, which seem to balance precariously on the crowns of the scattered trees. The weird haunting cries of Southern Screamers are a common early morning sound, as numerous herons, egrets and ibises fly in to throng the marshes. Pairs of reclusive Plumbeous Ibises feed in the shallows, away from the more boisterous species.
Raptors are very well represented in the Pantanal and subjects for good images may include Black and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Snail Kites, Crane, Savanna, Black-collared, Roadside and Short-tailed Hawks and Southern Caracara (or Southern Crested-Caracara).
Away from the water, a different set of birdlife abounds in the scattered patches of gallery forest and in the distinctive savanna habitat, called cerrado, which is so characteristic of this part of Brazil. These palm-rich forests are the stronghold of the world’s largest parrot, the spectacular Hyacinth Macaw. We will watch these huge birds flapping lazily towards their roosting trees, their rich purplish-blue feathers glowing in the last rays of the setting sun. The world population of this fantastic creature, which surely epitomizes the wildness and uniqueness of the Pantanal, is now sadly reduced to just a few thousand birds (most of which are to be found in Brazil), owing to illegal trapping for the cagebird trade. In this area, however, the birds are better protected and often allow a close approach for some excellent photography.
The Puerto Jofre Hotel versus the Flotel
We often see Pantanal wildlife photography tour operators extolling the virtues of the Flotel, which is a bit upriver from Puerto Jofre town, over staying in Puerto Jofre itself. Well, we have nothing against the Flotel, but we stay at the best hotel in town, the Puerto Jofre Hotel, as a conscious decision, because we think it offers a better all-round experience for our guests.
In the first place we use a very fast and powerful boat for our tours, so the Flotel area is only about 25 minutes upriver for us. We can easily go back to our hotel for lunch and a midday break in between photographing Jaguars and other wildlife, and we always do.
The reality is that there are fun aspects to staying on a houseboat, but it inevitably lacks the spacious grounds and large rooms of the Puerto Jofre Hotel, which in our view is a higher quality accommodation and well worth the minor time penalty involved. The hotel grounds can be good for wildlife photography (we often see Hyacinth Macaws there, not to mention ibises and other waterbirds at very close range), so it is a nice place to spend some time. In the evening, mosquitoes are not an issue at the hotel although they can be upriver.
Naturally we don’t miss any of the prime times of day (early and late) in the best Jaguar habitats, and the only ‘toll’ for staying at a nice hotel is a bit of extra journey time.
Accommodation & Road Transport
The hotels/lodges used during our Pantanal wildlife photography tour are of good standard throughout. Road transport is by air-conditioned minibus and roads in this part of Brazil are mostly good.
The walking effort in Brazil’s Pantanal is very easy throughout.
Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at this season in the Pantanal of Brazil. Overcast weather is quite regular, however, and there may be some rain. The humidity is moderate.
If you use a DSLR for wildlife photography, we recommend having a 400-500mm prime telephoto (or a 100-400mm zoom), with or without a 1.4x converter, for many Jaguar situations, Giant Otters, most birds etc. In some Jaguar and other wildlife situations a telephoto in the 200-300mm range will be the most useful lens. A wide-angle will be needed for landscapes, although this is mostly flat terrain so opportunities are best along the rivers. There will be some opportunities to use a macro lens, if you have one.
Alternatively, you can get good results in the Pantanal by doing your wildlife photography with a high quality digital bridge camera with an 18-20x optical zoom and a wide-angle setting that is equivalent to 24-28mm. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.
RIO DE JANEIRO PHOTOGRAPHY STOPOVERS
We can easily arrange stopovers in ‘Rio’, one of the world’s truly iconic cities, with assisted transfers and expert local guides to take care of you while you admire some of Brazil’s most iconic landmarks such as Sugar Loaf Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the Botanical Gardens as well as the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copocabana. A couple of hours drive to the north of Rio, the gorgeous and endangered Golden Lion Tamarin monkey can be found easily in private nature reserves, surely one of the world’s most beautiful primates. Please contact our office for more information.
Other Wild Images wildlife photography tours in South America:
Tour Price: £4390, €5000, $5750 Cuiabá/Cuiabá.
Includes surface transportation (including boat trips), accommodations, meals, bottled water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.
Single Room Supplement: £300, €342, $393.
Deposit: £550, €660, $720.
Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.150.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.
BRAZIL, PANTANAL: JAGUAR AND SO MUCH MORE: WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR ITINERARY
Our Jaguar photography adventure begins this morning at Cuiabá Airport in the capital of the state of Mato Grosso in southwestern Brazil. From here we will drive south across the cerrado towards the town of Poconé, gateway to the Pantanal. As we make our way through this splendid area we will be stunned at the profusion of wildlife in the roadside wetlands, including the peculiar Southern Screamer, a plethora of different storks, herons, egrets and ibises, the snail-loving Limpkin, the gorgeous Sunbittern, Red-legged Seriemas in the drier areas and Toco Toucans. We will spend the next two nights at a lovely lodge situated in the Pantanal and we ought to arrive in time to do some initial exploration and wildlife photography.
We will spend the whole day exploring the vicinity of our lodge, a former cattle ranch or ‘fazenda’, where a series of lakes and ponds, which remain into the dry season, are set within a picturesque open cerrado landscape with small patches of gallery forest. This location offers photographic opportunities for particularly flashy birds like Southern Screamer, Snail Kite, Hyacinth Macaw, Toco Toucan and Great Rufous Woodcreeper. The drier areas are home to a slightly different avifauna than further south in the Pantanal including huge Greater Rheas and strange-looking Red-legged Seriemas. Mammal possibilities include the amazing Giant Anteater, which is commonly seen in daylight here, Azara’s Agouti, Black Howler and Brown Capuchin Monkey. There is even a good chance of a Brazilian Tapir after dark.
After spending the morning around our lodge we will head deep into the Pantanal. Continuing south on the Transpantaneira we will make stops whenever we find suitable subjects for photography and amongst the many possibilities in the roadside marshes we may be able to photograph such impressive birds as Maguari Stork and Rufescent Tiger-Heron, as well as have more chances with the now familiar faces from our first lodge. Eventually we will reach the ‘end of the road’ at the frontier town of Port Jofre, our base for the next six nights, maybe in time to enjoy the roosting flights of magnificent Hyacinth Macaws in the sprawling but lovely grounds of our pleasant hotel.
These five days on the slow-flowing Cuiabá River and its tributaries will follow a similar routine. We will set off each morning before sunrise in a fast, motorized skiff, which will allow us to search the extensive waterways for Jaguars, passing by numerous Black Skimmers, terns and other waterbirds along the way.
In our fast boat we can reach the main ‘Jaguar Zone’ from Porto Jofre in under half an hour, although we have even seen Jaguar within a few minutes of the hotel! The boatmen here maintain contact and share information of Jaguar sightings and as well as finding our own animals we should also benefit from the efforts of the other boats scouring the riverbanks.
Sightings are usually of resting Jaguars or those making their way though the fairly narrow gallery forest which borders the river channels; occasionally Jaguars are encountered as they come down to the water’s edge to drink. Occasionally they can even be seen hunting Capybaras or caimans, or swimming across channels. Based on past experience, over the course of our days on the river we should enjoy a good number of sightings, some of which may be very photogenic.
A sighting, let alone a prized photo, of a Jaguar is a very moving experience for most people. The presence of Jaguars in this area came to light partly owing to observations reported by boatmen operating sport-fishing trips and they are experts in manoeuvring their boats for photographers in narrow waterways, a necessary skill acquired when catering to the fishermen’s similar needs.
We will return to our hotel for lunch in the heat of each day before returning upstream in the afternoon for another jaguar search. Whilst searching for Jaguars we should encounter several of the other very special inhabitants of these secluded waterways, notably Giant Otters, which are often found in small family groups and can be very photogenic indeed. We will be hoping for water-level photography of the pink mouths of these sharp-fanged but very endearing creatures as they devour fish amongst a floating carpet of water hyacinth.
Other potential photographic subjects here include Marsh Deer, Brazilian Tapir, Black-striped Tufted Capuchins and Black Howler Monkeys. Eventually as darkness falls and the mosquitoes come out we will leave the river behind and return to our hotel, the skimmers and terns now replaced by fishing bats and nighthawks.
The ornamental pond behind our hotel at Porto Jofre holds Southern Screamers, Buff-necked Ibises, jacanas and a variety of other waterbirds and kingfishers. We will spend our final early morning watching the sunrise here and photographing wildlife in the hotel grounds, which can be very productive. Toco Toucans are regular visitors and Hyacinth Macaws breed in the grounds. If we are lucky we will also see a porcupine slumbering in one of the large trees here.
In mid morning we will retrace our route back north along the Transpantaneira and will make a two nights stay at another very pleasant eco-lodge, arriving in time for a boat ride on another wildlife-rich river. This will offer further opportunities to fill some gaps as we photograph similar species to the ones found around our southbound lodge, but here there are also excellent chances for great photography encounters with some sought-after river birds.
We will spend the day exploring the vicinity of our lodge and will take a morning boat trip here along a quiet river where strange Boat-billed and gorgeous Agami Herons can be seen and Sungrebes lurk in the shadows. Golden-collared Macaws, a speciality of this area, and Pale-crested Woodpeckers haunt the riverbank trees and we could also encounter more Giant Otters. We will also have photographic opportunities with a number of impressive cracids: the huge Bare-faced Curassow and both Chestnut-bellied Guan and Blue-throated Piping Guan, as well as the largest of the toucans, the incomparable Toco Toucan with its banana-shaped bill and glorious blue eyering. Amongst the other bird species that may well provide opportunities for photography are Striated and Cocoi Herons, Rufescent Tiger-Heron and various kingfishers. Other mammal possibilities include Neotropical River Otters, Black Howler Monkeys and delightful little Black-tailed Marmosets.
After a final early morning boat ride we will transfer to Cuiabá Airport, where our Pantanal wildlife photography tour will end in the early afternoon.
Mike Watson lives in East Lancashire with his Hungarian partner Évi and their son Alexander. His first career was with NatWest bank, where he eventually became a branch manager in Hertfordshire and later Norfolk, but he wisely decided to make a career change and joined Wild Images’ parent company Birdquest in 2005, rapidly becoming a key member of the team.
Mike has travelled very widely in search of wildlife over the last 30 or more years, visiting many countries including much of Europe (north to Iceland and Spitsbergen), the Middle East, the United States, Madagascar and Northern India. In addition to his role as Client Manager for Wild Images and Birdquest, Mike has also guided many tours for Wild Images and Birdquest to widely scattered destinations around the world.
Mike has been an avid photographer for more than 25 years and spends most of his spare time with camera in hand. A keen wildlife enthusiast since childhood, his sharp eyes will surely ensure some great wildlife encounters! Mike is a very approachable guide and always willing to share his photographic knowledge with participants on his tours. You can also check out some of Mike’s work on his website, mikewatsonfoto.com