Trekking through wild, steamy jungles, past wildlife rich waters and past tall, vividly green trees brimming with bright coloured birds, or floating down dark rivers; this is how you watch for the wild and elusive jaguar.
These big cats, the largest found in the Americas, can be spotted resting in the shadows of trees, or even swimming or playing in the wild waters of the Amazon or the Pantanal in Brazil. Our safaris take you deep into the jungle at the right time to see them and, at the same time, explore with walking safaris, jeep safaris, night drives, boat safaris and even horseriding through the vast wetlands.
Today, jaguars can be found in the dense rainforests of the Central and South America, with the majority found in the Brazilian Amazon and Pantanal. They prefer living in areas with dense trees so they can stalk their prey and can also be found living near swamps, rivers and seasonally flooded wetlands.
A jaguar needs three things to thrive: food, water and protection in the form of a safe natural habitat. The Pantanal offers this in a vast network of wetlands, with biodiversity so diverse that it is home to over 600 bird species, 90 land mammals, 270 fish species and over 1000 types of butterflies and insects. The dry season forces a majority of the animals to head for the larger waterways such as the Cuiaba, Piquiri or Three Brothers rivers, which in turn ensures an important concentration of jaguars, well aware of the abundance of prey. Jaguars in the area have also received little interest from the local fishermen who have been working on these waters for decades. This means the animal doesn’t feel under threat as your small boat approaches, giving you unbeatable photo opportunities and ample time to admire this elegant creature.
Regarding accommodation, we recommend staying at Hotel Pantanal Norte. Located at the end of the Transpantaneira Highway, on the banks of the Cuiaba River, it is the perfect base for jaguar spotting between July and September. Simple and often used by the fishermen of the area, the rooms are spacious and en-suite and the well maintained gardens are frequented by Hyacinth macaws and toco toucans.
The best time to see jaguars is during the drier months between late May to early November when the jaguars' prey congregates around the diminishing water.
Jaguar knowledge was abundant everywhere. Indeed, the wildlife knowledge in general was widely impressive, as everyone from transfer drivers to restaurant staff at the lodge were animated with incredible passion for their environment. This made for very educational conversations at every corner. In the Northern Pantanal, most of the guides have spent their lifetime studying the jaguar and still see themselves as students of the species, keeping track of each sighting through detailed written reports, each one telling the story of every jaguar encounter, as well as its GPS position, behavioural information and so on. All of this in an effort to understand the jaguar better and share this knowledge with you, the traveller.
- NWS Tristan, our resident Latin America expert.
Jaguar excursions are on boats, and you should expect to be out on the river all day for jaguar viewing. This is approx. 7-8 hours a day, with a break for lunch back at your hotel or lodge.
Jaguar tracking is not physical at all, as you will be sitting on a boat all day.
In general, a jaguar sighting is between 15-25 meters, the distance between you on the boat and the riverbank.
For decent jaguar shots, the minimum lens you would need is 200mm, as long as you have an unobstructed view and lots of light. The rivers are atmospheric, full of life and other wildlife, so you can also grab some great footage filming with just your smartphone.
Jaguars breed all year round and have no particular mating season. Cubs can be seen anytime throughout the jaguar viewing season, between June and October.
Jaguars are carnivores and can prey on more than 85 different species, they aren't too fussy. Whilst preferring large prey like capybaras, deer and giant anteaters, they will also hunt smaller prey such as turtles, reptiles, birds and fish, especially if the jaguar is younger and less experienced.
Jaguar can reach speeds of up to 50mph.
Despite sharing a lot of similarities in their appearance, jaguars are a lot larger than leopards and leopards avoid the water, whereas jaguars love it. Although they both have golden fur with spot rosettes, jaguar's rosettes have spots inside them.