Looking for an affordable option to do a safari and see some exotic animals?
If you are looking for a budget friendly, less-travelled safari to see animals close up in their natural habitat, you need to consider visiting The Pantanal, West Brazil.
When Travel Community approached us and asked us to write a blog on one of our favourite trips or places, we immediately knew we wanted to tell people about The Pantanal.
We spent 3 months travelling around South America and when meeting fellow travellers and exchanging travel plans or experiences around the continent, we were shocked at how few people had heard of The Pantanal. Since then, we love to tell travellers and wildlife lovers about this hidden gem.
The Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland on Earth that covers parts of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. It is home to many rare and exotic animals and birds, the most famous being jaguar,
caiman, capybara, toucan, and macaw. The wetland is 195,000 square km, but 95% of it is sadly privately owned by farmers, which can mean serious consequences for some of these animals, such as the jaguars: the local farmers may still hunt them as they see them as a threat to their cattle.
There are many options for tours and accommodation to suit different budgets. We booked direct through email and went with a company called Pousada Santa Clara, who has land in the Pantanal with accommodation and all-inclusive food and tours. I’d like to point out that this is the first time we had ever done an “all-inclusive package”, as we are budget travellers so it’s not usually our thing. But out here it’s really the only way to do it. Plus when the total cost per person is 590 Brazilian Real per person (approx €120) for the 3 days and 3 nights it’s hard to beat it. It really was worth every penny, and we would highly recommend this company to anyone wanting to experience the Pantanal on a budget.
We arrived here after travelling through Bolivia, our last stop was Santa Cruz. It is a 9 hour bus ride from Santa Cruz to the border into Corumba, Brazil. The other option is to take a bus from within Brazil. Campo Grande is the closest city, this is still a 12+ bus ride from Sao Paulo. But bus is probably the best option from whichever direction you come. Pousada Santa Clara can organise a jeep to collect you from the bus drop off point in the area.
The moment we turned into the long dusty road driving towards our accommodation, we knew this was going to be a highlight from our South America trip. The half an hour journey in the 4×4 with the driver felt like our first safari. We saw deer, stork, eagles, hawk, and parrots. We were already buzzing.
Hotel or camping
The hotel has two options for accommodation: hotel or camping. However, camping is not in a tent, it is a proper bed in a big wooden hut down in the reserve by the water. The hut has 14 beds, so it’s like a big dorm. During our stay we shared the dorm with only three other people. There are adequate showers and toilets, but only take this option if you’re not afraid of sharing a shower with a bug or two! Apart from the lower cost, the other benefit to the camping option is that you’re right on the grounds in nature. The lodge is on the river with a few resident caiman and many birds.
All meals are included and they were fantastic. A chef cooks up various local dishes every meal and you help yourself. Lots of meat, veggies, rice, beans, dessert, and there is always more than enough for everyone. In this price, you also get a dedicated guide who will do your tours and help you with anything during your stay. We were lucky to have a man named Rodrigo for ours.
The activities depend on how many days you stay, and you can also ask to swap some. Our activities were as follows:
Safari boat ride (we did this twice, as seeing the animals from the boat was our highlight) .
The river that flows through the Pantanal is the major water supply for the mammals to drink from and to seek safety from predators, so it is the best place to view many of these species.
We climbed into the boat and cruised down the river for a good three hours with our guide pointing out any wildlife we didn’t see straight away. Rodrigo was a fantastic guide, he had a sharp eye, and was really knowledgeable about all of the species of wildlife we saw.
You see many capybara, including young, sitting along the riverbank. They are very curious of the humans passing by, but if they get too nervous they will occasionally jump into the river, dive under, hold their breath, and swim until out of sight before popping back up. This skill is naturally used to prevent being dinner for the jaguar. Capybaras were one of our favourite animals from this safari, they are extremely comical to watch and are just a bizarre but very cute looking mammal.
Also in abundance are the caimans floating in the water as you pass by. They say there are around 10 million in the Pantanal. Caiman are much smaller than alligators so are not so scary, and will move out of the way if a boat gets too close.
Along the river cruises we also saw a group of wild boar. Around 40 of them came hurtling across the riverbank quickly, snapping sticks with their feet as they passed and making a pig noise. The guide said we were quite lucky to see this, as it can be quite rare.
We also spotted giant river otters, and they really are giant. They were just fantastic to watch, playing away in the river and running along the river bank, although they are quite shy so viewing time was limited.
Other wildlife we saw includes a tapir, monkeys, and endless beautiful birds, including many unusual species we’d never even heard of before.
Guided walk through the forests
We went trekking through the local forest with Rodrigo. The main highlight of this was seeing many monkeys, some with babies which were very cute. We actually saw a few different species: black howler monkeys, brown howler monkeys, and capuchin monkeys.
Our guide Rodrigo took us out for a drive in the 4×4 as the sun was going down, to try to get a glimpse at the nocturnal animals who may be coming out after sun down. There have been sightings of jaguars on the road at night, although we didn’t see any. We did see deer, an anteater, a family of coatis, and many birds of prey.
We were in the Pantanal in the wrong season to see the Jaguar, we were there in February. You have a much higher chance during dry season between July – September.
Rodrigo offered to take us out on an additional walk early one morning before sunrise. We unfortunately didn’t see a jaguar. However we found fresh paw prints right on the grounds of camp so we knew one had been close recently, which in itself was a pretty surreal feeling. We continued to follow the jaguar tracks until it was lost in greenery, so that was the end of our tracking. However, we did see snakes, woodpeckers, and other interesting birds on this trek.
We know this might not be for everyone, and at first we weren’t sure we wanted to participate, but after going out with Rodrigo on the boat and hearing him talk about it and watching him we decided to try it. We caught 2 piranhas each which was enough for us, as we didn’t need anymore than that, but it was a great experience.
Later that evening, as well as the usual abundance of delicious food, the chef cooked up our piranhas for us on the grill. There isn’t a lot of meat on them, but it was good to try, and also was just an interesting experience of hunting for your dinner out in the wilderness to eat that night.
There is a ranch on site at Pousada, and one afternoon we went for a horse ride around the land.
Outside of organised activities
When you’re not out doing organised activities, you can do as you please. If you stay in the hotel there is a pool to use, but not for people doing the camping option. You can use this time to chill with a book and the relaxing sound of nature, or you can wander around the grounds on your own.
We spent most of our spare time wandering around the grounds, just looking up into the trees and sky, in awe of all the colourful, exotic birds flying freely. We saw pairs of three species of macaws, including the rare Hyacinth macaw. I couldn’t tell you how many parrots, parakeets, toucans, and other beautiful birds we saw just walking on the grounds.
If you enjoy seeing and photographing tropical birds, this in itself is a reason to visit the Pantanal.
We would highly recommend this lodge as a base and a fantastic safari for travellers who want to see some exotic animals in South America. We are absolutely planning on returning soon in the dry season to try to get a sighting of the elusive Jaguar.
After our stay at the Pantanal, we caught a bus to a gorgeous little town called Bonito (it means Beautiful in Spanish/Portuguese). Pousada Santa Clara arranged this transfer for us.
If you are heading out to the Pantanal, first of all you will not regret it. Secondly, we have a couple of additional tips:
We strongly advise you take with you some strong mosquito repellent and long, thick clothing as the mosquitos are abundant. The camp dorm is covered in a mosquito net, however we still used our own personal nets for the beds also. Using all of this protection, we barely got a bite on us.
Book direct through the camp to save on agency fees. Their communication was brilliant, and they arranged all the transfers, etc.
Below is a link to their Trip Advisor page
You can contact them on here to make bookings or enquiries.
Before you book, have a look into the time of year as wet season vs dry season can make a big difference. Most people would agree that dry season is the better time to go, as it would be easier to spot animals. In saying this, for us, apart from the jaguar (which we knew was unlikely), we saw everything we wanted to see plus more.
Thanks for reading, and we hope by sharing this less known wildlife lovers paradise with you that you’ll go see it for yourself.
By Hannah & Eric from @life.starts.at.30
A bit about us
We are a newly married couple who love to explore this beautiful planet. Hannah is originally from England and Eric is from New York. We met while living in Sydney, Australia, where we spent a few years together working and travelling as much as possible. Taking sabbaticals and maximising annual leave at work, we managed to explore 30 countries together.
This year, we both turned 30 and decided that having a few holidays a year just wasn’t satisfying our travel bug anymore, so we took the plunge and quit our jobs to travel the world.
We are currently in the Balkans, travelling some of the less explored countries of Europe. We are also planning (loosely, as we try not to over plan) to explore more of the USA, North and East Africa, “The Stans”, and the Middle East. The things we love most about travel are exploring new cultures, food, and as you may have guessed we are wildlife and nature lovers!
If you want to follow along for the journey, we’d love to share it with you. You can find us on Instagram at: