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Back to Pantanal - October 2021

pedro maia

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At the end of August we finished our summer holidays, one week in the center of Portugal, with a couple of incursions in Spanish Extremadura, followed by another week by the beach in the Algarve, it was ok but due to some issues and the Covid situation it was not enough to clear our mind, as we returned home me and my wife we were both thinking that we were in the need of a real trip, and the right time would be the first week of October, since the 5th was a holiday here, that would make it easier with both our works.


The decision was taken but there were some hurdles in our way, we had to decide where to go and there weren´t many destination available because of travel restrictions and we still had a whole month in front of us, that´s a lot of time when we are living such volatile times and things can change pretty quickly.


Asia was pretty much closed for us, the same with USA and many other parts of the world besides Europe, which was not what we wanted, I checked some African countries and Brasil having in mind that one of our "red lines" was the need to do a Covid test on our way back home, we wouldn´t take the chance of getting stranded abroad, at the end the decision was narrowed to Kenya, where we haven´t been before, and the Pantanal, which we visited in August 2013, no need for covid test on the return home for these two destinations.


There was another thing we had to do ASAP, to get new passports, there were big delays especially in Lisbon, but we managed to solve that by going to another place 50km away.


In Kenya I was looking for the Mara conservancies, I got some quotations and it wasn´t going to be cheap so a private vehicle, which would avoid more contact with other people, was out of question, and even if we wouldn´t need a Covid test to return I wasn´t comfortable with the idea of an overly zealous officer deciding otherwise.


On the other hand, the Pantanal trip would be much cheaper, we could rent a car and self-drive the Transpantaneira road limiting contacts, there were plenty of rooms available in all lodges and we could arrange a private boat for the Porto Jofre stretch of the trip.


In the beginning of September non essential trips to Brasil weren´t yet allowed, but that changed after the 15th September so the final decision was taken, we were going back to Northern Pantanal.


However, we weren´t the only people "desperate" to travel and during the time we took to decide, with a holiday in the middle of our chosen vacation week, prices with TAP had risen and flights were quite expensive, Lisbon-Cuiabá via São Paulo price was 2.200 euros per person for a coach ticket, that´s way too much, but there was another option, the Brazilian airline Azul also has direct flights from Lisbon to São Paulo (actually to Campinas) and prices were much better, in the end we decided to splurge and bought business tickets only a few hundred euros more expensive than TAP coach tickets and that would make the intercontinental flights much more pleasant, also with less contacts with other passengers, and we felt we deserved it.


Our itinerary was finally complete, we would fly on the 2nd October, spend one night at Cuiabá where we would arrive around 1:00am, next morning we would pick up our car from the brazilian rental company Localiza, head to the Pantanal and stay one night at the Araras Ecolodge, four nights at the Santa Rosa Hotel in Porto Jofre and the final night at Pousada Piuval, returning home on the 9th October.

Our D-day finally arrived, we had our negative PCR tests and a couple of formularies duly filled and our plane was waiting for us at the gate.




The flight was as pleasant as expected and we landed in Campinas airport, we had a 7h30 layover which wasn´t a problem, we left our bags in a locker, picked up a taxi and went to a very nice bar where we had some snacks, a few beers, there was live music, a very laid back place, time passed quickly.




We returned to the airport and caught the plane to Cuiabá where we slept at the Slim hotel, 500m from the airport, very convenient, next morning we took an uber to the airport where we caught the Localiza navette that took us... right next door to our hotel, if we had looked left when we got out it we would have seen that Localiza was only 10m away.


We just had to drive 100km or so, with some stops to photograph birds for my not so Big Year, and the real trip started in a spot that is well familiar to all who visited Northern Pantanal.



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Our first stop would be the Pousada Araras Ecolodge, in the km33 of the Transpantaneira, we stayed there for one night (also the first night) in our 2013 trip but then we arrived in the afternoon and left right after breakfast, so we didn´t have time to really appreciate the lodge, this time we arrived before lunch time and didn´t have to leave early in the morning, which gave us more time to enjoy the place, and although it is more expensive than other lodges along the Transpantaneira and a bit pricey, I think it´s worth staying there because it´s really a nice laid back place, with quality, hosted by André, quite a character, and his wife.


It was quite hot so it was a bonus to know that during last year, when they had to shut down, they made some works and upgraded the swimming pool, which according to what I remember in 2013 was nothing more than a tank, my wife was very pleased with that and also enjoyed to refresh myself while looking at the caimans and capybara in the new pond right next to the pool.


I don´t have a picture of the pool so I borrowed this one from their website:




The pond was unfenced so caiman could roam free in the lodge grounds, while birding I almost stepped on a small one but I think it was more scared than I and ran away.








This one seemed to be the pond master and was carrying his meal




Pousada Araras is a very nice place for birding, many species (already shown in the Big Year forum) can be found in the it´s grounds








There´s a nest where a pair of Hyacinth Macaw live, it was a real pleasure to watch them, they are stunning birds






At some point they were in the mood for love...



Before dinner, we were ready for caipirinhas



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Activities are included in the stay, we declined to participate in the afternoon visit of the lodge grounds, we didn´t think we would need a guide for that, but joined the night game drive that took place in the Transpantaneira and also in other parts of the property.


We had some nice sightings:


Caiman crossing the Transpantaneira




Red brocket (I think)




Crab-eating fox




And the best, if brief, sighting (with the worst pictures), a Giant anteater, a species we missed in 2013, I was very pleased with this one





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I woke up early and wandered around the lodge, Hyacinth Macaws were already active




So were caiman and capybara




A glimpse of an Agouti




More cool birds






and an early morning visit of a couple of Marsh deer






The morning activity was horseback riding which didn´t interest us, I was more interested in taking a walk on their forest trail, I asked if it was safe to go there without guiding, apparently it was ok, so that´s where we went, there´s a walkway that leads to an observation tower (which we didn´t climb), it goes through a quite dense forest and it´s great for birding, even if photography can be a bit challenging, at least for me.


A cell phone picture of the walkway




Some of the birds seen on the trail








And a cool sighting of a primate I never saw before, a Black-tailed marmoset




We decided to leave at mid-morning, I was eager to drive the Transpantaneira all the way to Porto Jofre, once again I enjoyed a lot the Araras lodge, I think most Safaritalkers didn´t stay there but I highly recomend it.


One last picture of a Toco toucan, a bird I missed in 2013, this time we saw several.



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Oh Little Cuckoo, that's a really great bird to get there!


(Oh never mind, I think it's Squirrel Cuckoo. Not as uncommon :)


Edited by janzin
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10 hours ago, janzin said:

Oh Little Cuckoo, that's a really great bird to get there!


(Oh never mind, I think it's Squirrel Cuckoo. Not as uncommon :)



I also had it as a Squirrel cuckoo.

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@pedro maia

Just came back from a two week trip to Kenya; good to see your Pantanal trip report and pictures. Pantanal is high on our list for 2023. Looking forward to more:)

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56 minutes ago, Athene said:

@pedro maia

Just came back from a two week trip to Kenya; good to see your Pantanal trip report and pictures. Pantanal is high on our list for 2023. Looking forward to more:)


Thanks @Athene, I hope you had a great trip in Kenya and I´ll be looking forward to your trip report as well.

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We left Araras Lodge heading to Porto Jofre, or so we thought...


After 3/4km I checked the fuel gauge and to my surprise the level was below half tank, I made some quick maths, from Cuiabá to where we were the distance was a little less then 140km, Porto Jofre was 100km away, then on the return trip we would have to travel +-140km to Poconé, there are no gas stations in the Transpantaneira so we didn´t have enough fuel, we had to go back to Poconé, that added about 80km to our itinerary, right in the most corrugated strecht of the road.


It took us about 2 hours to get back to where we started the day, annoying but not a drama, we didn´t have any schedule, nobody was waiting for us, unpredicted things happen in a trip, you just have to adjust.


And, sometimes opportunities can emerge from a not so positive situation, we just didn´t know it at that moment.


We kept heading south in one of the most spectacular roads I´ve driven, I really prefer to self drive a road like that rather than going with a guide, and it was a renewed pleasure.


There were some differences comparing to 2013, in the first half of the Transpantaneira many of the bridges are no longer wooden bridges, they were changed into some kind of road elevation, it´s not the same, but in the second half the wooden bridges are still there, let´s hope they keep them as they are, only with the due maintenance.


Also it was the beginning of October, end of the dry season, and it was really dry along the road, talking with people in the Araras they were desperate for rain, and the lack of rain meant that there were far less ponds than in August 2013, and thus less birds, we didn´t see anything like the scene of this this photo I retrieved from our previous visit.




There was also a stretch of a few kilometers that was burnt in both sides of the road, it reminded me that in 20220, more or less at the same time of the year, there were huge wildfires in this part of the Pantanal, but the burnt area we passed was not dramatic.


We stopped at Hotel Pantanal Mato Grosso to eat something, by then there were some menacing dark clouds and some thunder, we left quickly to try to avoid the possible rain, we caught some but soon the weather improved, good for us, not so good for the locals.


It´s time to post pictures of some of the birds we saw along the way.




















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Marsh deer




Road block




One Pantanal cowboy (peão) driving a herd






I really love the wooden bridges, they give lot´s of character to the road






One of the biggest ponds we saw




To my surprise there were a few Giant otters in that pond, we were delighted, they are gorgeous and I didn´t expect to see them in the Transpantaneira.





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Some of the best sightings in a safari occur by pure luck, you just have to be in the right place at the right time or you can miss an amazing sighting by not being at that right place at the right time and you never get to know what you missed, when you´re driving you can see or miss an animal by a few seconds, and you can definitely see or miss an animal by 2 hours.


In one specific spot of the road, where we were supposed to have passed 2 hours before, just like in the rest of the road, my wife said "there was something on the road".


I was looking ahead but wasn´t focused on the ground, so I had to reverse and check what could it be, and it was the animal in the top of my wishing list (if I had one), we hadn´t seen it in 2013 and I wasn´t really expecting to see it this time also, you need to be very lucky to see it.


It was a magnificent Anaconda, not a huge one but still a good size, close to 4m I would say.




Needless to say I was ecstatic with this sighting, what an incredible animal









Funny to see how luck works, if we hadn´t gone back to Poconé we wouldn´t have seen the Anaconda, and if it wasn´t for my wife I would have just pass by oblivious of its presence.


That really made my day...

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In Porto Jofre we stayed at the Santa Rosa Hotel, it´s a new hotel that opened 2/3 years ago, my wife wanted a hotel with swimming pool and it´s the only one that has one in Porto Jofre, so I booked it.


I must say that soon after we arrived I seriously thought about trying to find another place to stay even if I had already paid, after leaving the Transpantaneira close to the end we entered a road that goes through the forest and you arrive at what seemed like the backyard of the hotel, it looked more like a junkyard, with trash, construction materials, we had to confirm that we were at the right place, the front part that overlooks the river looked better but we had to tell the staff to clean the grass in front of our chalet, part of the staff was playing snooker or seating and chatting while smoking and throwing the cigarette butts to the floor or passing by while talking on their cell phones, the manager had gone on vacation but I suspect things wouldn´t be different if he was there, we weren´t impressed at all, thankfully my wife said we should take a breath and think after one night sleep, we stayed and didn´t regret it, the room was good, so was the food, the swimming pool was great in the hottest hours when we had a lunch break from the river and also when we returned,  after dark, with an ice cold beer or a caipirinha, it helped that there were only two other couples during our stay, if it was full we might not have stayed for the whole 4 nights.


Vue from our room´s porch




I think this kind of hotel is wrong in this place




The pool




On board for our first day in the river




We quickly forgot the hotel and everything else, the vegetation at the Parque Estadual Encontro das Águas was as lush as ever, no signs of the 2020 wildfires as nature fully recovered, this is definitely one of my happy places















Edited by pedro maia
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It was time to sit back and just enjoy the river and its wildlife










Giant otters are one of the most spectacular species of the Pantanal











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I had the feeling that this year there were less Caiman and Capybara in the rivers, maybe it was just an impression.













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This caiman caught a nice big Marbled swamp eel






















Edited by pedro maia
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At some time in the Corixo São Pedrinho me and our boatman, Adenil, we had to take a leak, he "parked" the boat at a small beach, there were jaguar footprints nearby so we had to be very careful.

We went back to the boat, at that moment Adenil said "Olha a onça" (look, a jaguar), and there it was, our first jaguar of the trip.






He entered the bush and we tried to find where would him come out again, which he did exactly by the spot where we had been relieving ourselves 5 minutes before...




It was a jaguar known as Xingu, a dominant male, he gave us a look




And he went on, following the path where we had seen the footprints, probably his own










A great first day at the river



Edited by pedro maia
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@pedro maiathanks for posting your photos of the Pantanal, they have brought back many happy memories for me. You were lucky with sightings of the Giant Otters and anaconda along the Transpantaneira, lovely to see such a diverse range of animals and birds along the road.

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I didn´t do much planning for this trip, booked everything directly and for the river I called our guide from 2013, Ailton Lara, but now he has his own lodge at Porto Jofre, Pantanal Jaguar Camp, and he only works for his guests, that´s understandable, the solution for us was to book in our hotel, they hire boats for half or full days, and one can hire them for private use, with a boatman, that was good enough for us, it´s not the same as a guide but he knew the river like the palm of his hand and how to find jaguars, just coudn´t expect him to be very knowledgeable about wildlife. The boat didn´t have a radio, that can be a limitation but wasn´t really a problem, we had plenty of nice sightings and without radio one doesn´t rush to any sightings, that´s the positive part.


We could take lunch and spend the whole day in the rivers but it was quite hot and quiet at mid day so our days started btween 6:00/6:30, around noon we would rest a bit at the hotel, lazing in the swimming pool, at 2:30 back in the boat returning after sunset, around 6:00pm, +-9 hours in the boat.


Day 2 in Porto Jofre, it didn´t take long for us to see our first jaguar of the day, my wife spotted it in the Três Irmãos river, it´s colours blend beautifully with the landscape.




It was a female named Jaju, born in 2016










Jaju wasn´t really active so we left her and wandered in the rivers looking for other animals










We saw several water buffalos, in a documentary I saw they said that in ranches they put them together with cattle during the night to keep jaguars away, but they seem to be very comfortable and growing in numbers




A nice big male Howler monkey





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We went back to check on Jaju, she was still lazing in the shade




Now there were 3/4 boats in the sighting, one was from the Jaguar Identification Project, https://www.jaguaridproject.com/, they and Gustavo Gaspari, a biologist working with Ailton Lara helped me with the jaguars ID (passing the camera from boat to boat).


One of the boats was from a BBC crew filming for a documentary











She was just sleeping so we left her and went back to the hotel, our first sighting after lunch would be The Kill


Edited by pedro maia
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After that once in a lifetime moment we followed the Piquiri river where we had another great sighting, this time of a Giant otter group, we stayed for a while with them








One of the adults was feeding on a huge Dourado fish, we were quite impressed with the size of the fish








and it refused to share his meal, one of the youngsters was "crying" quite loud but the adult wasn´t impressed by that























Eventually the adult decided to go somewhere else to finish his meal in peace



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we left the otters and continued upstream, and we were rewarded with another jaguar sighting, this time a male known as Kaluanã, later I was told that he is rarely seen, he didn´t stay very long in sight but it was a great final for a truly memorable day















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Loved the otter photos. I think I am more excited about seeing them than jaguars. Hope we do as well as you did.

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