Brazil: The Pantanal and Amazon
Massive swamps, big, blue Macaws and Amazonian rainforests.
The Pantanal, the name given to the vast wetlands of southwest Brazil and eastern Bolivia, is famous for congregations of massive numbers of birds and mammals. We will stay at some delightful lodges and be spoiled by the easy birding. This tour is timed for the end of the dry season, when birds are often concentrated in the few remaining wet areas, and mosquito numbers are at their lowest. The low river levels also make it easier to spot Jaguars on the sandy banks, and we’ll devote a day searching for this alluring creature. The northern Pantanal is easily combined with a trip to the southern Amazon, where the birding is a little more challenging, although the rewards are perhaps greater; the Cristalino Jungle Lodge has its own private reserve with a mind-boggling bird list of nearly 600 species. This itinerary includes looking for Jaguars deep in the Pantanal, offering a very real chance to see the most magnificent mammal in the new world.
Day 1: Cuiabá. We’ll meet you at the airport and take you to a nearby hotel for the night.
Day 2: Chapada dos Guimarães. We’ll have the whole day to explore this national park north of Cuiabá. The scrubby cerrado (savanna) may not look like much, but it can be surprisingly good for birds such as White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, White-eared Puffbird, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Rusty-backed Antwren, Chapada Flycatcher, Coal-crested and Red-crested Finches, and more. Gallery forest lower down has a different set of birds with a more Amazonian flavor such as Fiery-capped Manakin, Lettered Aracari, and Saffron-billed and Pectoral Sparrows. After lunch, we’ll bird gallery forest near a magnificent escarpment offering great views and a chance for Red-and-green Macaw, King Vulture, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, and sometimes even the very rare Orange-breasted Falcon. We overnight in Chapada dos Guimarães.
Day 3: Chapada to Cristalino Jungle Lodge. After a few more hours birding in the Chapada, we return to Cuiabá and catch a midday flight to the town of Alta Floresta. From here, we travel by vehicle and boat to the lodge, our home for the next five nights. Cristalino Jungle Lodge has quickly gained the reputation as being the finest lodge in the southern Amazon, with comfortable rooms, great food and service, and terrific birding.
Days 4-7: Cristalino Jungle Lodge. With four full days to explore the area, we’ll have the chance to visit most of the best birding sites. Dawn on one of the two sturdy 160 ft. (50 m) high tower is an unforgettable experience. The great view over the treetops gives us a good chance of seeing canopy species like Red-necked Aracari, Black-girdled Barbet, Spangled Cotinga, and Red-fan Parrot. Several trails from the lodge give access to bamboo-dominated areas with specialized species like Manu and Striated Antbirds, Rose-breasted Chat, Crested Foliage-gleaner, a distinctive race of Dot-winged Antwren, and Rufous-capped Nunlet. Another trail takes us to the top of some granite outcrops to more open forest of a markedly different nature, where we may find Natterer’s Slaty-Antshrike, Spotted Puffbird, and others. The seasonally flooded forest near the edge of the river has the endemic Glossy Antshrike, Bronzy Jacamar, and the subdued Flame-crested Manakin. Other trails pass through vast terra firme forests loaded with antbirds like Spot-backed, Dot-backed, Black-faced, Bare-eyed, Scale-backed, Banded, and more. This is truly one of the top birding spots in the world and there will be plenty to keep us busy for every minute.
Day 8: Cristalino to the Pantanal. After some final birding, we fly back to Cuiabá in the afternoon, then drive a few hours to the start of the famous Transpantaneira, or Pantanal Highway. We’ll spend the first two nights at Pousada Piuval, a lovely lodge on a working cattle ranch near the start of the highway.
Day 9: Pousada Piuval. Piuval has some of the most impressive birding anywhere on the planet, with huge numbers of birds seen and daily lists reaching astronomical numbers, higher than for any of our other South American tours. The reason why it’s so great is the easy access to a wide variety of habitats, including rivers, wetlands, flooded pastures, gallery forest, and dry scrub. There’s simply not room here for all the birds, but some of the main highlights are the huge Hyacinth Macaws (seen daily), Greater Rhea, Bare-faced Curassow, Chestnut-bellied Guan, up to four ibises, the hulking Southern Screamer, Jabiru, Maguari Stork (some years), Black-collared Hawk, White Woodpecker, Gray-crested Cacholote, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, and Red-crested Cardinal.
Day 10: Piuval to the Pixaim River. After another morning at Piuval we drive a few hours south, deeper into the Pantanal. We’ll stay two nights at one of several lodges (depending on availability) on the edge of the sluggish Pixaim River, and one of the highlights here are the afternoon boat trips on the river, a relaxing way to see Agami Heron and Boat-billed Herons, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Black-collared Hawk, Giant Otter, and more. In the evening, we’ll enjoy the spectacle of Nacunda and Band-tailed Nighthawks flying low over the water along with huge Greater Bulldog Bats. Spotlighting for nightjars in the evening might get us Swallow-tailed, Spot-tailed, and Pauraque.
Day 11: Pixaim River .A nearby trail passes through superb gallery forest, which can be loaded with birds in the morning. The open nature of the forest makes it relatively easy to see them, and Band-tailed Antbird, Large-billed Antwren, and Helmeted Manakin can usually be seen without too much difficulty. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl imitation can often bring in large mobbing hordes of passerines, like Flavescent Warbler, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, and others. We can also target anything else we are still looking for, which could include White-naped Xenopsaris, Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, or Nanday Parakeet. In the afternoon, we’ll have the option of having another boat trip on the river.
Day 12: Pixaim River to Porto Jofre. After breakfast, we’ll board our bus and drive south towards the end of the Pantanal Highway. We’ll make several stops along the way to search for the gorgeous Scarlet-headed Blackbird, shy Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, vociferous Fawn-breasted Wren, elegant Maguari Stork, as well as others. We’ll reach our very comfortable hotel at the very end of the road in late morning, and after lunch, we’ll spend the afternoon cruising the rivers looking for Jaguars as well as birds and other wildlife.
Day 13: Jaguar searching. Jaguar is the main target here, and we’ll spend the day cruising various rivers in boats looking for this magnificent animal. Our boatmen are in radio contact, so if there is a jaguar seen we can head for the location. Jaguars here are not very shy and will often stay in view for extended periods of time. We will not ignore other birds and wildlife during our search, but Jaguar does take priority over everything.
Day 14: Jaguar searching and return to Cuiabá. The plan for the morning will depend largely on how well we did with Jaguars the day before. If we’re still trying for Jaguar, we’ll spend the full morning cruising the rivers and leave the hotel after an early lunch. If we had great Jaguar sightings, we may instead prefer some land-based birding, departing the hotel earlier in the morning with a packed lunch. We’ll spend the afternoon driving back to Cuiabá, where we spend the final night.
Day 15: Departure: The tour ends this morning in Cuiabá. The hotel provides free airport transfers upon request at any hour.
CLIMATE: Usually warm to very hot and dry, but occasional winter cold fronts push up from the south, bringing cooler weather and some rain.
DIFFICULTY: Mostly very easy and flat. There is one steeper and more difficult optional hike at Cristalino, and visiting the canopy towers requires climbing up 150 feet of narrow stairs.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good throughout. All hotels and lodges have private bathrooms, hot showers, and electricity, though electricity is only available at Cristalino Jungle Lodge for a few hours a day. Air conditioning is available everywhere except Cristalino. Cristalino Lodge has three levels of rooms. We normally book standard rooms. If you prefer a superior or luxury room, they may be available for extra cost (book them early if possible). The superior and luxury rooms are larger and have desks and balconies.