Mato Grosso doSul , Brazil , South America
The largest freshwater wetland in the world, a place where more than 100 rivers meet, the Pantanal is an oasis for wildlife of staggering variety. It supports the greatest concentration of fauna in the western hemisphere and constitutes one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. On a typical multiday excursion you might spy various species of monkeys, giant river otters, tapirs, giant anteaters, marsh deer, caimans, and anacondas, plus macaws and toucans (just two of the 600 bird species). And there are the creatures you have never heard of – jabiru (a large stork), chachalaca (a turkeylike game bird), capybaras (the world’s largest rodent), and coati (a relative of the raccoon). If you are very lucky, you might even see a maned wolf or the elusive jaguar.
Most of the South Dakota – size region is privately owned and devoted to huge cattle fazendas (ranches) tended by horseback-riding pantaneiros that have turned to ecotourism in recent days. The caiman ecological refuge – a family run, sustainable ranch that pioneered the movement here – is an ideal base for exploring the Pantanal. Located about 150 miles from Campo Grande, the state capital, it offers guided field excursions (on foot or by boat, jeep, or horseback) throughout the 131,000-acre refuge. Nature’s spectacle continues into the night , when millions of fireflies twinkle like Christmas lights, and the eerie sounds of evening predators fill the air.
Life on this working fazendacenters on the main pousada, a handsome, Mediterranean-style building that was originally the manor house of the owner’s family. Together with the nearby lodges, the accommodations offer total immersion in this unique wildlife reserve, with air-conditioning, a pool, and great home cooking thrown in for great measure.
Where: Campo Grande is 199 miles/319 kms northwest of Sao Paulo
Best Times: Jul-Sep is dry season with the best bird-watching; Sep-Oct for spotting Jaguars.