Trip Number: 13770A
Staff: Carol Dienger
- Experience the world’s largest fresh-water wetlands
- Look for a “big five” of mammals: Brazilian Tapir, Maned
Wolf, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, and Jaguar; and a “big five”
of birds: Hyacinth Macaw, Greater Rhea, Toco Toucan, Helmeted Manakin,
- Enjoy an enchanting stay at an 18th-century monastery
- All lodging, meals, master bird guide, local guides, and entrance fees
- All on-trip transportation, in-country air flights and taxes, and riverboats
- All tips to guides and drivers
Photo: Carol Dienger
The Pantanal is a place of superlatives: this wildlife watcher’s paradise
is the world’s largest fresh-water wetlands. It is ten times the size
of the Everglades, covering about half the size of California mainly in the
southeastern Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sur. "Pantanal"
is derived from a Portuguese word meaning "swamp." It is a gently
sloping basin with meandering rivers that slowly release water to a single drainage
channel, the Paraguay River. Annual flooding of the vast grasslands for six
months spreads nutrients through its rich waters that nourish the "producers"
of the Pantanal, which in turn nourish all other species as well. In the dry
season between June and late September, the vast flooded fields shrink to smaller
ponds, and many animals are drawn to these waterholes. The sheer numbers of
birds and animals have to be seen to be believed. Suggested by the American
Birding Association to be one of the ten top places to bird. Even relaxed birding
can yield more than 50 species a day, and on some days you will also see dozens
of mammals, especially Capybaras and Yacaré (one of the smaller crocodilians).
The quality of these sightings is top-notch. How about, for starters, the big
blue Hyacinth Macaw, the largest of parrots? Another five target birds might
be the Greater Rhea, Helmeted Manakin, Toco Toucan, Agami Heron, and Jabiru.
Truly the ultimate mammal sighting would be Jaguar, but finding him is never
assured. More predictable will be other large mammalian targets such as the
Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, Maned Wolf, Marsh Deer, and three
species of primates. As for reptiles one serpent tops every visitor’s
"wish list," the world’s biggest snake, the anaconda. The rarer
of the two species in the region, the Green Anaconda, is the largest reaching
up to 20 feet and 650 lb, but its slightly smaller relative, the Yellow Anaconda
is more likely for us to see.
The only road to penetrate deep into the Pantanal, the "Transpantaneira,"
is actually an unfinished project from years ago (1970). This elevated 78-mile
roadway, with its 120 wooden bridges, provides amazing wildlife viewing. Roadside
ditches, created during road construction are now filled with water, and are
a magnet for waterbirds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. All drives along
this "highway" are fantastic "safaris." The road crosses
a wide range of habitats, from dry grasslands and open scrub in the north to
large semi-deciduous forests and extensive swamps farther south. This habitat
gradient means that each of our lodges and fazendas (cattle ranches) has its
own distinctive wildlife community even though they may be actually quite close
Photo: Carol Dienger
The trip begins when your flight arrives in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
The next morning we fly to Cuiabá, the northern gateway to the Pantanal.
From there we immediately drive south to Poconé and onto the Transpantaneira.
We spend four nights between Piuval, Pouso Alegre, and Pixiam. Next we continue
south to Porto Joffre for three nights, followed by a two-night stay at the
Pantanal Wildlife Center. Driving north, again on the Transpantaneira, we leave
the Pantanal on our way to our next destination, Currupira dos Araras, with
its famed Harpy Eagle nest site. In order to catch an early flight to Belo Horizonte,
we will overnight in Cuiabá. The trip finale will be two nights at a
monastery in Caraça Sanctuary. For the return to Miami, international
flights leave directly from Belo Horizonte in the evening, and domestic flights
are available to other destinations in Brazil for any post-trip travel you may
wish to plan. Traveling with us for the entire trip will be English-speaking,
master naturalist guide, Lelis Navarette, an expert on Brazil and the Pantanal.
Brazil is a surprisingly large country, fifth largest in the world. In square
miles, it is larger than the 48 states. Distances within the country are vast
and flights from the U.S. are even longer, typically nine hours from Miami.
Furthermore, Brazil is an expensive country for travel, due especially to the
dollar’s decline against the overvalued Brazilian real (BRL). Portuguese
is the language spoken in Brazil, and while closely related to Spanish, the
pronunciation can seem totally foreign.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 1: Most flights from the U.S. arrive in the morning at
the Aeroporto Internacional de Brasilia. After transferring to our hotel, spend
the day catching up with the change in time zones (four hours for California
PDT – BRT) and resting after the very long flight. Brasilia, now a 50+
year-old city, was built to be the capital of Brazil in the middle of nowhere.
The concept of a planned city is the subject of great curiosity for many North
Americans; you might enjoy arriving a day early in order to explore this unique
experiment in urban planning and admire the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer.
Our first evening will give us a chance to meet together for dinner and to learn
more about our trip to come.
Day 2: A morning domestic airline flight will take us to Cuiabá,
the capital of Mato Grosso. After loading the bus we will immediately drive
south 60 miles to Poconé and then on the Transpantaneira to Pousada Piuval,
the first fazenda. A viewing tower, a swimming pool, and one of the only gifts
shops of the trip can be found here at Piuval. On our agenda will be our first
boat ride as we cruise around the baía (large bay) and our first night
safari, when we will look for Puma, both anteaters, and Azara’s Night
Monkey. In addition to the many waterfowl, expect to see Greater Rhea, Southern
Screamer, and Red-legged Seriema.
Day 3: As we continue on the Transpantaneira, we will pause
to enjoy a spectacular wetland filled with hundreds of egrets, storks, and herons,
Capybaras, and Yacarés (caimans). Then we are on to Pouso Alegre, a huge
cattle ranch known for excellent wildlife viewing. Even along the bumpy entrance
road we might see Marsh Deer, Brazilian Tapir, and more Yacarés and Capybaras.
Trails from the lodge offer chances to view several primates, including Black-tailed
Marmoset, Black Howler, and Black-striped Tufted Capuchin. Among the birds to
see at Pouso Alegre are many species of parrots, owls, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.
Hyacinth Macaws roost within earshot of this simple lodge.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 4: A full day at Pouso Alegre will allow us to take dawn
and dusk walks along trails and roads. We'll search for the many mammals and
birds on the lodge’s amazingly long list of flora and fauna. The list
was compiled by the manager, a herpetologist, and includes 35 species of snakes
-- one is the Yellow Anaconda. Brilliant pink and yellow flowering trees (Tabebuia
species) will likely overwhelm the landscape.
Day 5: More time for wildlife walks in the morning before
we drive just a short distance to Hotel Pixiam where we will enjoy an afternoon
boat tour on the river to search for Boat-billed Herons and Giant Otters. This
small resort hotel, right at the edge of the river, has a delightful swimming
pool and yummy Brazilian barbequed beef.
Day 6: After an early morning walk along the river in search
of some very special birds, we will climb on our bus to head south to Porto
Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira. Roadside woodland and scrub are particularly
good for birding. About halfway we come to Campo Jofre, a vast wetland that
provides habitat for limpkins, ibises, herons, and the star bird, the Maguari
Stork. Our lodge has modern rooms, a swimming pool, and excellent meals.
Days 7-8: From Porto Jofre we will spend much time on the
river in the hopes that we can spot both species of otters as well as the elusive
Jaguar. Of course, there will always be many birds and other wildlife to see.
Day 9: Today we return north to the Pantanal Wildlife Center,
more commonly known by its original name, Fazenda Santa Teresa. The drive is
not long in miles, but the road is not in the best condition; regardless, the
wildlife viewing is excellent, so we may find ourselves spending many hours
enjoying animals and birds in roadside trees and in the water-filled ditches
beside the road. The accommodations at Santa Teresa are simple but attractive;
rooms have air conditioning and hot showers. Even the gardens are filled with
wildlife. Imagine relaxing in a hammock with a cold beer, watching Jabiru parents
feeding their 4-foot youngsters in a stick nest high in a dead tree.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 10: Today will be a full day at Santa Teresa, where we
will enjoy wonderful close-up views of nesting Jabirus and Great Potoos from
"movable" observation towers and Hyacinth Macaws from a feeding platform.
Three species of monkeys and many of the Pantanal’s forest bird specialties
are present on five kilometers of trails from the lodge through dense gallery
forest. A boat excursion should allow us to see some unusual water birds: Sun
Grebes, Sunbitterns, Zigzag and Agami herons (the most beautiful of all herons),
and all five kingfishers. Night excursions may provide sighting of owls and
mammals, most whom are nocturnal.
Day 11: We'll enjoy a final morning at Santa Teresa and then
we move on to Pousada Currupira dos Araras toward the west of Cuiabá
at the edge of Serra das Araras. For several years a Harpy Eagle pair has been
nesting within walking distance of this lodge. The Harpy Eagle must be high
on the list of "most wanted birds in the world"; it is huge and truly
impressive. No guarantee, but the harpy is normally loyal to a favored nest
site. We will take our first walk to see the nest in the afternoon; after dark
we might look for night creatures. The farm provides rooms with air conditioning,
private bathrooms, and a swimming pool.
Day 12: Early morning birding to look again for the Harpy
Eagle will also provide chances to see some spectacular birds such as King Vulture,
Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Nanday Parrot, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, and many others
more common to the Amazonian rainforest. In the afternoon we will transfer to
Cuiabá in order to be ready for the early morning flight the next day.
Our hotel comes with a swimming pool in the midst of a rainforest garden!
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 13: This could be a very early departure for our flight
to Belo Horizonte, but our reward will be well worth it. Our destination is
the Santuário do Caraça, about two hours east of Belo Horizonte.
The sanctuary was founded in 1774 to be a House of Holidays for pilgrims and
visitors who wanted to convert and change their lives. It was reactivated as
an inn in the 1970s and now has simple accommodations as well as entry into
the Nature Reserve. Our specific goal here is to see the elegant Maned Wolf,
South America’s largest and one of the very rare wild canines. An after-dinner
ritual is pure magic as a priest sets out a ceremonial plate of scraps for the
wolves. All watchers are silent in anticipation as these beautiful creatures
quietly grab a quick meal and then return into the night.
Day 14: We have all day to explore the very different habitats
of Parque Natural do Caraça -- cerrado (savanna) transitioning to the
Mata Atlántica (Atlantic rain forest). Isolated from the rest of the
world by a mountain ridge, the former monastery is nestled in a bowl-shaped
valley, with side creeks forming waterfalls and natural swimming holes. The
hillsides are lined with excellent hiking trails; the unusual mixture of natural
habitats make this both a birder’s and a botanist’s paradise. If
you wish to stretch your legs for longer hikes, this is the perfect location
as trails are well marked and the climate is mild. Evening provides an opportunity
to again watch for the Maned Wolf before our farewell dinner.
Day 15: We still have time this morning to hike, or search
for the Black-tufted Marmoset, the endemic Pampas Finch, Ultramarine Grosbeak,
Brazilian Ruby, Gilt-edged Tanager, or the Sharp-tailed Stream-creeper. (Don’t
you love the names of these unique birds?) In the afternoon we must head back
to the Confins International airport (CNF) near Belo Horizonte to be ready for
your international flights in the evening. American Airlines has an overnight
flight that goes directly to Miami. Domestic airlines have flights to Sao Paulo,
Rio de Janeiro, or other destinations in Brazil for post-trip travel you may
wish to do.
This is the plan as of the time of publication of this trip brochure. Minor
adjustments may be made in order to capitalize on the latest knowledge of the
whereabouts of some of the very special wildlife that we hope to see.
Photo: Carol Dienger
The trip begins July 26 in Brasilia in Brazil. You need to be in Brasilia
no later than mid-afternoon on Friday, July 26 in time for the group dinner
and overnight at our hotel. Most flights will arrive in the morning, often quite
early. The trip ends on Friday, August 9 with transfer to the international
airport in Belo Horizonte in time for the evening flights homeward. American
Airlines does have direct flights from Miami to and from both Brasilia and Belo
Accommodations and Food
We stay in "big city" hotels two nights, a monastery two nights,
and for all other nights we are at fazendas and lodges designed to serve the
wildlife tourists who come to the Pantanal. Accommodations in the field are
simple but rooms have private baths, and all except the sanctuary will have
air-conditioning, although most evenings will cool off comfortably.
Pantanal lodges serve local cuisine typical of this region, which is very rich
in variations of beef, chicken, and occasionally, fish. The monastery meals
are simple, but again specialize in typical local foods. A wide variety of foods
are available in Brasilia and Cuiabá. Vegetarians can be accommodated,
but choices will be quite limited; you can not escape the fact that this is
Photo: Carol Dienger
This trip is actually composed of three segments. The first, the primary target
of the trip, is the nine nights and days in the Pantanal proper. Always at a
low elevation, there will be opportunities for many short to moderate walks,
cross-country vehicle trips, and on-the-water outings. We do a considerable
amount of standing around while observing wildlife and birds. This will not
be a trip to just "check it off your list" and move on; we will take
time to observe the behavior and beauty of the animals we have come to see.
There will be plenty of time to take photographs, but the trip is not designed
primarily for hard-core wildlife photography. It can get quite hot in the middle
of the day, so we will emphasize early morning, late afternoon, and evening
activities, allowing some mid-day leisure.
The second segment of the trip involves relatively easy walking on a cattle
ranch. The third segment offers options from total leisure to constant hiking
on hillside trails at about 4,000 feet.
To fully enjoy this trip, you should be in good physical condition and eager
to fully participate in all activities. You need to commit to rising early each
morning in order to make the best of the day before it gets too warm to enjoy.
Dawn is around 6:00 a.m. and sunset at 6 p.m. Although hikes are not strenuous,
there will be long periods in the field. You could call this a "relaxed"
trip, but not a "leisure" trip.
There is no Malaria in the Pantanal, but Yellow Fever has recently been reported
from Minas Genais state (Belo Horizonte is the capital), and elsewhere. Yellow
Fever vaccine is strongly recommended for all travelers to Brazil except those
only visiting Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and certain coastal areas. The vaccine
should be taken at least two weeks before exposure and remains effective for
approximately ten years. Be sure to bring your "yellow booklet," the
International Certificate of Vaccination, with the record of your vaccinations.
Taking measures to protect yourself from mosquito bites is an essential part
of preventing Yellow Fever as well as annoying itches. Additional inoculations
to discuss with your doctor, if you have not already had them, are Hepatitis
A, Typhoid, and Tetanus. It will be necessary to always drink purified or bottled
water in Brazil.
You must have a passport that is good for six months after the date you leave
the country. In addition Brazil requires a tourist visa which must be obtained
before departing on the trip. Getting the visa requires planning ahead in order
to have enough time for processing; your trip leader will help to guide you
through the somewhat complicated procedure.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Carol Dienger
You must have a good pair of binoculars. These should be gas filled, which
prevents moisture from getting inside. This trip would be a good excuse to treat
yourself to a new, excellent pair of binoculars, but be sure you take plenty
of time to get thoroughly used to them and to test them well before this trip.
A camera is not required, but for such a wildlife spectacle, most people will
bring one; the same advice is offered to owners of a new camera -- practice
using it before you leave home.
For this trip you will want comfortable, loose clothing with long sleeves and
pants for protection from the environment. Temperatures will often be quite
warm, but this is the season when cold storms blow up from the south, so you
will need to have a warm jacket for that possibility. Laundry service will be
available allowing you to travel with a minimum of changes. You will want a
day bag for your stuff that goes everywhere with you as well as a moderate size
duffle or soft-sided “rollie” as your main piece of luggage. A packing
list with many more details will be provided after you have signed up for the
- Lowen, James, Pantanal Wildlife, A Visitor’s Guide to Brazil’s
Great Wetland. Bradt Guide. This small volume is just a terrific introduction
to what this trip is all about.
- Banks, Vic, The Pantanal, Brazil’s Forgotten Wilderness. Sierra
Club publication. Times have changed a lot in the 20 years since this book
was written. A firsthand look at this endangered biological wonderland.
- Pearson, David L. and Les Beletsky, Brazil, Amazon and Pantanal. Traveller’s
Wildlife Guide series. Too heavy to carry on the trip, but excellent pre-trip
reading about both habitat and wildlife.
- Gwynne, John A., Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel, Birds
of Brazil, The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil. Wildlife Conservation
Society. A brand new, beautifully executed field guide perfect for the specific
region of this trip. It does not cover the area of the final days of the trip.
- Pantanal, South America’s Wetland Jewel. Firefly book. This
wonderful collection of wildlife photographs is nicely complimented by short,
- Swarts, Frederick A., The Pantanal, Understanding and Preserving the
World’s Largest Wetland. This collection of papers and presentations
by world authorities on the Pantanal provides excellent background information
about conservation and preservation issues.
- Map of Brasil, 1:400,000, by Borch -- English version available from Amazon.com.
Photo: Carol Dienger
The land of the Pantanal is 99% in private ownership primarily for the purpose
of agriculture, ranching in particular. There are 2500 fazendas in the region,
with up to 8 million heads of cattle. The Pantanal is under threat from many
other human activities, including recreational over-fishing, hunting and poaching
of endangered species, uncontrolled tourism, deforestation and burning for agricultural
use, and mining of gold and coal. Pressure for economic development, such as
the plan to dredge the Paraguay and Parana Rivers to create a "hydro-road"
that allows ocean-going ships to travel far inland, would have serious consequences
for the ecosystem by altering the flooding and drainage cycles.
When we see the hordes of caimans, you might think that that Yacaré
are abundant, and that is true now, but only due to recent conservation efforts.
For nearly all the 20th century these animals were hunted savagely to supply
the global demand for "crocodile skins." Only since 1990 has trade
legislation been enforced strongly enough for poaching to nearly cease. Yacaré
have recovered rapidly and current population are estimated around 35 million.
The story of the recovering Hyacinth Macaw raises our hopes as the population
in the Pantanal has risen from 1500 in 1990 to 3000 in 2000, due primarily to
the efforts of The Hyacinth Macaw Project started in 1980 by a 27-year-old biology
student with the intention of increasing breeding success. These macaws nest
in one unique tree, manduvi, that is soft enough for them to hollow out with
their beaks, and they prefer to eat the nut of one particular tree, the Acuri
Palm. Both trees are scarce and fall victim to cattle.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
A birding enthusiast and naturalist, Carol Dienger began leading trips over 40 years ago. Starting with backpack trips in the Sierra Nevada for Girl Scouts and for Sierra Club families, she also led cross-country ski trips in Austria, sea-kayaking trips in Alaska, Baja, and Costa Rica, and a whole variety of wilderness exploration trips in the far north. For over 20 years her trips have focused on natural history, and in particular, on birding. Retired from architectural design and from her volunteer job as coordinator of the Club's national outing program in Alaska, Carol spends her new found leisure gardening, woodworking, studying Spanish, enjoying the grandkids, and chasing birds wherever they may be. This will be her third trip to the Pantanal. Always in pursuit of new species of hummingbirds, this trip will provide an opportunity to enjoy a completely different species of wildlife that has been like a "life-long goal" -- not a hummingbird, but a capybara, the star of the childhood story, "Capybobby" by Bill Peet.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips