The Different Ways to Spot Wildlife in the Amazon and Pantanal

Tristan Whitworth

19 Oct 2017

Exploring brazil on foot, boat or horseback

The wildlife in Brazil is so rich and abundant that you’d have to try very hard not to see it. Even better, there isn’t only one way to explore Brazil’s natural world. 

Whether you’re looking to get your heart rate up or prefer a softer landing, there’s something for everyone.

By Boat

From the Cristalino and Teles Peres rivers in the Southern Amazon, to the immense lattice of waterways and floodland in the Pantanal, boats are at the centre of wildlife safaris in Brazil. In the northern Pantanal, you’ll find a number of “flotels” such as the Southwild Jaguar Suites; mobile structures built on a floating system and firmly fixed to the river banks, offering a prime combination of comfort and location. Thanks to balconies and completely unobstructed views of the forest and the rivers, wildlife can be seen directly from your hotel. In this region – home to the highest concentration of jaguars in the world -  the third largest big cat in the world is best tracked and admired as it prowls and rests on the river banks. As a guest of the flotel, you’ll spend about 8 hours a day on the water, following the guidance of your expert guide as you are whisked from one end of the river to another in search of the majestic predator. 

While the focus of these boat outings is to see jaguars, they present opportunities to see more, as the river is teaming with birdlife and other mammals such as capybara, giant river otter, deer and tapir. Further south, while staying at Refugio Ecologico Ararauna, you might enjoy a more leisurely outing on the calm waters of the Rio Correntoso. Running through this large privately-owned farmland, the river is full of exciting sightings. Otter, capybara, tapir, peccary, agouti, jaguar, ocelot, deer, feral pig, coati, spider monkey, howler monkey and more birds than you knew existed…

My favourite water-based safari in Brazil: a sunset canoeing excursion on the Correntoso River in the Southern Pantanal, trying to keep up with a family of giant river otters on the hunt for fish. 

The light was stunning and the rainforest came alive as the burning sun gave us some respite.

On foot

At the top of your Brazil safari packing list should be a sturdy pair of walking boots and socks - a lot of socks! To manage your expectations, the odds of spotting a jaguar while walking on a jungle trail are extremely low. The animal itself will most likely scamper off if it hears your footsteps, and no guide will deliberately pursue a jaguar on foot with guests, for obvious safety reasons. You are likely, however, to come across jaguar footprints, and that alone is absolutely exhilarating! That being said, guided walking safaris might be the best way to not only see a lot of wildlife in the Amazon and the Pantanal, but also get a wider understanding of these habitats. Thanks to the limitless knowledge of the guides who have been walking these trails their whole lives, you are sure to learn a tremendous amount about the surrounding fauna and flora, in all its shapes and sizes, but also about how the indigenous people of these forests live and survive in such unique environments. 

One of the most exciting sides to these walks is the fact that your senses come so alive; every sound of ruffling leaves triggers a rush of adrenaline.

Your sense of smell is also peaked as that distinctive musky odour lingers near a clay lick just visited by peccaries… 

These forest trails don’t require any particular level of fitness and usually are two to three hours in length, leaving heat and mosquitoes as the main challenges to overcome, so don’t forget plenty of water and repellent!

My favourite walking safari in Brazil: an early morning stroll on the Sierra Trail in the Cristalino reserve. After a short sunrise boat ride, you’ll embark on a two hour hike through different habitats, including deciduous forest, giving you a completely different perspective of the Amazon than the lush green jungle you would typically imagine.

Observation Towers

Contrary to common belief (guilty as charged), observation towers aren’t only meant for avid bird watchers, and they must be experienced during your Brazil wildlife safari. Many lodges have their own tower, and while varying in height, all offer fantastic views and magical landscapes. The best time to climb the 50 metre steel tower of the Cristalino Lodge – an actual architectural feat in itself – is before 6am, for a breathtaking display of natural world magic as the Amazon jungle slowly comes to life. Towering above the canopy, you’ll see an abundance of birds that would have been impossible to spot from down below: scarlet macaws, spangled cotinga, white-bellied parrot and toucan to name only a few, and, if you’re lucky, the coveted harpy eagle. 

These outings also provide great opportunities for mammal lovers, as your vantage point means you’re able to see playful groups of monkeys searching for fruit or water in the branches. White-nose saki and red-handed howler monkeys are commonly seen from Cristalino’s main tower. From up there, the sounds of the rain forest will also leave you with an everlasting memory and give a great sense of the abundance of wildlife and activity that lies beneath your feet.

My favourite observation tower in Brazil: at the end of an easy 1km trail, passing by coati, caiman and sleeping capybaras, Araras Eco Lodge features a 25 metre observation tower. While not as high as the 50 meters at Cristalino, the view at sunset was spectacular. With our backs to Bolivia – about 300km west from here – the Pantanal looked stunning in that golden light, and below us we had a deafening concert, courtesy of a hundred white egrets. The moment was perfectly enchanting! 

On Horseback

In addition to being an alternate way of exploring all of the trails, horseback riding in the Pantanal just feels right. If you spend any time in this part of the country, you will quickly learn how important horses are to the livelihood and history of the Pantanal. Most of the land is privately owned by cattle ranchers, and most farms are still up and running, breeding horses at a level that has earned many ranches world recognition in this field. Before the famed Transpantaneira Highway was finished about 30 years ago, there was no other means of transport for the local farmers to take their business to the big cities like Cuiaba, and they would risk their lives on journeys of up to a month long in order to make a living. It’s not hard to understand why horses are so inherent to the like of any Pantaneiro. This is why I strongly recommend taking part in this activity. No previous experience is required, and these outings usually last from one to two hours.

My favourite horseback outing in Brazil: a two hour sunrise ride on the grounds of Refugio Ecologico Ararauna. Many animals were spotted along the way, from six-banded armadillos, to marsh deer, many caiman and even more crab-eating foxes! 


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