Increasingly known worldwide as the best place for wildlife-spotting in South America, THE PANTANAL is fed by rivers and inhabited by rainforest bird and animal species from the Andes to the west and the Brazilian central plateau to the north. Essentially an open swampland larger than France that extends deep into the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, it is massive, running 950km north to south and averaging around 500km from east to west. This is one of those few destinations in Brazil where you’re more likely to find wildlife than nightlife. Capybaras, wild boar, monkeys, and yellow anacondas (sucuri amarela in Portuguese or Eunectes notaeus) are common sights in the Pantanal, and it’s probably the best place for wild mammals and exotic birds in the whole of the Americas. There are in fact 124 wild mammal species, 177 reptile species and a further 41 amphibian species in these swamps, plus over four hundred bird species. It’s almost unnerving spending the afternoon on the edge of a remote lagoon in the swamp, surrounded by seemingly endless streams of flying and wading birds – toucans, parrots, red and even the endangered hyacinth macaws, blue herons, and the tuiuiú (giant red-necked stork). Unlike in most other areas of wilderness, the birdsong and density of wildlife here frequently lives up to the exotic soundtrack of Hollywood jungle movies, and in the middle of the swamp it’s actually possible to forget that there are other people in the world – though it’s difficult to forget the mosquitoes. (Although locals say that malaria is no longer a big problem in the Pantanal, it is advisable to check with your doctor before departure; mosquitoes, however, are abundant.) In addition to all this wildlife, it’s only fair to mention that you’ll still see more cattle and jacarés (Caiman yacare, alligators) than any other creature. The swamp has been a fabulous fishing-spot for thousands of years and new species of fish and vascular plants are still regularly discovered here. One of the tastiest and most popular fish – pacu – has been endangered by illegal over-fishing, much serving the markets of southern Brazil.
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