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I can safely say that Safaritalk is directly responsible for our two trips to Brazil, the first in June/July 2016 and the second in August/September 2018.  The seed was planted in October 2014.  I had returned home from a thrilling, yet in some ways frustrating, adventure in Peru and the Amazon just in time to find a report in full gear by @Bush dog detailing his great affinity with the Pantanal and, especially, Fazenda Barranco Alto.

 

I was particularly mesmerized by his photographs of amazing wildlife in this place that I had never heard of until then.  Under a cloak of full ignorance, I posted the following comment in his report:

 

“…..it appears that the Pantanal regularly produces more quality sightings than those we had [in Peru]…..I’m most impressed with your excellent photography, as I now know firsthand how challenging that can be in Amazonia.”

 

@Bush dog responded:

 

“Pantanal is completely different from Amazonia.”

 

Oh.

 

I laugh now, but at the time I simply assumed that Brazil basically was the Amazon and that the Pantanal, being in Brazil, must be a part of it.  Obviously, I needed to educate myself in short order.  But it was his next sentence that really hooked me:

 

“In Pantanal, you can see, in one day, more than you saw, in 10 days, in Amazonia.”

 

And that was all it took.

 

A contemporaneous report by @TonyQ, and other reports on the Pantanal by @pedro maia, @michael-ibk and @Atravelynn, served as icing on the proverbial cake and completely sealed the deal. 

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With this report, I’m attempting to kill two birds with one stone, as they say.  Our initial trip was in June/July 2016.  Shortly after our return, my mother became seriously ill, and the ordeal that followed prevented me from completing a timely trip report.  Obviously, we enjoyed that trip enough, because we went back two years later, in August/September 2018.  So here we are.

 

The first trip omitted the big-ticket draw: jaguars in the Northern Pantanal.  Reports of unpleasant overcrowding were a big turn-off, and there were plenty of other things that we were keen to see where crowds wouldn’t be an issue at all.  So, with the giant anteater and hyacinth macaws as major targets, we focused on the Southern Pantanal (and the wonderful Fazenda Barranco Alto), as well as the intriguing and often overlooked Mata Atlântica rainforest along the coast, and left the jaguars and their crowds of admirers for another trip. 

 

However, I couldn’t resist the pull of the jaguar for long, and within a year, I was already planning a return trip to Brazil, this one focused on the Pantanal exclusively, with sufficient time and resources given to the North in order to search for jaguars in a manner that came as close to suiting our personal desires as possible under the circumstances.  As you will see, I’m very glad we did.

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So, how to combine two trips into one report?  I’ll post each of our specific itineraries below, but in order for this to flow properly, we’re going to do some time travel.

 

We’ll start with our initial arrival into Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and our taste of the Mata Atlântica rainforest. 

 

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Then we’ll fast forward to 2018 and our visit to the Northern Pantanal. 

 

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Finally, we’ll go down to the Southern Pantanal and Fazenda Barranco Alto, which we visited on both trips, and I’ll weave together our collective experiences there. 

 

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Hopefully, in the end, it will all come together as one cohesive story.

 

 

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Our travel agent for both trips was John Willemsen with Brazil Nature Tours, a reference I obtained on Safaritalk, and I can heartily recommend him.  He’s one of the most responsive travel professionals with whom I’ve ever worked.

 

The itinerary for the 2016 trip was as follows (beginning June 23):

 

Day 1 –   Dallas to Miami (P.M.); depart Miami

Day 2 –   Arrive Rio de Janeiro (A.M.); road transfer to Guapi Assu Bird Lodge (REGUA) (A.M.)

Day 3 –   REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu)

Day 4 –   REGUA

Day 5 –   REGUA; road transfer to Rio de Janeiro (P.M.) (Hotel Santa Teresa)

Day 6 –   Rio de Janeiro

Day 7 –   Rio de Janeiro to Campo Grande, via São Paulo (LATAM Airlines) (Grand Park Hotel)

Day 8 –   Road transfer to Fazenda Barranco Alto

Day 9 –   Barranco Alto

Day 10 – Barranco Alto

Day 11 – Barranco Alto

Day 12 – Barranco Alto

Day 13 – Barranco Alto

Day 14 – Barranco Alto

Day 15 – Barranco Alto; charter flight to Campo Grande (P.M.); to São Paulo (LATAM Airlines)

                (Marriott Guarulhos Airport Hotel)

Day 16 – Depart São Paulo (P.M.)

Day 17 – Arrive Dallas (A.M.)

 

A few notes here: For purposes of connecting to other areas in Brazil, São Paulo offers many more choices than Rio de Janeiro.  We couldn’t even get to the Pantanal from Rio without connecting in São Paulo. 

 

But Rio is an iconic city that I had always wanted to visit, and for history buffs like us, it has some fascinating sites that we felt were well worth our time there (especially the National Historical Museum – not to be confused with the National Museum of Brazil, which tragically was consumed by fire on September 2).  You will come across a myriad of reports about how dangerous a city Rio is.  We walked all over the central business district and the quirky, historical Santa Teresa district without any problems whatsoever, although we were advised to take taxis at night.  We skipped the more touristy beach areas (although @Atdahl certainly made a case for them in his latest report).

 

If we did this trip again, I would take an earlier flight to the Pantanal, getting into Campo Grande by late morning, and then I’d immediately connect with the charter flight to Barranco Alto for an early to mid-afternoon arrival that same day.  To economize, we used the charter flight only for our departure from Barranco Alto.  In addition to being cheaper, I thought that driving in to Barranco Alto would be interesting, and I guess it was (kind of), but what is advertised as taking 5 1/2 to 6 hours ended up taking us 8 increasingly tedious hours. 

 

This supposed cost-saving measure required us to spend the night in Campo Grande and left us tired and famished by the time we arrived at Barranco Alto the next afternoon.  All in all, it ended up being a waste of valuable time.  The charter flight, although more expensive, is much more convenient – about 45 minutes in duration – and it operates from Campo Grande airport, so flight connections are a snap.  We did not repeat this error on our second trip. 

 

Speaking of which…..

 

Edited by Alexander33
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The itinerary for the 2018 trip was as follows (beginning August 23):

 

Day 1 –   Dallas to Miami (P.M.); depart Miami

Day 2 –   Arrive São Paulo (A.M.); flight to Cuiabá (GOL Airlines) (A.M.); road transfer to Pousada Pouso Alegre (P.M.)

Day 3 –   Pouso Alegre

Day 4 –   Pouso Alegre

Day 5 –   Road transfer to Porto Jofre (P.M.) (Hotel Pantanal Norte)

Day 6 –   Porto Jofre

Day 7 –   Porto Jofre

Day 8 –   Porto Jofre

Day 9 –   Porto Jofre

Day 10 – Porto Jofre

Day 11 – Charter flight to Fazenda Barranco Alto (A.M.)

Day 12 – Barranco Alto

Day 13 – Barranco Alto

Day 14 – Barranco Alto

Day 15 – Barranco Alto

Day 16 – Barranco Alto

Day 17 – Charter flight to Campo Grande (A.M.); to São Paulo (GOL Airlines) (late A.M.); depart São Paulo (late P.M.)

Day 18 – Arrive Dallas (A.M.)

 

Flight connections in Brazil seem to all be clustered in the mornings or early evenings, which can make scheduling a challenge.  On this trip, in order to have sufficient time to make a morning connecting flight to Cuiabá following immigration and baggage re-check, we elected to go through Miami to São Paulo instead of taking the direct Dallas-São Paulo flight, which got in later and likely would have required us to wait for a late afternoon departure to Cuiabá and either an overnight there or a very late arrival at Pouso Alegre.  Having learned my lesson from the first trip, we decided to just charge on through.  Although we were so exhausted by the time dinner at Pouso Alegre was served that we skipped the night drive afterwards, it nevertheless was definitely the right decision.

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2016

 

The Mata Atlântica rainforest once covered more than 1.2 million square kilometers (about a quarter of the size of the Amazon), stretching along the Atlantic coast from northeastern Brazil to northern Argentina.  But after centuries of deforestation for timber, sugarcane, coffee, cattle ranching and urbanization (both São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas, and Rio de Janeiro lie in the heart of the Mata Atlântica), less than 10 percent remains.

 

Although on maps the Mata Atlântica rainforest appears nearly adjacent to the Amazon, it has always been isolated from it and, in fact, is more ancient.  Because the Mata Atlântica was cut off from other tropical forests, unique ecosystems evolved there, and, as a result, it contains a large number of endemic species found nowhere else.

 

The forest itself is lush and luxuriant, and temperatures when we were there in late June were very pleasant and comfortable.

 

View from our room at sunrise

 

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Edited by Alexander33
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As the name “Guapi Assu Bird Lodge” implies, the focus here is on birds.  As one might expect, the Mata Atlântica rainforest has a number of endemic species of birds that attracts birders from all over the world.  They are the cornerstone of the ecotourism industry at REGUA.  That isn’t to say that the place is devoid of mammals; in fact, we saw capybara and Common Marmosets each day (although the latter are native only to northeastern Brazil, but have become naturalized in the Mata Atlântica, escapees from the pet trade).

 

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And a recent repeat, just to confirm the ID and keep them together….

 

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We also got good looks (but not particularly good photos) of the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.

 

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REGUA is also in the process of preparing for reintroduction of tapir. 

 

Critically endangered Lion Tamarins are also found in the Mata Atlântica, although not at REGUA.  We could have pursued them by taking a day trip closer to the coast, but we did not have time for that adventure this time around. @jeremie and @Atdahl have previously posted more detailed information about them, for those who are interested.  Another endangered monkey species in the Mata Atlântica is the muriqui, America’s largest primate.  The southern strain, also called the Southern Wooly Spider Monkey, is found at REGUA, but is exceedingly rare, and we did not see any while there.

 

But, as mentioned before, it’s the birds that hold court here.

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Guests are free to traverse REGUA on their own and at their leisure, but most trails require motorized transportation to reach, and a guide for those is highly recommended. 

 

Given the mountainous terrain, some of the trails are quite challenging.  On our second full day at Guapi Assu, led by a guide we took the Waterfall Trail up to a beautiful mountain waterfall.  This trail is billed as being of medium difficulty, but I either overestimated my level of fitness or underestimated its length, and the amount of water I would need, and by the end of the day, I was huffing and puffing and ended up collapsing in bed pretty much right after dinner.

 

The trail itself is in good shape, and while the ascent is obvious, it’s not too steep in any single place.  We encountered not another soul all day, and as we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the edge of the pools below the falls, with no sounds other than the rhythm of the falling waters, the gentle mountain breezes and our own voices, lowered of our own accord in a natural appreciation of our surroundings, my imagination wandered.  I peered across this last remnant of a once vast landscape, thinking of what had been lost and what the future would require in order for us to not lose all of it.

 

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The forest on the side of the mountain was dense and very dark, and it was a lot easier to hear birds than to see them.  Taking photos was a whole other challenge.  But I did manage a few, and, fortunately, three of them were of Mata Atlântica endemics.

 

This fearless Black-capped Foliage Gleaner was almost as curious of us as we were of it.

 

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I had wanted to see the colorful little Blue Mannakin, and on our return hike, toward the end of the day when we had almost reached the bottom of the mountain, we finally came across this lone male feasting on what appears to be some kind of nut or fruit.  Although endemic, the Blue Mannakin (previously called the Swallow-tailed Mannakin) is common in its range.

 

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I fell in love with the brilliantly-colored trogons in Costa Rica, and one of the birds I most wanted to see at REGUA was the striking Surucua Trogon.  We found this one at a relatively low altitude.  I hope someday to have the opportunity to make a better photograph of this beauty.

 

1309531674_SurucuaTrogonPSD.jpg.0b395edc4051f3b07d46ae42e97ca55c.jpg

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Beautiful photo of the manakin.  I saw this species but only in thick bush so didn't get any decent shots.

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@Game Warden: you must put a warning on your web site: "Before reading it consult your financial advisor or family treasurer!" :o:D

 

@Alexander33 what a pleasure to have also your description of Pantanal! Do not spare with any logistical details.

Edited by xelas
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@Alexander33 really looking forward to this (these?) reports, LATAM recently started flying direct to my local airport and I’m strongly considering the Pantanal for 2020, something similar to your more recent itinerary but in a couple less days.  Great start so far!

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@Zubbie15

 

You won't get any arguments from me if you go!  I'd go back for a third visit in a heartbeat.

 

Your post has reminded me to mention a little something about internal flights.  LATAM is the main legacy carrier in Brazil (the result of a merger a few years ago between Brazil-based TAM and Chile-based LAN).  It's a member of the OneWorld Alliance (American Airlines, British Airways, etc.)  The main economy airline in Brazil is GOL, a member of the SkyTeam alliance (Delta, KLM/Air France, etc.)  We used LATAM for our internal flights in 2016 and GOL in 2018, and both airlines were excellent -- on time and no baggage mishaps.  I'd fly either again without any hesitation.

 

Azul is the other major player.  I haven't flown it.  In 2016, we noticed that a lot of the Azul flights were cancelled or delayed, but we did not notice anything like that on this last trip.

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The rest of our time at Guapi Assu was less strenuous than the day we spent hiking up to the waterfall.  There is a decent-sized lake, with trails surrounding its circumference, which is just a short stroll from the lodge, and we could usually find something interesting each time we went there.

 

A very chill capybara

 

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Black-and-White Mannakin

 

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Black-capped Donacobius

 

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Wild bromeliads

 

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Smooth-billed Ani

 

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ID help anyone? 

 

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The gardens around the lodge and the surrounding trails through the adjacent forest were particularly productive.  It was here that I got some of my best views of the endemic Maroon-bellied Parakeets.

 

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At the other end of the spectrum, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is widespread throughout much of tropical America, but this was the first time for me to see one.  With their long, pointy beaks and iridescent green feathers, they look like giant hummingbirds, but they act like flycatchers, greedily feeding on insects and often returning to the same low perch over and over again.

 

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And, always, there were numerous tanagers and other small birds of the forest.

 

Azure-shouldered Tanager

 

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Brazilian Tanager

 

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A Tanager, but I neglected to take note of the species.  Anyone?

 

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Burnished Buff Tanager

 

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Golden-bellied Euphonia (male)

 

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Blue Dacnis (male)

 

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Blue Dacnis (female)

 

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I had really hoped to see the endemic Spot-billed Toucanet and secretly dreamed about a glimpse of the incredible Saffron Toucanet (rare at REGUA), but we missed on both.  The large, beautiful Channel-billed Toucan was our consolation prize, even if they were not too keen on cooperating with my photographic goals.

 

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Hummingbird feeders in the gardens were well-visited, especially by the large, spectacular Swallow-tailed Hummingbird.

 

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Hummingbird species (and another plea for ID assistance!)

 

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However, there was not a large spread of different hummingbird species here.

 

(Sorry I’m so off on my IDs here.  As I mentioned before, I was derailed in putting together a report in 2016, and some of these photos I literally have just looked at and processed during the past few days.)

 

 

Edited by Alexander33
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Conservation measures in Brazil are, more than any other place I’ve visited, due in large part to the dedication of private landowners.  Nowhere was this more true than at REGUA, which is owned by Nicholas and Raquel Locke. 

 

We met their son Thomas when he appeared in the main room of the lodge on our first evening with an ice-cold pitcher of caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail made of sugarcane-based liquor (cachaça), sugar and lime.  It is a Guapi Assu tradition for the Lockes to host a happy hour each evening with their guests, one of the personal touches that made our visit so memorable. 

 

One evening, another guest who had stayed at Guapi Assu before and knew the Lockes prodded Thomas to tell us the story of his family and how REGUA came to be established.

 

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Guapiaçu was a large and profitable farm owned by Thomas’s British great-great-grandparents.  By the mid-twentieth century, however, land reform laws and political upheaval in Brazil had led the Locke family to return to England.  In the 1980s, his father Nicholas took an interest in his Brazilian heritage and, on holiday from university, visited the by then-derelict fragment of the farm to which his family still held title.  Intrigued, he returned a year later, this time with a noted ornithologist, who was taken with the unique ecology of the area and urged that Nicholas find a way to preserve it.

 

And so it came to be that Nicholas Locke moved to Brazil, revived the family farm and expanded its land holdings, replanting the area with some 250,000 native trees.  REGUA was established in 1996, and the original farmhouse is now Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, where guests from around the world now stay in order to experience this unique place for themselves.  Photos on the wall from just 20 years ago show the amazing pace at which nature has reclaimed the land.  The hill on which the lodge sits was once barren; today, it is covered with tall trees and the wildlife is returning.

 

With assistance from various grant sources, such as Rainforest Trust, the Lockes have continued to expand REGUA and to reforest the land, but it is a constant challenge.  Late one morning, Thomas drove us up to one of his favorite viewpoints, walking barefoot as he surveyed this area that he loves and that his family almost single-handedly, through sheer effort and determination, has worked to preserve for future generations.  But off to one side, on land already cleared, he pointed out the site where a condominium development was soon to begin, marketed as second homes to wealthy Rio families seeking weekend retreats from the bustling city.

 

We were on our third pitcher of caipirinhas by the time Thomas had concluded, so if I’ve botched any details, I blame it entirely on the alcohol, but that’s the gist of the story, and we were happy to be contributing our small part in their noble effort.  I wish them the best.  They deserve all the success in the world.

 

More views from the balcony of our room

 

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As ecotourism alone is not enough to sustain REGUA financially, portions of Guapiaçu retain their nineteenth century heritage as working farm and pasture lands.  As we were driving from the lodge to the Waterfall Trail head, I spied two Burrowing Owls surveying their fiefdom from the top of a large tufa-like rock in the middle of a field that was enclosed with a barbed wire fence.  Although I had been told we would almost certainly see Burrowing Owls in the Pantanal, I nevertheless prevailed on our hosts’ son, Thomas, to drive us out there on our last morning and open up the gate so that we could get a closer look at these animated birds.

 

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It was a fitting departure – and perhaps a taste of things to come.

 

Edited by Alexander33
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After a two-night stay in Rio de Janeiro, where we focused our time on learning about the city’s colonial past and Brazil’s fascinating history, and then another night in Campo Grande, we found ourselves early one bright, sunny morning in an SUV headed overland to Fazenda Barranco Alto. 

 

I had three main targets at Barranco Alto: the bizarre giant anteater; the dazzling hyacinth macaw; and the giant river otter, which we had seen in Peru but bombed on photographically.

 

But, as I indicated earlier, we’re now going to pause and fast forward to 2018 and our visit to the Northern Pantanal.  However, later on, we’ll meet back up with our 2016 selves at Barranco Alto when we arrive there for our second stay at the end of the 2018 trip.

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1 hour ago, Alexander33 said:

ID help anyone? 

 

Buff-throated Saltator.

 

 

1 hour ago, Alexander33 said:

A Tanager, but I neglected to take note of the species.  Anyone?

 

Tawny-crested Tanager looks awfully similar .... but to my book it does not goes down to Brasil.

 

 

1 hour ago, Alexander33 said:

Hummingbird species (and another plea for ID assistance!)

 

If it would be from Costa Rica my ID would be Blue-throated Goldentail female

 

 

But don't count on my ID to be correct as I still have to buy myself a Birds of Brasilia book -_-. Then I will have a good excuse to use it on the ground :D

 

Anyway those are seriously great photos of seriously nice birds!

Edited by xelas
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Thanks @xelas. I’ve got a positive ID on the third tanager in post #14: Ruby-crowned Tanager, an Atlantic Rainforest endemic (although not limited to Brazil). 

 

Let me mention while I’m at it that I was really intrigued by the Atlantic Rainforest.  Even though São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro sit right in the middle of it, it’s a largely overlooked gem, and if you are into birds, it’s not to be missed. We got only the briefest of tastes. 

 

One of the the challenges is that there just aren’t many lodging options that market themselves to international visitors. From what I can tell, what accommodations there are primarily cater to São Paulo and Rio residents escaping the cities for the weekend. Serra dos Tucanos at Tres Picos State Park is an exception, although I don’t have any firsthand information about it. 

 

There’s also a major language barrier. I’ve been spoiled because English is my native language, and it’s easy to get lazy and just expect that you’ll be able to find someone who speaks English to help you. That’s not always the case in Brazil, and certainly not the case if you are off the beaten path. At REGUA, none of the lodge staff spoke English, and if it had not been for the owners, we would have been completely lost. I find Portuguese, especially the pronunciations, to be just absolutely baffling. (I’m conversational in French and can get by on some Spanish — both were utterly useless in Brazil). 

 

One option would be to be to join an organized birding tour, but I’m not much of a tour person, and I well know that birders and bird photographers (I cavalierly put myself into the latter category) are two different creatures that sometimes don’t mix well. Rushing around ticking off species from a list is not my cup of tea. 

 

I think hiring a local professional wildlife/nature photographer as a private guide would probably be my best option. Doing that for a week or so, including time to see the Lion Tamarins and then adding Iguacu Falls, appeals (although when that could happen and how much it would cost is anyone’s guess at this point). 

Edited by Alexander33
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3 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

(I’m conversational in French and can get by on some Spanish — both were utterly useless in Brazil). 

 

Indeed. While I have had no problems with my limited knowledge of French and Spanish in those countries that are also speaking it, when on Azores I was totally lost!

 

3 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

I think hiring a local professional wildlife/nature photographer as a private guide would probably be my best option.

 

Yes, but costs ... well, you will meet some fellow birders/photographers/travellers soon so maybe there is an option to put a like-minded group together?

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A great start Peter, with some absolutely awesome photos. With every report coming from the area I´m more and more convinced I need to get back to Brazil!

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We used Neblina Forest for our last 6 nights at Caraça and canastra.  We had excellent bird guides. 

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@Alexander33,  Wooooo Whoooooo!  Two trips for the price of one.  What a bargain!  I look forward to each post.  You already have shared some outstanding photos.  I know how tough those Atlantic Forest birds can be to photograph. :)

 

Alan

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@kittykat23uk

 

Thanks for that information.  I will have to look into that, and I hope you'll post more about your experience there in your report.

 

 

@Atdahl

 

Yes, those little forest birds are always a delightful torment.  And, masochist that I am, I keep returning for more!

 

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And, now, back to the future…..

 

2018

 

By the time we met up with our guide Tito and driver Magnus in the arrivals hall of the Cuiabá airport on a bright, hot Friday around noon, we had been in transit for almost 24 hours.  Fortunately, the overall journey had been uneventful.  The flights were all on time, the luggage made it with us on all three segments, and the new Brazilian e-visas had worked without a hitch. 

 

Tito would be our private guide for the next 9 nights.  He freelances, and often works with our travel agent, Brazil Nature Tours.  In later speaking with him, he was already booked up for not only the forthcoming months, but also most of the high season in 2020.  As in so many cases, the earlier you can manage to book, the better your chances of getting a top-notch, experienced guide.  And Tito, it turned out, definitely fit that bill.  As it would turn out, he was responsible for our seeing some of our best sights in the Northern Pantanal.

 

Our first order of business was to find a place to stock up on wine, which, as we had learned from our previous trip, is sometimes in short supply at the lodges.  Brazil is definitely a beer country.  Tito suggested we buy several large containers of drinking water as well, and this turned out to be a prudent idea.  I had brought a 1-liter water bottle with me, and, with our stockpile of water, was well-served for the duration of our stay in the North.  Although Barranco Alto uses reusable filtered water containers and cups for guests there, for some reason our lodges in the Northern Pantanal relied solely on mini-sized disposable plastic water bottles.  The amount of plastic waste on a weekly basis must be staggering.

 

After lunch at a traditional churrascaria (a variety of barbequed meats sliced tableside to your liking) in the town of Poconé, we soon left pavement and made our way down the dirt Transpantaneira Highway to Pousada Pouso Alegre, where we would spend our first three nights.  This is a simple, fairly rustic lodge of 18 rooms on an 11,000 hectare (27,000 acres) cattle ranch, but the rooms have en suite bathrooms and air conditioning if you need it, and the home-cooked food was hearty and plentiful.  After quickly settling in, we met back up with Tito for a walk in the dry, semi-open woodlands nearby.

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