Best time to go to the Pantanal

Temperature & rainfall

Jul-Oct is the best time to go to the Pantanal. This is the dry season, so creatures cluster around the remaining stretches of water. Trek out to oxbow lakes, cruise or canoe along shrunken rivers, to spot wildlife; the dry weather also shrivels the vegetation, so there is less to obscure your view. There is no huge variation in temperature throughout the year in the Pantanal, although there is in regions such as Rio and Paraty – so if you are including either of them on your itinerary, you might prefer to head here in Oct to catch the warmer weather, avoiding the chillier months of Jul-Aug.

Things to do in the Pantanal

what to do in the Pantanal & what not to

Things to do in the Pantanal…

The South American jaguar is the world’s third largest cat. It is also strikingly beautiful, and – as a general rule – particularly elusive. However, the jaguars of the Pantanal are semi-habituated, and these open landscapes – not screened by huge trees and dense vegetation – mean that this is the best place to see jaguars in the world. Vacations here typically allow for two or three days navigating the rivers around Porto Jofre, maximising the chances of sightings as the cats bask on the banks or search for prey. These powerful felines are surprisingly strong swimmers, perfectly built for this aquatic environment.
Explore on two wheels, two legs, four legs – or paddle. The Pantanal’s open landscapes mean there is more than one way to seek out wildlife. Go on walking safaris here by day or night – when a whole host of new creatures emerges. Ride horseback in proper cowboy style, or hire a bike. And as well as the classic river cruises, you can paddle your way round in a traditional canoe; this quiet mode of transport won’t scare the wildlife away…
Boats aren’t just a means of transport out here – you can stay on one, too. On the Paraguay River in Taiamã Reserve, a cosy houseboat lets you wake up on the water, enjoy breakfast on deck, and enjoy the South American scenery before you’ve even had your first cuppa of the day.

Things not to do in the Pantanal...

Focus exclusively on the jaguars. These gorgeous predators might be what lures visitors halfway round the world to this watery wilderness, but it’s best not to be blinkered in your search for them, especially as sightings are highly likely but never guaranteed. The Pantanal is an impressive ecosystem, filled with wildlife delights including the bizarre capybara (like an oversized guinea pig), giant otter, elusive tapir, crab eating raccoon and armadillo, snuffling around in the undergrowth.
Expect safari-style luxury. For the most part, accommodation in the Pantanal strives to immerse you in these incredible surroundings; don’t expect WiFi or an infinity pool. You’ll be comfortable and well looked after, but escapism here takes the form of night safaris, canoe rides and weird and wonderful wildlife – not giant TV screens and indulgent spas.
Try and travel independently. Vacations in the Pantanal look rather pricey, but organised tours do tend to be more affordable than trying to do it yourself, once you’ve factored in flights, car hire ad accommodation. Even if you do travel independently, you’ll still need an expert guide to track down the wildlife for you and increase you changes of spotting a jaguar. And of course, activities such as trekking and night safaris are not recommended without someone who knows this region inside out.

Pantanal travel advice

tips from our friends in Brazil

Understanding the Pantanal

Guy Marks, from our supplier Tribes Travel: “People are often a bit put out when they discover that the Pantanal is actually an agricultural area with vast cattle ranches. If people haven’t been made aware that they’re going to an area that’s agricultural, they arrive and go ‘what have I been brought to a ranch for?’ But if you think about wildlife in the UK – you’re going to see it on farmland."
"There is no real conflict between agriculture and conservation if it’s properly managed. You could be stood there looking at a massive herd of cattle, but they’ve got capybaras walking round their feet. That’s not uncommon; you shouldn’t be put off by the fact that it’s agricultural land. Twenty percent of it is put aside for conservation by law.”

Wildlife watching tips

Anna Scrivens, from our supplier Audley Travel, shares her Brazil travel advice: “We’re very careful with how we describe the Amazon because some people go there expecting to see a lot of wildlife. But really you don’t because the rainforest is so dense. If it’s wildlife you’re interested in then you need to go to the Pantanal. It’s not as famous as the Amazon, but the wildlife is much better. It feels much less like a jungle because the vegetation is so dense, but that’s why you see more wildlife.”

Best time to go to the Pantanal

Guy Marks, from our supplier Tribes Travel, shares his best time to see wildlife in the wetlands: “The Pantanal is seasonally flooded so there are islands of dry land where the wildlife concentrates. There’s only one road down there so in the very wet season it’s hard to access – it's certainly more difficult to see jaguars, you can’t drive anywhere, and you’ve got to travel by canoe. You can do horse rides – canters through deep water are fantastic – but you want to go in the dry season really, from July until October.”

What to see & where

Guy Marks, from our supplier Tribes Travel: “The Pantanal is a bit like the jungle without the trees; there are lots and lots of different species, and you can see them without them being hidden by the jungle. There are anteaters, deer, lots of different birds, capybara, caiman... wild boar of different sorts, white-lipped peccaries, hyacinth macaws... lots and lots of stuff! The Northern and the Southern Pantanal are divided by a river – you visit one or the other. The Southern Pantanal ties in well with Bonito, which has a lot of other things to do such as caves and adventure activities. It’s close to the Southern Amazon too. The Northern Pantanal is better for pure wildlife fans as it’s actually the best place in the world to see jaguars. At Porto Jofre, the jaguars have been habituated and there’s a very good chance of seeing them on the riverbanks during the day, without them running off. It’s very expensive to go to it, but well worth it.”

Pantanal vacation advice

tips from our vacation reviews

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Pantanal travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
"The most memorable part of our vacation was the two and a half days we spent at Rio Mutum in the Pantanal… we had a morning horse riding down a flooded area at the start, with our feet touching the water, and then across more open country; the wild flowers and birds were amazing… The next morning we were up early for a 5.30 am canoe trip which was magical, so quiet and peaceful, seeing the beauty of the sun rising and hearing the early morning bird song; the canoe being so quiet we were able to get very close to birds before they flew. Later that afternoon we visited a fishing village down the river and were invited into their one room house and asked to share their evening meal; we were told they would be offended we didn't, so hospitable. The Rio Mutum was a place to remember, wonderful food, lovely people, beautifully situated alongside the river, an orphan deer feeding from a bottle, very tame birds and Capybara wandering around keeping the grass down!” – Harvey Bromley

“Learn some Portuguese phrases - very little English is spoken or understood outside of the big hotels… All the local people in the Pantanal seemed to be very aware of the need to protect the environment, but they were also aware of the struggle to convince local farmers/ranchers to do likewise.” – Christine Waddington

“Everywhere (even in cities) loo paper is put in bin beside toilet and not in toilet. “Normal” European adaptors don't work. Need to be 2 thin pins. Sometimes socket inset so pins didn't reach but hotels managed to find multiplug adaptors to connect. Very efficient and easy internal flights but early starts often needed to make the most of each day… Benefitted local people by mainly staying in locally owned and run accommodation and using local guides.” – Margaret McDermott

“Do not look for the superb quality types of accommodation standard to be found on African safaris, these locations are not POSADAS in the wilderness. The food is not gourmet but very nice and the fish is generally excellent and I asked for the recipe for the beans I liked them so much… the weather was unexpectedly and unseasonably cold and wet for most of the time on the river but this did not stop four sightings of Jaguar two of the same female and two other hunting females, both hunts were unsuccessful, lucky Caiman and Capybara!” – Baron-Vahl Amos
Photo credits: [Tempchart: Tambako The Jaguar] [Pantanal tips: dany13] [Best time: Patty Ho] [Tip1: Bart van Dorp] [Tip2: dany13] [Helpdesk: Vanderlei Meneguini]
Written by Vicki Brown
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Tambako the Jaguar]