Wildlife in Brazil travel guide
Only rivalled in its brilliance, abundance and exoticism by Rio Carnival itself, Brazil’s wildlife turns the dial all the way up to 11. Otters are giant, as are rodents – the resident capybara is the biggest of the lot – macaws are vivid blue and a metre long, while Amazon dolphins are a baby lotion pink. Then there is Brazil’s star predator, the beautiful, solitary jaguar, looking like a beefed-up leopard and with a bite powerful enough to pierce a caiman’s skull.
Brazil’s wild, watery landscapes seethe with wildlife: the Pantanal is South America's primary wildlife sanctuary, while the Amazon is famed for its biodiversity.
Whether by boat or canoe, on foot or on horseback, seeing Brazil’s wildlife makes meaningful sense when you understand the complex, biodiverse landscapes it inhabits. Local naturalist guides serve up a healthy dose of context: the threat to the Amazon’s ecosystems from deforestation and climate change, the conservation work naturalists and cattle ranchers share in the Pantanal. Come for the animals, but leave with a richer understanding of Brazil’s wild places.
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Brazil wildlife map & highlights
Wildlife vacations in Brazil focus on the Amazon, the Pantanal, or both, but look at a map of this behemoth of a country and it’s obvious that seeing one or both takes some serious travel. Internal flights connect Rio with Manaus, the city at the heart of the Amazon, and Cuiabá, hopping off point for the Pantanal. From Manaus you’ll travel by road but primarily boat to get deep into the jungle, while down in the Pantanal, the Transpantaneira Highway will deliver you to Porto Jofre, aka Jaguarland. From here, it’s another few hours’ drive to reach the Southern Pantanal, the only place in the world where you can see semi habituated ocelots.
1. The Amazon
Venturing into the mighty Amazon is about more than just wildlife watching, although you’re likely to spot playful pink river dolphins and all kinds of monkey. Traveling here is the chance to explore deep into the jungle, soaking up its sounds and rhythms, a tiny presence amongst a vast landscape that’s one of the world’s most important ecosystems.
2. Atlantic rainforest
Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest is a rich mix of forest, wetland and grassland. It supports all kinds of beasts, from tiny marmosets to woolly spider monkeys, and is especially rich in birdlife. Some 930 bird species are found here, including 13 species classified as threatened. The Regua reserve has numerous specialities, including the masked duck and blue bellied parrot, and is just a two-hour drive from Rio.
Wildlife vacations to Brazil are as much about the birds as the beasts, with an avian all-star cast ready to impress even reluctant twitchers. Hyacinth macaws paint the Pantanal a brilliant blue, while roseate spoonbills and toucans rock exotic beaks. Over in the Amazon, scarlet macaws look like flying cocktails, kingfishers create a streak of brilliance as they dive, and huge harpy eagles nest in the canopy.
The largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar is an impressive beast. This ambush predator has an incredibly powerful bite and sometimes uses it to kill prey by biting right through its skull, piercing the brain – the only big cat to do this. Porto Jofre is the best base for exploring the jaguar rich wetlands of the Pantanal, with boat trips taking you to spy them lolling on the river banks.
5. The Pantanal
The somewhat underrated Pantanal, eclipsed by the celebrated Amazon, is actually Brazil’s best wildlife destination. And what wildlife: tapirs, capybaras, caiman, giant otters, anacondas, piranhas and, its impressive top predator, the jaguar. The Pantanal’s open wetland landscape makes viewing easy, with boat rides, canoeing, walking and horse riding getting you into the landscape, although wildlife can often be seen strolling amongst the cattle farmed here.
6. Transpantaneira Highway
The Transpantaneira crosses the Northern Pantanal between Cuiabá and Porto Jofre, and is something of a wildlife hotspot in its own right. From this 147km raised dirt road, sectioned by small wooden bridges, you can spot legions of birds, including lots of waterfowl, and see anteaters and capybara, feeding nearby. For this reason, don’t expect to race along it. Allow time to stop for photo ops.
More about Brazil wildlife
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and its wildlife regions experience a variety of weather patterns and temperatures, with the Pantanal flooded for much of the year.
South America’s Pantanal region, a vast and biodiverse wetland that lies mostly in Brazil, is home to a huge number of unique creatures – including the jaguar.
Overwhelming in its size and dazzling in its biodiversity, the Amazon is hopping with wildlife.
Big cat safaris in the Pantanal focus on the Cuiabá riverbanks from Porto Jofre because cruising by boat affords superb opportunities to witness jaguars on the hunt or at their leisure in their preferred habitat.
From packing tips to camera considerations, we have all the Brazil wildlife vacations travel advice you need.
The best responsible tour operators show you the beauty of Brazil, but also the challenges.