Photography, South America, Travel
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Searching for the elusive Jaguar – Pantanal, Brazil

We’re on the hunt for the elusive Jaguar, not to kill – NO WAY!! Animal lover here! We want to observe the Jaguar in their natural environment.  We were told “you’ll see the Jaguar on the river banks, several have been seen in the last few days”!! What, really? This is amazing, how do we get there!?

map of pantanal

Red circle is a rough indication of how big the Pantanal wetlands are. Yellow star is where we stayed. The Pantanal is the tail end of the Amazon and is the worlds largest wetlands,  20 times larger than Florida’s Everglades, it covers 210,000 sq km.

Our hostel in Campo Grande recommended Pantanal Discovery (hostels are all on commission).  We met with the owner Gil, and his side kick Lewis.  They took us out for dinner (sushi) and we had a great time listening to their stories of the Pantanal.  The TV was playing in the background and halfway through dinner Gil appeared on the local news talking about the Pantanal. Turns out he’s famous, he’s the go to man for the Pantanal. Lonely Planet have listed him as the preferred tour operator, actually he’s the only one listed in the book.  No more convincing us, this is totally ligit!

The cost for 3 days – 600R (152USD or 240NZD!!) Amee and I discussed this option for hours but both agreed it would be worth it to see a Jaguar in the wild.  The cost includes: the shuttle from Campo Grande to the Pantanal and on day 3 a bus to the Bolivian Border, it also includes accommodation and meals.  Sold!! Exciting!!

The half hour bumpy road into the Pantanal

The long straight road into the Pantanal.

From Campo Grande its about a 3 hour drive to the Pantanal turnoff in a shuttle.  Then we jump onto the back of a safari ute and head down a rough dirt road for half an hour.  It’s cold and wet so the drive in was a little uncomfortable.

Our accommodation, dorm rooms.

Our accommodation, dorm rooms.

We quickly changed into warmer clothes and put our rain gear on, eager to get out into the wetlands… which was clearly living up to its name.  What the?…the guides cancelled our first boat trip!! Oh come on, its just a little bit of rain… I’ve seen WAY worse!! Safety first I suppose, so we drank! Getting to know our fellow room mates, who were awesome! Spanish, Irish and English… and of course us the Kiwi’s, the perfect mix.  Side note: Caipirinha’s (Brazil’s national cocktail) cost 10R (2.5USD or 4NZD).  In New Zealand cocktails are up to $15NZD! The food might be expensive in Brazil but by golly is the alcohol cheap and it fits nicely into our budget!!

up the river-9411

On the boat travelling up the river

7am the next morning we’re off searching for wild life.  Holy crap it is freezing! I’m up the front, BAD MOVE!  I’ve got no protection from the wind and rain and taking pictures is no longer a priority, keeping warm is!  Along the way we spotted a lot of birds and the Capybara.  I really wanted to see more, maybe the cold weather kept them away? Wish the sun was out!


My favourite, the Toucan.

I’d never seen a Toucan before this trip, they are absolutely fascinating.  I don’t understand evolution sometimes, their beak is huge.  Charles Darwin suggested it may be a sexual lure? But nowadays, scientist believe that the beak is a cooling system, it keeps them cool in the tropical heat.  Even so, I still like Darwin’s theory, its more romantic.


If you look you’ll see more than one in the water

The Caiman (a type of Crocodile) lives all over the Pantanal, there are thousands of them. I read a terrible article that said you can kill them for the skin (used for shoes, clothing etc) however you can’t exceed 150,000 a year?  Boots are often marketed as Alligator. I will have strong words with you if I see  you wearing Caiman skin shoes!!

Back to the Pantanal, the Caiman diet includes fish and birds (there is a White Heron standing in the water of my pic and how they don’t get eaten is amazing).  I asked the guide if we are safe? “Sure” was his reply!! What does that mean exactly? In New Zealand ‘sure’ is often used as sarcasm – “maybe, but I’m not going to tell you what I really think”.   It wasn’t until I seen people swimming in the river that I realised it was safe-ish but there is no way I’ll be getting in the water!!  The Caiman also eat Piranhas.  I went fishing and caught Piranhas.  Another good reason why I won’t be swimming in the river!


The Piranha I caught

I felt sorry for this little guy, I didn’t want to eat him thinking it was some kind of bad karma for me.  Very quickly, it was pointed out to me that this little guy really won’t care about karma before he eats me.  So I ate him 😦 He’s bony, hopefully not bones off other animals or humans.  I spent most of my time spitting out the bones.

scaling fish-9562

How to scale a Piranha with an old sardine tin!

I like how locals do things.


The easy way to make a fish scaler

If you don’t have a fish scaler use your sardine tin!

Night time was getting near so time to get on the boat and go spot lighting for the Jaguar!!

lost on the pantanal-9615

Everyone was so excited about spotting a Jaguar that no one noticed we were lost and very close to death.   Our guide made a few mistakes and in the end he was completely disorientated and nothing looked familiar to him.  In the end no one was looking for Jaguar’s, we were looking for a way out!!  These boats go pretty quick and when you only have one light you can’t see the bank in front of you.  We were so close several times to smashing into the bank which would have been fatal in an open boat like ours.  Even if we survive the bank crash you still have to fend off dangerous animals.  Finally the rescue boat found us, what a huge relief that was.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the Jaguar! We later found out that hardly anyone see’s the Jaguar, our guide has seen them maybe 5 times in his 15 years!!

bus stop

The bus stop… and truck stop

Its time to leave, day 3 and we are at the bus stop trying to figure out which bus is going to stop and take us to the border in Corumba.

So my thoughts on the Pantanal?

  1. Go further up to Cuiba or Porto Jofre (11-15 hrs drive from here) – its deeper into the Pantanal and people we met seen a lot more than we did.
  2. Research the area you are going into, operators have great pics but some don’t look anything like where they take you.
  3. $50USD is a lot of money a day when your a backpacker, I’d go again but next time to Cuiba

Next stop: Bolivia. Gasping for air in the Andes.

Previously we were here: Rio de Janeiro – Life in the Vidigal FavelaRio de Janeiro – Lif in the Vidigal Favela

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